On Aug. 28, the Reparations Subcommittee decided to recommend that City Council approve the use of $400,000 in reparations funds for housing assistance programs that would benefit an estimated 16 households.

The Subcommittee also approved a set of guiding principles that would apply to the distribution of referendum funds in the future. The principles, however, are still viewed as a “living document” and subject to change.

The Subcommittee is composed of Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons, Peter Braithwaite, and Ann Rainey. Due to a work conflict, Ald. Braithwaite was not able to attend the Aug. 28 meeting.

Last November, City Council decided to deposit into a Reparations Fund up to $10 million in City tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational marijuana. Council also created the Reparations Subcommittee and asked the committee to consider the viability of two recommendations: 1) housing assistance and relief initiatives for Black residents in Evanston and; 2) various economic development programs and opportunities for Black residents and entrepreneurs in Evanston.

The Housing Assistance Programs

“Housing was the priority that came out of multiple public community meetings last year,” said Ald. Simmons. “So that’s why we’re leading with this. It is fantastic priority because it is a way for our Black residents to build wealth and the wealth disparity is one of our biggest concerns in the Black community.”

In the first phase, $400,000 is budgeted to be used to help qualified Black residents to purchase homes, to improve their homes, and to pay their mortgages. The programs are described as follows:

· “Home Purchase Funds may be used by eligible individuals to purchase real property located within Evanston city limits and occupied as their principal residence. The down payment/closing cost assistance is provided in the form of direct payment to the approved homeowner. Purchase assistance shall be $25,000.

· “Home Improvement Funds may be used by eligible individuals to improve the quality of the existing property. Home improvement encourages the revitalization, preservation, and stabilization of Black homes. The home improvement assistance shall be up to $25,000.

· “Mortgage Assistance Funds may be used towards mortgage principal, interest, and/or late penalties for a residential primary residence in Evanston. The mortgage assistance shall be up to $25,000.”

To qualify for these programs, the property must be located in Evanston and must be a standard dwelling unit including a single-family home, a townhome, a multi-unit, or a condominium. The recipient of the funds must agree to own and occupy the property as their primary residence “for a minimum of 10 years” and “for the term of the benefit.”

Ald. Simmons said that one change made from the prior draft is that a property could be a multi-unit residential building if the applicant occupied one of the units as his or her primary residence. She said, “This is a great way to build wealth with rental income and also to provide affordable housing as well.” In addition, she said it will help to “sustain our Black community and encourage continued homeownership here in town so that we can strengthen our community.”

To be eligible to participate in the program, an applicant must be a Black resident and either have “suffered discrimination in housing as a result of City ordinance, policy or practice” or “is a direct descendent of a Black Evanston resident who resided in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 who suffered discrimination in housing as a result of City ordinance, policy or practice.”

Ald. Simmons said that the Subcommittee plans to prepare a list of ways a Black resident could prove housing discrimination if they were not a descendent of a person who lived in Evanston before 1969. She said, “We don’t want to put any unreasonable burden on you for you to prove discrimination in housing.”

She added that the Subcommittee is planning to work with a financial institution to provide “a preferred financial product” and financial literacy and education tools that can prepare residents for successful homeownership.

She said, “One thing that we found when we received the State of Black Housing Report from Mark Austin is that there is a disparity in the approval of mortgages in Evanston, consistent with everywhere else in the nation. So this isn’t picking on our great City, but there is a disparity. So we want to make sure we’re working with a lender that is giving a fair opportunity to fair mortgage rates, and other financial products.

Ald. Rainey said, “We’re looking for an institution that will create or invent or develop a product for our program. Otherwise we could just send people out to apply for a mortgage anywhere with $25,000. That’s not going to happen.

“We want an incubator to create a very safe environment for our applicants, and we plan to watch it very, very carefully.”

Ald. Rainey reported that the City will receive sales tax revenues from the sale of cannabis every month, four months after they are collected at the retail outlet. She said she anticipates that $35,000 would be deposited into the Reparations Fund in October and $40,000 in November, and that the amount would grow in subsequent months.

Guiding Principles and Application of the Evanston Reparations Ordinance

The Guiding Principles provide an ongoing structure to decide how to use the Reparation Funds in the future. The initial draft of the seven page document was prepared by Lionel Jean Baptiste, a former alderman and current Cook County Circuit Court Judge.  A committee, comprised of Dino Robinson, the founder of Shorefront; Aldermen Simmons and Braithwaite; and Pastor Monté Dillard and Reverend Michael Nabors, contributed to subsequent drafts.

Mr. Robinson said, “What we want to do is provide some type of structure of how the community can really engage in guiding programs related to reparations, to have a structure to involve committee members on a rotating basis, to add their voices and guidance for the Referendum Subcommittee, and to provide a structure where we can vet and recommend distributions of funds related to reparations.”

The Guiding Principles would create a Stakeholders Reparations Authority (SRA) to work with the Reparations Subcommittee. The SRA and the Reparations Subcommittee would issue requests for proposals to the community and receive proposals for funding. The SRA and the Reparations Subcommittee would then evaluate the proposals in public meetings and decide whether to recommend that City Council approve or not approve the proposals.

It is contemplated that the SRA and Reparations Subcommittee would make funding recommendations in these areas:

  • “Housing (down payment, refinance, rehab, retention)
  • “Wellness (social services, mental and physical health, criminal justice, education, preservation of history and culture, etc.)
  • “Business/Economic Development (training, start-up)
  • “Education (scholarship, culture, subject specific classes).”

City Council would have ultimate authority to approve or reject any recommendation.

Mr. Robinson said that members of the SRA would be appointed by the Mayor to serve for terms of two years. “Representatives will be pulled from active organizations that best represent the interests of Evanston’s Black community [which organizations are listed in an appendix to the proposal]. There shall be between 9 and 13 members, with about 50% rotating off every year.”

The Guiding Principles say, “Reparations are due locally, nationally and internationally for damages done to the descendants of the formerly enslaved Africans in general and African-Americans in particular.  … In addition to the tremendous damages resulting from the MAAFA/ Holocaust of slavery inside the United States; the post-slavery Jim Crow policies and terrorist practices of lynching, murder, systematic unjust mass incarceration; governmentally sanctioned redlining; deprivation of rights, properties and opportunities; the massive denial of health care; the experimentation done upon Black bodies such as the Tuskegee Experiment and others; were and are further crimes against humanity necessitating reparations for those who were directly injured and their descendants.”

The Guiding Principles list three “specific categories of damages that the City [of Evanston] must repair based on past harm Blacks suffered from past discrimination as per the reparations ordinance and the equity and empowerment resolution.” The three areas, quoted at length, are:

“1) The City Council must work on repairing damages done in the area of housing from officially sanctioned Jim Crow Red Lining, government-sanctioned exclusionary lending policies, other acts of denial of equal access to mortgage loans and other unfair housing policies. Such history is very well documented in studies conducted by Dino Robinson and others upon which our local publication, the Evanston Roundtable, relied to publish a comprehensive exposé of such practices and their consequences on December 5, 2019. See article: https://evanstonroundtable.com/Content/Default/Top-Stories-Left/Article/Developing-a-Segregated-Town-1900-1960/-3/223/17298).

“2) Concerning the underdevelopment of the Black Business sector of our City of Evanston, the statistics are still being collected. However, even Leon Robinson, one of the most successful Black businesspersons in the City had to by-pass discriminatory practices to exercise his right to conduct business without discrimination. Leon Robinson had to purchase property downtown Evanston though a straw buyer because a restrictive covenant prevented him from doing the purchase outright. Historical and contemporary denial of access to contracts and business development opportunities results in business underdevelopment. The Black business men and women in our community fought for equity in allocation of contracts and now everyone else have preference. The hard-won remedy of MWEBE did not go far enough to resolve discrimination of the basis of race.

“3) The City’s Resolution to End Structural Racism and Achieve Racial Equity commits the City to “… eradicating the effects of systemically racist past practices from City Government and all City-affiliated organizations.” The Black community has always been at the crosshairs of the attention of law enforcement in this City for as long as Blacks have lived here. Black residents, Black males in particular, are often targeted for discriminatory law enforcement practices resulting in underdeveloped futures through excessive harassment, incidents of stop and frisk, police brutality, unjust arrests, accumulation of records, mass incarceration, family- separation, damages to mental wellness/health, or otherwise. Living-While-Black in such an environment results in constant paranoia about the police and fear of the eminent lethal danger that they represent. The eminent threat that discriminatory policing practices pose and the sense and actual powerlessness to fix such discriminatory exercise of brutality and intimidation is traumatic. Thus, the community needs remediation to achieve a level of wellness from the constant fear that their lives may be in danger just for being black. Our City’s police department must stop the harmful practices and the City must provide as much repair as possible so that those harmed may heal.

“As well, the marginalization of the Black community and its residents by institutionalized discriminatory policies and practices also manifested itself in the realm of education. Although, education is not under the authority of the City, the failings of our educational institutions have significantly stunted the growth, development, and the well-being of the Black residents and thus our community. It cries out for remediation. There has always been a major gap between the achievements of Black and white children. Such a gap has been declared unacceptable theoretically, yet not overcome. The educational institutions’ low expectations of Black children have historically translated into such practices as tracking children in remedial curriculum that under-prepared them from as early as kindergarten, throughout elementary school, Junior High, High School. In the most severe cases, some of these students end up being medicated, having extensive disciplinary records and are often placed in alternative schools. Some end up with difficulties overcoming poverty and overwhelmingly the target of the police in this City.”

Mr. Robinson said the document containing the Guiding Principles is “a draft for discussion,” and he encouraged community members to read it and to submit comments and questions. “We’re very conscious about how we represent this document that we want to be as inclusive as possible, and have the broadest engagement as possible,” he said.

The Reparations Subcommittee approved the Guiding Principles, with the understanding it is a “living document” that may be modified from time to time.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...