On Dec. 14, City Council discussed the Reparations Subcommittee’s proposed programs to use the City’s Reparations Fund for home ownership assistance, home improvement assistance, and mortgage payment assistance. The initial budget for these programs is $400,000.

Because the proposed programs were only on Council’s agenda for discussion, Council did not take action on the proposal. Much of Council’s discussion centered on how to raise additional funding for reparations. See story here.

Key parts of the program that are still open are how the program will be administered and how Black residents will be “qualified” and certified for reparations. The options were briefly discussed at the Reparations Subcommittee’s meeting on Dec. 18.

Some residents continue to object to the housing reparations programs, arguing they do not help renters or seniors. They argue that direct cash payments should be made to Black residents.

Some Background

In November 2019, City Council decided to create a Reparations Fund and to deposit up to $10 million in City tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational marijuana into that fund.

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.

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, composed of Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons (5th Ward), Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) and Ann Rainey (8th Ward), will consider additional uses of the Reparations Fund as time goes on.

The Housing Reparations Programs

There are three housing reparations programs, one for homebuyer assistance, a second for home improvement assistance, and a third for mortgage assistance. In order to receive assistance under any of these programs, a Black resident of Evanston must be “qualified” for reparations.

Each program applies to a single-family home, townhome, multi-unit, or condominium (“home”) located in Evanston. The home must be owned and occupied by the applicant as their principal residence.

Down Payment Assistance

The Down Payment Assistance program would provide an eligible Black Evanstonian with up to $25,000 to assist in purchasing a home. One stated purpose is: “To encourage the revitalization, preservation, and stabilization of Black owner-occupied homes in Evanston.”

The money may be applied to a down payment or closing costs and will be paid directly to the lending institution at the time of closing. The idea is that if the amount is paid directly to a lending institution, it will not be taxable as income to the buyer.

Home Improvement Program

Under this program, an eligible Black homeowner may be provided up to $25,000 for home improvement projects. One stated purpose is: “To encourage the revitalization, preservation, and stabilization of Black owner-occupied homes in Evanston.”

The home improvement assistance may be used for interior or exterior remodeling or beautification (including landscaping and external amenities), such as structural improvements, ramp installation, plumbing or electrical work, window replacement, and installation of new mechanical equipment.

All funds will be paid directly to the supplier or vendor.

Mortgage Assistance Program

This program will provide eligible Black Evanstonians with up to $25,000 either to bring a mortgage current or to pay down the balance of a mortgage.

One objective of the program is: “To encourage the revitalization, preservation, and stabilization of Black owner-occupied homes in Evanston.”

The Payments Are Not Repayable Loans

Initially, the Subcommittee was planning to structure the payments as loans, with a provision that a portion of the loan would be forgiven each year that a recipient lived in the home. If the recipient moved out of the home before the loan was totally forgiven, the recipient would have been required to repay the balance.

Under the current plan, however, the amounts provided under the housing programs would be outright grants paid directly to the lender or supplier. The buyer or homeowner would not be obligated to repay any amount. Moreover, there is no requirement that the recipient of a grant live in the home for any length of time after the grant is made.

One exception to this, however, is if a recipient receives a grant for home improvement work, the recipient must agree not to sell their interest in the home before completing the improvements and fulfilling their obligations.

Multiple Buyers or Owners

At the Nov. 20 Reparations Subcommittee meeting, the subcommittee decided that if there were two buyers or two owners of a home who each qualified for reparations (e.g., a husband and a wife), then each could qualify for up to $25,000 of assistance. So, in some cases the assistance could be up to $50,000.

General Rules to Qualify for Reparations

A person seeking to participate in a housing assistance program must submit a request to the Reparations Eligibility Review Committee for approval of eligibility for reparations, according to a memorandum prepared by Interim Assistant City Manager Kimberly Richardson and provided to City Council.

The memorandum says current Black residents may qualify for reparations in two ways:

  • “The recipient must be at least 18 years of age, a Black resident, and suffered discrimination in housing due to City ordinance, policy or practice,” or
  • “The recipient must be a direct descendant of a Black Evanston resident who resided in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 who suffered discrimination in housing due to City ordinance, policy or practice.”

With respect to the second way to qualify, the Reparations Subcommittee has not discussed whether a current Black resident may qualify for reparations by simply showing that they are a direct descendant of a Black person who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, or if they must also show, as the wording seems to require, that their ancestor “suffered discrimination due to City ordinance, policy or practice.”

At a Sept. 25 Subcommittee meeting, Nicholas Cummings, Deputy City Attorney, said the requirement that people suffered discrimination “due to City ordinance, policy or practice” was necessary to comply with the Supreme Court’s holding in City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989). In that case, the Court held when a city provides remedial action that favors one racial group over another, the city must provide a “strong basis in evidence for its conclusion that remedial action was necessary,” and, “Proper findings in this regard are necessary to define both the scope of the injury and the extent of the remedy necessary to cure its effects.” The Supreme Court struck down the ordinance at issue in that case. See prior story here.

Mr. Cummings said the housing programs proposed by Evanston’s Reparations Subcommittee differ from the one in the City of Richmond case because Evanston’s Reparation’s proposal is backed by a 76-page report prepared by Morris “Dino” Robinson, Executive Director of Shorefront Legacy Center, and Jenny Thompson, Director of Education of the Evanston History Center, titled, “Evanston Policies and Practices Directly Affecting the African American Community, 1900 – 1960 (and Present).”

For a summary of the report click here.

Ald. Simmons has said that there is a high demand for the housing assistance programs, much greater than the amount of funding currently allotted in the initial phase. The $400,000 allotted in the initial phase may benefit only about 16 households. The Subcommittee has not discussed how to prioritize applications.

Administration and Qualification

Members of the Reparations Subcommittee had a short discussion on the administration of the Reparations Fund and what would be required to show eligibility for reparations.

Ms. Richardson said, “We are now in the phase of looking at how to begin not only implementation but structure around administration. And so, what we’re looking at, as staff, from you all is some guidance on what that should look like and who should be involved.”

She said this would be a huge undertaking, not just with the administration of funds, but also with assisting individuals to qualify for reparations.

Ald. Simmons said the Committee talked a few meetings ago about “a review committee, maybe we call it an application committee.” But she said they will need to establish the criteria to qualify for reparations. She said the Evanston History Center has records on residency, and there is the possibility of using census data, but she said they will need to determine what documentation is needed for qualification.  “And then we’ll need a process to actually vet or check compliance and then certify,” she said.

“So, my thought was that we would have a process that certifies a resident as reparation eligible, and they get really like a certification of sorts, and then they would qualify for the benefits that are coming through this committee, as well as other benefits and opportunities that are developing across the City,” Ald. Simmons said.

She also said residents certified as eligible for reparations may be able to obtain various financial products being offered by financial institutions and may benefit from the newly launched Evanston Community Foundation fund, as well. 

Mr. Cummings said there are there are some concerns about the extent that the financial institutions might be able to help, because of regulations that may prohibit them from race-based practices.

He added that there may some costs associated with the certification process. “So, the Subcommittee probably needs to look at some options on how we fund sort of the back end of making this program a reality,” said Mr. Cummings.

Ald. Simmons said they have been thinking about what additional administrative support would be needed beyond the City’s current staff. She suggested if there was a designated person to staff the administration of the program, that people who wish to be qualified to participate in the housing programs could contact that person. She said she thought some community partners would help out.

Ald. Rainey suggested that the staff person might be funded through a grant or financially supported from the outside.

Ald. Braithwaite said the City has staff already working on affordable housing who are working with community partners. He said he thought the City has the mechanisms in place to oversee the application process for the proposed housing programs at least for the next year.

Ald. Simmons said, “What I think we need to do is have our review and application committee meet, and that is a subcommittee, so we are a working group. And we’ll plan to meet before our next committee meeting so that we can have something to share with the Reparations Committee and look at advancing that so we can start towards implementation. So that’s something that we’ll commit to between now and our next Committee meeting.”

Ms. Richardson said, “I don’t think we have the staff capacity to implement internally. We need to think outside of using City staff to implement at this time.”

Ald. Simmons said, “Great, we have tons of partners that want to help us do this work. So, they will support us where we have deficiencies.”

Community Comment

In the public comment section of the meeting, Evanston resident Tina Paden, whose family owns rental properties here, said, “I will continue to push for a cash payment. You are leaving out a very important group, which is the group that’s being been harmed in the past, the older generation. Those are the ones that have been harmed the most with all of the discrimination. And those are the people that need the money first. Those people, 70 plus, either own their own home already, they already have possibly lost their homes. And they are not going to buy a home. They probably are in senior buildings, or rental units, or already have established themselves.”

Ndona Muboyaya said she would read a letter that was drafted with the input of Black Evanstonians whose families have been in Evanston for at least three generations, including her own parents, who have now reached the sixth generation with her own children.

“We have been meeting over the past two years to discuss the state of Black Evanston, our future and the promise of reparations.” she said. “Black elders have fought for affordable housing, believing that children and families of Evanston who were in need would one day benefit, only to see the City and local organizations usher in families from Chicago who have no ties to this town and its many struggles. Our elders have watched while the City of Evanston has helped fund and boost certain nonprofit organizations meant to help, but yet their acts have proven to push Black Evanstonians out. Our elders have fought for equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion, [and that] has led the way to the hiring of individuals who have no true desire to provide assistance to our community, and who do not have a cultural understanding of who we are. They watch while many supposed allies leech off of our community for yet another pay day. When speaking to our youth, they have expressed the lack of opportunities in the City, from added support for young adults offering a path to higher education, professional training and trades and job opportunities that pay a decent wage.

“When speaking to our children under the age of 18, they often express feelings of despair, and have a desire of leaving behind a City that promises so much to the Black community but delivers so little.

“As a collective, the vast majority of legacy Black Evanstonians are not aware of what is taking place with the reparations initiative and are not able to participate in the meetings that start to take place at 9:15 a.m. when they’re at work.

“The average legacy Black Evanstonian has not been consulted about what is and is not acceptable for payment of reparations. We do not agree with the decision of paying reparations in the form of social programs that are available to pretty much anyone. Though there are some that want down payment assistance and assistance for renovations of their property, the mass, the vast majority who are seniors want cash payments.

“We demand transparency in the process and the amount of funds. We demand transparency about who will control the funds and the ability to choose the person who will manage it. We do not agree with the proposal for a council to be created to act as an overseer and gatekeeper. Accepting said proposal will create further barriers for the segment of our community that has been excluded for far too long.”

Longtime Evanstonian and activist Bennett Johnson said one important aspect is the “concept of truth and reconciliation.” He said, “The purpose of reparations is not only to provide some kind of economic return, but the psychological recovery. And that can be done by having a place where people can sit and talk about their problems and experiences and help to clarify the injury.” He added that institutions that profited from segregation or slavery should be brought into the process and make contributions.

Melody Bickhem urged that the Reparation Fund be used to fund a health-care initiative.

Larry Gavin

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...