On Feb. 25, Kimberly Richardson, Deputy City Manager, made a brief presentation about draft guidelines to qualify for one of the housing reparations programs being recommended by the City’s Reparations Subcommittee.

The Reparations Fund

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.

The Down Payment Assistance program would provide an eligible Black Evanstonian with up to $25,000 to assist in purchasing a home.

Under the home improvement assistance program, an eligible Black homeowner may be provided up to $25,000 for home improvement projects.

The Mortgage Assistance 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.

General Rules to Qualify for Reparations

The Reparations Subcommittee has previously approved criteria to qualify for reparations. The criteria are:

“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.”

While each of the criteria appear to require proof of “discrimination in housing due to City ordinance, policy or practice,” it is unclear if proof of discrimination will be required for the period 1919 through 1969, of if discrimination will be presumed during that period based on the report referred to below.

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 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).”

The report now exceeds 100 pages.

The Draft Guidelines

At the Reparations Subcommittee meeting on Feb. 25, Ms. Richardson said the draft guidelines applicable to the reparations program would not be made available to the public at this time because they are still in draft form.

“The public will have access to the guidelines when they are part of the packet for City Council,” Ms. Richardson said. “Until then we are still working on that document. So, we don’t want to publish anything that is a working document.”

 Ms. Richardson did show select pages of the guidelines on a screen so people watching the zoom subcommittee meeting could see those pages. The Table of Contents includes 10 sections: Program Purpose, Definitions, Program Descriptions, General Rules and Terms of Eligibility, Property and Occupancy, Disbursement of Funds by Program, Program Eligibility, Application Procedures, Distribution Process, and Policy Modifications.”

Ms. Richardson said that the community should be aware of a lot the information contained in the draft because it was contained in prior documents that were made public and discussed at meetings of the Reparations Subcommittee. As an example, she said the committee had previously discussed drafts regarding the programs and eligibility,

She said the focus is now on eligibility and trying to ensure that the requirements do not make it too difficult for people to qualify.

Ms. Richardson outlined the requirements to qualify for the three categories of people.

People who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969

The draft guidelines provide that if a Black person who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 wanted to participate in one of the housing reparations programs, they would have to prove they lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969.

To do that they would need to submit two documents, at least one of which must list the person’s name and their residential address. The guidelines list a variety of documents that would be acceptable, such as such as a contract to purchase, a lease, a home insurance declaration, a paycheck stub, bills, a vehicle registration, grade school or high school records, etc.

The guidelines do not contain a requirement that the applicant prove that he or she was discriminated against by a City ordinance, policy or action.

A Descendant of a Person Who Resided in Evanston Between 1919 and 1969

If a person is claiming reparations because they are a descendant of a person who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, the person must present evidence that their ancestor resided in Evanston by submitting two documents, as indicated above.

They must also present evidence showing they are a descendent of the person who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969. The evidence may be a birth certificate, a hospital or physician’s record of birth, a baptismal record, a family bible, an obituary, or other records.

The guidelines do not contain a requirement that the applicant prove that his or her descendant was discriminated against by a City ordinance, policy or action.

Discrimination after 1969

The draft guidelines provide, “Applicants claiming discrimination after 1969 will be required to provide documented evidence and any City document(s) or ordinance that was used to discriminate.”

The draft guidelines do not specify what evidence is required in any more detail.

The Application Process

The draft guidelines provide, “The City Manager’s Office has primary responsibility for overseeing the administration of the Program. The Program Administrator will keep, at a minimum, all required documentation to verify compliance with program requirements.

“Applicants are accepted on a rolling basis as long as funding is available.”

 The application process includes the following:

  • Applicant submits completed application form.
  • Applicant submits documentation showing proof of relation to direct descendant along with proof of residency between 1919 and 1969 with the application form, or show evidence of housing discrimination due to the City’s policies which occurred after 1969.
  • Program Administrator verifies documentation for completeness.
  • The Reparations Committee determines eligibility for local reparations and will notify the program administrator.
  • After the determination by the Reparations Committee, the Program Administrator will notify the applicant in writing of approval or denial.”

Ald. Simmons has said on previous occasions 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.

Ms. Richardson said, “We’re still working through the application process. The application itself is still in development. And the process is very key to these guidelines.

“But we want to make sure we have a transparent process.”

Ms. Richardson said there are a finite number of dollars, and 169 individuals completed a survey showing interest in the program.

“And with a finite dollar amount, we want to make sure that we have a transparent process so people understand how those who received funding were selected.”  

Ald. Simmons said, “The process for selection has to be very well thought out because there is more need for sure, more interest, than we have resources immediately.”

Ald. Simmnons reminded everyone that the funding was dependent on sales tax revenue coming in from the State.  

“So this is a small step, but it is a huge step, because [Evanston] still is the first City that has taken such a bold step in the name of repair – a tangible step with funding,” said Ald. Simmons.

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...