On the evening of March 17, the City posted draft Guidelines for the City’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program on its website. It is expected that the Guidelines will be discussed, and perhaps acted upon, by City Council at its March 22 meeting.

While most of the Guidelines have been discussed by the City’s Reparations Subcommittee, a complete draft of the Guidelines has not previously been made public. On Feb. 25, Kimberly Richardson, Deputy City Manager, said, “The public will have access to the guidelines when they are part of the packet for City Council.” Until then we are still working on that document. So, we don’t want to publish anything that is a working document.”

In recent weeks, a group of residents have sought to stop or at least delay the expected March 22 vote by City Council. They maintain that the current iteration of reparations is not enough and that their voices have been ignored. An article is available here.

See   https://evanstonroundtable.com/2021/03/07/critics-of-restorative-housing-reparations-program-voice-concern-and-anger-ahead-of-vote-by-city-council/

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 a 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 Subcommittee is composed of Aldermen Robin Rue Simmons (5th Ward), Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) and Ann Rainey (8th Ward).

The Legal Basis for the City Making Reparations

Section 1 of the Guidelines provides the rationale and the legal basis for the City’s making reparations. In some prior discussions, the focus had been on whether the City had adopted ordinances or taken actions that discriminated against Black people in Evanston in the period 1919 to 1969.

The draft Guidelines indicate that the rationale for reparations is not only the City’s affirmative actions, but also “inaction on the City’s part.”

Section 1 of the Guidelines provides in part:

“In passing Resolution 58-R-19, “Commitment to End Structural Racism and Achieve Racial Equity,” the City of Evanston government recognizes the government allowed and perpetuated racial disparities through the use of many regulatory and policy-oriented tools.

“The Restorative Housing Program (“The Program”), the first Program of the Evanston Local Reparations Fund, acknowledges the harm caused to Black/African-American Evanston residents due to discriminatory housing policies and practices and inaction on the City’s part.” (Emphasis Supplied)

 Some residents have acknowledged there was discrimination in housing in Evanston, but questioned whether it was due to actions taken by the City, as opposed to actions taken by realtors, lenders, and white homeowners. Expanding the rationale for reparations to include inaction by the City may bolster the City’s legal position.

At a Sept. 25 Subcommittee meeting, Nicholas Cummings, Deputy City Attorney, said that a 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 report discusses actions taken by City Council that allegedly discriminated against Black people in Evanston. But it also details actions taken by realtors, lenders and white homeowners that led to segregation and redlining. Finding that the City failed to take action to stop these practices may bolster the City’s legal position.  

The Proposed 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 with the down payment or closing costs in purchasing a home in Evanston.

Under the home improvement assistance program, an eligible Black homeowner may be provided up to $25,000 for home improvement projects “to repair, improve, or modernize property in Evanston.”

The Mortgage Assistance Program will provide eligible Black Evanstonians with up to $25,000 “to pay down mortgage principal, interest, and/or late penalties for real property located within the City.”

The Guidelines state that these programs will help:

 ●Revitalize, preserve, and stabilize Black/African American owner-occupied homes in Evanston;

●Increase homeownership and build the wealth of Black/African American residents;

 ●Build intergenerational equity amongst Black/African American residents; and

●Improve the retention rate of Black/African-American homeowners in the City of Evanston”

General Rules to Qualify for Reparations

A Black/African American person who is at least 18 years old may qualify for reparations in one of three ways.

Lived in Evanston Between 1919 and 1969

First, If the person resided in the City between 1919 and 1969 and “experienced housing discrimination due to the City’s policies/practices,” they may qualify for reparations.

Under the draft Guidelines, these people would need to provide sufficient proof of race and that they lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, The guidelines indicate sufficient proof may consist of submitting documents, 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 draft Guidelines do not require that an applicant prove discrimination due to the City’s policies or practices. It appears that the City will presume that to have occurred, perhaps based on the Report prepared by Dr. Thompson and Mr. Robinson, referred to above.

Direct Descendant of a Black/African American who Lived in Evanston Between 1919 and 1969

Second, If the person is a direct descendant of a Black/African American person who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, that person may qualify for reparations. A direct descendent is defined as a child, grandchild, great grandchild, and so on.

People in this category my present sufficient proof that their ancestor resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, by presenting documents (described above) showing the residency of their ancestor.

They must also present evidence showing they are a descendent of a person who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969. The Guidelines provide that this 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.

Discrimination after 1969

A person who claims they were discriminated against after 1969 would be required to provide sufficient proof of “Any City ordinance, policy or practice that served to discriminate against the Applicant in the area of housing.”

The draft Guidelines do not specify what evidence is required, or if the City may present evidence.

The Application Process

The draft Guidelines provide, “The City Manager’s Office has primary responsibility for overseeing the administration of the Program. The Program Manager will keep, at a minimum, applications and all required documentation to verify compliance with program requirements and would be responsible for application intake.”

 The application process includes the following:

  • Applicant submits completed application form.
  • Applicant submits documentation showing sufficient proof [as referred to above].   
  • Program Administrator verifies documentation for completeness.
  • The Reparations Committee determines eligibility for the Program based upon the guidelines.
  • The Reparations Committee shall be responsible for creating a randomization process to identify approved Applicants should there be more approved Applicants than available funds.
  •  The Reparations Committee will then notify the Program Administrator of approved Applicants.   
  •  After the Reparations Committee’s determination, the Program Administrator will notify the Applicant in writing of approval or denial. Approval letters shall include the amount of award and language indicating the availability of funding can assist Applicants in securing further funding if necessary.

The Guidelines also provide that the initial applications will be accepted, reviewed, and funded in the following order: 1) an applicant who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969; 2) an applicant who is a direct descendant of a person who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969; and 3) an applicant who experienced housing discrimination due to the City’s policies/practices after 1969.

Applications thereafter will be accepted on a rolling basis. “The program is subject to the availability of funding.”

In a prepared statement issued by the City yesterday, the City says, “Evanston community members interested in helping to guide the City’s Local Reparations Plan are invited to apply for the City’s new Reparations Committee, which will serve in an advisory capacity to the Evanston City Council.

“The Reparations Committee will be responsible for evaluating applications, recommending funding allocations for housing and economic development initiatives, developing programs that address historical discrimination in the past by the City, and monitoring the progress of program impact in each ward to which funding is allocated. 

“Applications are due by March 31, and the Committee will be seated in May 2021.”

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...