Evanston City Council members approved a landmark reparations resolution on March 22, setting in motion housing assistance for eligible Black residents to redress some of the injustices they suffered over a half century of discriminatory practices.
In an 8-1 vote, aldermen approved the resolution in support of a restorative housing program, which is the first initiative developed by the Council’s Reparations Subcommittee and is believed the first of its kind in the country.
The group focused on preserving, stabilizing, and increasing home ownership in Evanston’s historic Black community, whose population has declined in recent years.
Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons played a leading role on the issue, which has received national – even international attention.
“It’s a first step, a tangible first step,” Ald. Simmons said before the vote. “It is alone not enough. It is not full repair alone in this one initiative, but as we all know the road to repair injustice in the Black community is going to be a generation of work. It’s going to be many programs and initiatives and more funding … and I’m excited to know that there will be more voices to come to the process.”
The program will have an initial budget of $400,000. Aldermen previously committed allocating up to $10 million toward the program, drawing from the City’s Municipal Cannabis Retailer’s Occupation Tax for local reparations.
Eligible individuals may receive up to $25,000 assistance for benefits in three areas, officials said.
— Home ownership, with the benefit going toward a down payment and closing cost to purchase property in the City;
— Home improvement, with the benefit providing funds to repair, improve, or modernize property within the City;
— Mortgage assistance, with the benefit providing funds to pay down a mortgage principal, interest, and or late penalties, Kimberly Richardson, the City’s Interim Assistant City Manager, explained in a memo.
Eligible individuals may receive up to $25,000, and two individuals can pull their funding together for up to $50,000, Ms. Richardson said.
Under the program, an eligible individual is someone having origins in any of the Black racial and ethnic groups of Africa, Ms. Richardson said. She said an applicant’s eligibility will be determined by the City’s Reparations Subcommittee.
To be eligible for the program, a person may be an ancestor – an African American or Black resident of the City between 1919 and 1969. Children, grandchildren, and great- grandchildren of that ancestor may qualify as direct descendants.
A blood relative in the direct line of descent from the individual who lived in the City between those years also may qualify.
An applicant who does not qualify as an ancestor or direct descendant but experienced housing discrimination due to City policies after 1969 may also qualify too.
One “No” Vote and Resident Opposition
A number of speakers during the citizen comment portion of the meeting urged aldermen to hold off approving the resolution, arguing it needed more refining.
Ninth Ward Alderman Cicely Fleming was the lone alderman to vote against the proposal.
Ald. Fleming, one of three Black members of the Council, said her family was one of those across the country who suffered because of their race and felt reparations were long overdue.
However, she said, “What we have before us tonight I will counter is a housing plan with the title ‘reparations,'” noting other national and international policies show reparations being handled other ways.
“Rather than this reparations [policy] dictating to Black people what they need and how they will receive it, we need to listen more to people,” she said.
In the Evanston proposal recipients will not receive direct cash payments, but will be granted benefits toward mortgages, repairs, and other areas.
City staff cited tax reasons for this, but Ald. Fleming said, “This practice alone can be based on what some might call white paternalistic narratives, where Black people aren’t able to manage their own money.”
Second, she said, “The proposal does feel rushed, based on the election season ahead of us.
“People have waited a hundred years for reparations,” she pointed out. “So waiting just another couple of weeks or another month [after the municipal election] even for a new committee to sit down and fill in the gaps that people have brought up does not harm us.”
The full text of Ald. Fleming’s statement can be found here.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, who served on a subcommittee working on some of the details in the program, suggested there was a practical reason for using benefits rather than direct cash payments. “It’s pretty hard to purchase a house without a bank,” he said to Ald. Fleming.
Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, was among the Council members arguing the action was not being rushed. “Alderman Simmons talked about this. We’ve listened and heard those who voiced concerns, but I don’t think those voices warrant us taking a step backwards.”
Note: Readers may recognize portions of the City’s Fifth Ward in the above map, which the RoundTable uses in its stories on local reparations. While the Fifth Ward has been the home of many Black residents, living in the Fifth Ward (or having lived there) is not a criterion for eligibility.