Sept. 21 is the start of something new in Evanston. The online application for the first step of local reparations – the restorative housing program – was scheduled to go live on the City website. The goal is to increase Black homeownership, revitalize and preserve Black owner-occupied homes in Evanston and build intergenerational equity among Black residents, according to the City Council’s reparations committee.
Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson and Assistant to City Manager Tasheik Kerr facilitated four public informational sessions over the past month in Friendship Baptist Church, Bethel African Methodist and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center to discuss details of the launch with residents.
“But tonight, our focus is really preparing you all for the application that will be released next week, the 21st of September,” Richardson told the crowd of 40 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center last week. “And I want to make sure that you’re prepared and you have adequate information for your ability to successfully complete the application.”
The goal of these sessions has been to increase community awareness, answer questions and give guidance on the restorative housing application process for local Black residents. The final meeting will be held at the Levy Senior Center on Sept. 23rd from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Reparations in Evanston thus far
“The idea of reparations was brought to the City by Alderman [Robin Rue] Simmons, back in 2019,” Kerr said at the beginning of her presentation. “She directed the equity and empowerment commission to solicit feedback from community members on what reparations would look like for the Evanston community.” After receiving input, the City decided its local reparations programs would center on housing and economic development. Soon, a report was submitted to the City Council that led to the resolution establishing the reparations committee and the reparations fund.
The reparations committee is tasked with carrying out the reparations initiatives. The committee is composed of three Council members: Peter Braithewaite (2nd Ward), Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Devon Reid (8th Ward); and four residents: former City Council member Rue Simmons, Bonnie Lockhart, Claire McFarland Barber and Carlis Sutton.
For the reparations fund, the City has budgeted $10 million, funded by a 3% tax on Evanston cannabis sales. The City’s sole dispensary, Zen Leaf, is located at 1804 Maple Ave.
How the program works
The City’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative in the City’s $10 million commitment – 4% of the total ($400,000) is being earmarked for housing. Applicants who are deemed eligible and selected may receive up to $25,000 in funds to purchase a home, remodel a home or pay down one’s mortgage. The home must be located in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence.
To be eligible for this program, Black Evanstonians must meet one of three criteria: 1) Black residents who lived in the City between 1919 and 1969; 2) Direct descendants of a Black resident from the period 1919-1969; 3) Or they must be able to submit evidence proving housing discrimination due to the City’s policies or practices after 1969.
Applicants who lived in Evanston during this time period will need to submit proof of identity and proof of residency for their ancestors. Those who identify as direct descendants must submit the same two documents alongside proof of blood relation to the descendant.
Re-capping the information session
Tensions were high at the second information session at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sept. 7 as residents were well equipped with critical questions concerning the program. Some residents were upset that the initiative is to be managed by the City, while others felt that the documentation required was too cumbersome.
An elderly Black Evanston man rose to speak. “My mother brought me here when I was two years old in 1931 and I’ve never been so proud of Evanston when it passed the reparations bill. But I’ve never been more embarrassed by this particular program. When I came to Evanston, when most of you came to Evanston, in order to prove that you were Black you just showed up at the door… You just had to be Black… Because the city of Evanston passed a resolve, does that mean that discrimination stopped? That’s ridiculous, ridiculous.”
“I think that’s a policy question,” Richardson responded. “I appreciate your input, sir. The program is structured so that the [Black] community in Evanston can begin to receive social recognition of the harm that has happened indirectly by the City and directly. This is the first step. This is 4% of a $10 million commitment. This is not the only program that is going to be established by the reparations committee. And I believe the reparations committee is going to be discussing how to move forward to start talking to the community about other programs in housing as well as economic development and so forth. But tonight we are here to talk about the program that has been approved by the City Council, and that we’ll begin the application process on Sept. 21st.”
Critiques of the program
The Evanston Roundtable talked with residents who attended information sessions in person who are eligible for the program. Joyce Hill is a 60-year-old Black Evanston resident whose parents came to the City in the 1950s. For documentation, Ms. Hill is using her father’s obituary to prove residency. Ms. Hill says that the information was presented well but it was redundant.
“To be totally honest, people want to know, what they got to do to get a house and how can they get in it? Since this is what you’re giving us as an option? How do we get to the good part? Because everybody keeps repeating the same information over and over again,” the long-time Evanstonian said.
Ms. Hill told the Roundtable that she knows people who are eligible for this program, but feels the housing program won’t help the people who need it most.
“For instance, what do a 78-year-woman need? What a house? She should be downsizing and at this point in our life.” She also knows many people who should qualify, but have moved out of Evanston because of unaffordable housing.
“A lot of my friends when they got credit savvy or situated and doing well, even then, for the affordability, they’ve gone to Lake County or far south suburbs to get a satisfaction for their money,” Ms. Hill said to the Roundtable. “I’m a 60-year-old woman looking forward to retiring and maybe four or five years, but I’m still very agile, still moving around… I don’t necessarily need no $400,000 house, but $275,000 condo in a decent place would be nice. That’s kind of hard to do in Evanston.”
She says she’s able to stay in Evanston because of her extended family. Because they’re all living in the family home, she says, her family can pool their incomes to help manage the upkeep of the home. But overall, her opinion is that Black residents are struggling to stay in Evanston, even with this program, because it’s expensive.
Harvine Brown is an 80-year-old Black Evanston woman who attended two of the informational sessions, one at Bethel Church and one at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. She thought the Fleetwood session was more helpful because of all the questions people asked. She bought a house in Evanston in 1967, and her father, mother-in-law and father-in-law were also homeowners here before her.
When asked what she would like to see in the future of local reparations, she said she wants more money, and that $10 million isn’t enough to do a whole lot of justice.
“I just feel like in the first beginning, Robin [Rue Simmons], put that 10 million price tag on something. And she should’ve had a higher price tag… if she had asked for 50 billion or 10 billion instead of 10 million, I think I would be happier.”
Questions from the audience
These questions are direct quotes from participants in the information session, along with responses from Kerr or Richardson. The dialogue has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Will there be library staff and community volunteers to help seniors with the application?
A: Any applicant who needs it can find on-site support to submit their application at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 12 noon to 5 p.m. People can drop by outside of these hours by appointment.
Q: How does a person who experienced housing discrimination prove it without a lawsuit?
A: The applicant must name a specific resolution or City ordinance that caused harm; matters of discrimination by a private entity, such as a landlord, are not admissible evidence.
Q: What if we can’t find documentation, what do we do?
A: The only way to submit an application is by uploading two separate document files on the online application. Without sufficient documentation, the application is incomplete.
Q: If two people in the household qualify, can we pool our money together?
A: Yes. Two spouses, or adults in the household, can apply separately and can qualify for $50,000 toward a single house.
Q: What if we qualify but don’t have a house? Should we still apply?
A: Yes, everyone can apply, especially if you intend to have a house in the future. This program is tailored to those living in or trying to buy a home in Evanston. We believe the committee will continue considering other programs for Black Evanstonians who don’t qualify because they don’t have housing.
Q: For people with disabilities who aren’t tech-savvy and cannot travel to the library or other places, will you provide physical applications?
A: No. The purpose of the online application is to protect sensitive information. If you can’t travel outside of the home, the committee offers robust resources to assist. People will be able to call 311 once office hours for this are secured. The NAACP and the library will also be resources.
Q: Black people were here in Evanston long before 1919, some of us were here since the 1800s. Will those people be reimbursed?
A: That is a question for the reparations committee. This is not the end of local reparations, just the beginning.
Q: My parents were discriminated against in the nineties. I had to sell a home under its value because they wouldn’t give me more for it. Do I qualify for this?
A: No. The application is clear that it’s solely to acknowledge past direct harm between 1919 to 1969.
Q: If my application is accepted, can the money be used for two separate residencies?
A: No, the funds can only be used toward a primary residence, so you must live there. If a multi-family unit is your primary residence, you can update multiple “homes” in the same residence. You cannot give part of your money to your family member. You can either use it for yourself or forfeit it to a family member.