It’s taken decades for Evanston to commit to paying reparations to Black residents over historic racial discrimination, and it might take a few more months for housing grant recipients to get their funds.
As previously reported by the RoundTable, 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, and the application window closed Nov. 5. The $400,000 figure is enough to fund 16 grants of $25,000.
To be eligible for this program, Black Evanstonians must meet one of three criteria:
- Black residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 (called “ancestors”).
- Direct descendants of a Black resident from the period 1919 to 1969.
- Or they must be able to submit evidence proving housing discrimination due to the City’s policies or practices after 1969.
Initially, the committee had a Nov. 11 deadline to approve applications and a Nov. 30 deadline to select the first 16 grant recipients, using a random process to choose among the approved applicants. Neither of these deadlines were met. The deadline to approve all outstanding applications is now Dec. 15. No new deadline has been set for when grant recipients will be selected.
On Dec. 2 , the Thursday morning Reparations Committee meeting at the Lorraine P. Morton Civic Center fell into a lull as committee members tried to figure out what exactly needed to be approved by the City Council before dispersal of grants could begin. Members stalled on whether there were any action items for the council to take, or if sending over the first 16 recipients would be only a formality.
Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson said she originally reached out to Community Partners for Affordable Housing to “cut the check to give to the financial institutions or vendor.” The reason for CPAH’s partnership, Richardson said, is to help ensure vendors get paid on time, to assist with construction management, and to take advantage of existing relationships that CPAH has with financial institutions, to ensure individuals wanting to pay a mortgage are serviced fairly.
An exclamation from a community member turned the discussion more heated, after the woman yelled out, “Who’s CPAH? Because from our understanding as community members we believed that it was going to be the community [dispersing funds].”
Committee Chair Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward Council member, and Richardson tried to table the discussion about dispersal for another time when CPAH representatives could be present. But former Council member Robin Rue Simmons, along with others like Council member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, started asking specific questions about whether CPAH expected to be paid for its role. “When there was an introduction about compensation or some sort of financial agreement, we had a consensus that we didn’t support that,” Rue Simmons said.
Committee member Carlis Sutton said he was concerned about the credibility of the committee to effectively deal with the community’s concerns. “I think we should have the ability to settle those issues right here.”
“We’ve had a relationship with CPAH, who has done housing and continues to do housing programs in partnership with the city. It was a natural partnership to come with to the committee,” Richardson said.
She said the initial memorandum of understanding with the group was “an administrative decision on my end, to find someone to disperse the funds, who had an existing relationship with [the city]. … They were not asking for funds or asking for any type of [compensation] for their services,” Richardson said.
“So I will take ownership of the MOU conversation because I literally just saw it as a transactional partnership that they were not charging the city for. It was not the chair, it was myself who had that original MOU in place. But that has now been scrapped.”
Update on reparations data
As of Dec. 2, the City of Evanston’s Reparations Fund has received $31,510 in donations, reported Tasheik Kerr, Assistant to the City Manager.
More than 600 applications were submitted to the restorative housing program. Ancestors will be given priority in the selection of the first 16 grant recipients, and there were 146 ancestor applications submitted, with 13 more ancestor applications outstanding. Officials said an application is considered outstanding if it did not have the proper identification or documentation submitted, and if the applicant has not responded to prodding emails from the city. The city will make a final attempt to contact outstanding ancestor applicants by phone before the Dec. 15 cutoff date.
Richardson told the committee that all applicants will receive a physical letter verifying whether they will be considered an ancestor or direct descendent. For the outstanding ancestor applicants yet to respond, she said the letter will say the city has not heard back from the applicants and warn that they will be moved into the direct descendant category if they cannot provide the requested information.
Community Wealth Day
Saturday, Dec. 4 was Community Wealth Day at Faith Temple Church, 1932 Dewey Avenue, hosted by the Dearborn Realtist Board. Self-Help Federal Credit Union, a nonprofit organization that services people nationwide and has locations on the South Side of Chicago, has “committed to the reparations effort,” Simmons said
The credit union has a special mortgage offer that will only be offered to Evanston residents who are reparations-eligible. It is the first financial institution to partner with the local reparations effort.
Reparations panel next meets in January
Evanston’s Reparations Committee was created Nov. 9, 2020 and is tasked with working with city residents and experts to “explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund,” according to the city website.
The committee meets at 9 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month at 9 and isn’t meeting again until January, an intentional decision by Committee Chair Braithwaite. “We’ll slow this thing down,” Braithwaite said. “We’ll make sure that everybody’s walking and we’re [in lockstep].”