On Thursday, Jan. 13, reparations get a bit more real in Evanston as the first 16 recipients of $25,000 grants are selected. 

The City of Evanston’s Reparations Committee will determine the first beneficiaries of the Restorative Housing Program via lottery. At 9 a.m. at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, the committee will pull the names using a visibly randomized auto-selection process. Specifically: a ping pong-ball machine. 

“I want to be clear, the idea is not to dramatize this; it’s really to make this part of business,” said Kimberly Richardson, Deputy to the City Manager. “So that way, we can move forward with finalizing and identifying the first 16. And then also identifying the rest of the participants.”

At last week’s virtual meeting, Reparations Committee members debated whether they needed a partnership with Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) to manage the first 16 recipients’ grants. 

After heated exchanges among committee members, the panel ultimately voted 4-2 to use CPAH to disburse the first round of reparation funding.

As previously reported by 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 for housing. 

Applicants deemed eligible for the program and selected to participate may receive up to $25,000 in funds to purchase a home, remodel a home or pay down a mortgage. The home must be in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence. The $400,000 figure is enough to fund 16 grants of $25,000.

To be eligible for the program – the application window closed Nov. 5 – Black Evanstonians must fit one of three categories: 

  • 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.

Avoiding further delays

At the Reparations Committee’s Jan. 6 virtual meeting, the partnership with CPAH was contentious.

Some committee members opposed CPAH because city staff had begun forming a relationship with the nonprofit before consulting the committee. 

According to Richardson and Chair Peter Braithewaite, the discussion between staff and CPAH started in July, although the partnership was not presented to the committee until December. 

Richardson hinted that not approving a partnership with the organization could delay the disbursement of funds to the summer.

“We started this [relationship] in July. It is now January,” she said. “If we want to go back to a process of hiring someone, or going through a bid process selecting and vetting another organization that we don’t have that relationship as an organization with … it’s going to take you more months to get this program off the ground.”

Why use a third party?

According to its website, CPAH is “a nonprofit organization that develops affordable housing and provides services” to help people secure and retain housing. The organization has partnered with the City of Evanston in the past. 

There are multiple reasons why the reparations committee needs to partner with a third-party entity for disbursement, Richardson told the committee. 

First, city staff doesn’t have the capacity to disperse $25,000 grants to the financial institutions or contractors chosen by the recipients promptly, she said. And Richardson added that unlike CPAH, staff doesn’t have the housing expertise and connections that would benefit residents. She cited CPAH’s knowledge of how much various renovations would cost, relationships with banking institutions and familiarity with title closings and other real estate processes. 

Further, Richardson said, the city’s payment must always go through a third party, either a financial institution or a contractor vendor, because that is how the legislation for the restorative housing program is written – to keep the individual from being taxed. 

Working with a nonprofit third party also can help residents from being scammed, Richardson said. Applicants who qualify in the “ancestor” category are all over 70 and are more likely to be the target of scams, she said. 

“We don’t want this to feel as if the city is dictating how you are to move forward with your housing improvement,” Richardson said. “But we also want to give individuals some safeguards to make sure that they themselves are being protected.”

CPAH has offered to handle the disbursement at no cost to the city.

Reasons for dissent 

Many committee members wanted the city to partner with a black-led organization. Former Councilmember Robin Rue Simmons said she felt the ultimatum to either approve the arrangement with CPAH or else delay disbursement indefinitely was “an extreme decision” being put before the committee that was “unfair.”

“If we have an opportunity to give redress, and black recipients use black contractors, and those funds are held in a black institution,” Simmons said. “There’s a real opportunity to do something special here and not ordinary business as it relates to who you’re comfortable doing business with.”

Simmons also argued that staff has the capacity to manage the program in-house, and that many of the potential recipients have relationships with contractors in town already. She and Carlis Sutton both showed support for “circulating the black dollar within the community.”

Council member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward; Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward; and committee member Claire McFarland Barber, a local attorney, said they agreed with Simmons but ultimately decided that, for the sake of timeliness and cost, CPAH should have exclusive right to disburse funds for the first 16 recipients.

“I would always love to see black-owned organizations involved in having a prominent role, and especially in this type of program,” Burns said. “If one presents themself, I think we can consider them beyond the 16. But I really want to get these benefits out, as soon as we can.” 

Before the committee voted, Braithwaite said that since the application for the housing program closed in November 2021, three “ancestors” have died. 

“I’ve made many promises as well to the committee members that although we may disagree on details, that conceptually, we want to move forward with this,” he said. 

The measure approving the agreement with CPAH for the first 16 recipients passed 4-2, with Sutton, McFarland Barber, Burns and Braithwaite voting “aye” and Simmons and Reid opposed.

All about CPAH

Richardson said that CPAH has worked with the City of Evanston on many housing projects.

Kerri Williams, CPAH’s chief operating officer, and Rob Anthony, its president, made a presentation at last week’s meeting. Williams said that with homeowner-managed construction, the organization would shield senior recipients from fraud by reviewing contractors’ proposals for cost reasonableness and pay them based on completion of the task and homeowner satisfaction. 

If grant recipients choose CPAH to manage their construction projects, the housing group has an anonymous bid process to screen contractors and assess costs. It also can recommend the type of work that could improve the quality of a home. If residents have someone pre-selected to work on their home, though, they can refuse all project management assistance from CPAH, Anthony said.

Seniors do not have to use CPAH’s construction management program, and there is no limit on whom a reparations recipient may select as a contractor, Williams said. 

In public comments at the end of the meeting, Evanstonian Ndona Muboyayi told Braithwaite that he and others who decided on CPAH had not been transparent with the process. 

“I do believe that for it to be in the best interest of our community … it has to be presented to us before the final decision is made,” Muboyayi said. “It has to be transparent from the beginning to the end. It cannot just be presented to us at the last minute and then is forced down our throats.”

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Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...