The first 16 recipients of Evanston’s restorative housing program were selected Thursday in a random drawing. Each will receive a $25,000 housing grant, making Jan. 13, 2022, the first time a government body has awarded reparations to any African-Americans since Reconstruction.
Evanston’s Reparations Committee met at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center for the historic drawing, in which 122 applicants were eligible to participate. The committee used a ping-pong ball machine to pick names at random. Committee Chair and 2nd Ward City Council member Peter Braithwaite said the committee used this method in lieu of computer-generated randomization because the process is more visual.
“Is this a perfect process? No. No first-time effort ever is,” said Carlis Sutton of the Reparations Committee. “But we can truthfully say no other community, no other state, no other agency and government have gone this far. So before you start criticizing us, I suggest that you follow the lead that we have set.”
First $400,000 of $10M commitment
As previously reported in the RoundTable, the city’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative in the city’s $10 million commitment “to eradicating the effects of systemically racist past practices from City Government and all City-affiliated organizations.” The first $400,000 of the reparations program is slated 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.
Click on the photos below to hear from those at the reparations lottery:
The application window closed in November. To participate, Black Evanstonians had to fit one of three categories:
- Residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969, referred to as “ancestors.”
- Direct descendants of a Black resident from 1919 to 1969.
- Residents who submitted evidence they suffered housing discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969.
There were more than 600 applicants in total to the Restorative Housing Program, and 122 of those were ancestors. The Reparations Committee decided to prioritize that group for the first 16 grants. The committee plans to continue giving ancestor applicants priority. Then the committee will move to select from the direct descendant group.
After city staff verified each of the ancestor applications, officials sent individuals a letter that included a number that correlated with their application. Every ping pong ball in the metal cage had a number printed on it. Committee members drew and announced the numbers one by one.
The committee drew all 122 of the names in the ancestor category, not just the first 16, and then ranked the numbers in order. Braithwaithe said this was done so that future recipients will already be chosen in order. He said having a list of 122 names shows that the city must budget beyond the first recipients.
What’s next in process?
Now that names are drawn, the city will reach out to the first 16 by email and phone calls. Names of the winning applicants were not released. The city will follow up by email with the other 106 ancestors to inform them where their application number has been ranked.
Kimberly Richardson, recently retired Deputy to the City Manager, told the committee that the process to review direct descendent applications will begin next month. Those individuals will be contacted in the coming weeks.
Earlier this month the committee voted to use Community Partners for Affordable Housing to help distribute funds to financial institutions and contractors on behalf of recipients. More information on that agreement can be found here.
Committee remarks: ‘We are moving forward’
The atmosphere was emotional, and committee stakeholders took a moment to acknowledge how momentous the day was.
Former 5th Ward Council member Robin Rue Simmons, who had spearheaded the reparations effort while on the council, was the first to speak. “We are moving forward with a tangible repair that is within our purview and in direct correlation to the harm enforced by the City of Evanston,” Simmons said before the crowd of a few dozen watchers.
She continued: “To those that are concerned this is not enough, I believe we are all in agreement with you. But as you know, this is not separate from that. If the goal was to in fact improve our efforts, the most productive use of our time is to engage in a process to inform the 96% of the budget that is remaining, and yet to be allocated, with stakeholder direction.”
Robin Rue Simmons: ‘Today we take an important step in selecting the first reparations recipients’
Read the full text of her prepared statement here.
Added current 5th Ward Council member Bobby Burns: “I’m really sitting here just in awe of this relatively small city just north of Chicago that I believe has always punched above its weight class.”
Evanston’s Reparations Committee was created in 2020 to work with city residents and experts to “explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund,” according to the city website.
Annie Bates came to Thurday’s meeting to see if she would receive reparations money for her house. Bates was born in Evanston in 1946 and has lived on the 500 block of Custer Avenue for about 27 years.
“I plan to fix up my basement,” she said. “Maybe put some insulation in my house. Never had that.”
Bates said she has not experienced discrimination. “I never felt it,” she said. “I know it happened. I never felt it. … I saw it all around me.”
As it turned out, she was not one of the 16 ancestors who were selected to receive grants Thursday; she was chosen No. 103 on the list of future recipients.