Robin Rue Simmons pulls a lottery ball at Evanston's Reparations Committee meeting on Jan. 13, 2021. Watching is committee Chair Peter Braithwaite. Tasheik Kerr, Assistant to the City Manager, keeps track. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

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. 

Reparations Committee member Carlis Sutton uses his glasses to read the name of a winner at the committee’s lottery Jan. 13 at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

“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.

Lottery balls used by Evanston’s Reparations Committee to choose grant winners on Jan. 13. (Photo by Richard Cahan).

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.

Reparations Committee Chair Peter Braithwaite said the panel chose to use a ping pong ball drawing because the process is more visual. (Photo by Genie Lemieux)

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.

 

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  1. Just want to remind the readers of the fabulous podcast aired this summer on the NYT Daily highlighting the reparation program in Evanston. If you have questions on systemic racism in Evanston this provides some examples. Robin Rue Simmons, the amazing woman that worked tirelessly to put this reparation program in place, is interviewed. If the link does not work – search Daily Podcast NYT Evanston Reparations.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/12/podcasts/the-daily/evanston-racial-reparations.html?showTranscript=1

  2. Could someone clearly and simply explain what specific city policy or action are these housing subsidies supposed to repair?

    I was struck by the comments of Ms. Bates who indicated she didn’t experience discrimination yet is scheduled to receive taxpayer money to fix up her house.

    1. Shel, I was struck by the fact that she’s lived in the same place in Evanston and never had insulation in her house. And that she saw discrimination all around her but somehow never experienced it herself. I can see how those things are likely related.

      Systemic racism doesn’t announce itself and we don’t tend to notice the air we breathe (or the pollution in it).

      1. That’s great that we can be struck by different things, Atena.

        But are you able to explain to me clearly and simply what specific city policy or action are these housing subsidies supposed to repair?

        I read the article and there is no mention of this crucial fact. Reparations are meant to repair damages from a specific set of policies–such as the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. In that case the federal government enacted a specific discriminatory policy (establishment of the camps) and paid out damages.

        What specifically did the city do to warrant these reparations?

          1. Thanks for the link Debbie-Marie. I read through the document and there is certainly horrible stuff in there. I read about privately-owned restaurants refusing to seat Black customers, a private theater segregating patrons, the YMCA staging minstrel shows, the president of a privately run university saying some pretty despicable things, private real estate agents pushing Black families to certain neighborhoods.

            All that stuff is bad. But none of it was done by the City of Evanston. The only thing the city did according to the article was to establish a zoning ordinance which made no mention of race. The article weirdly equates ALL zoning with discrimination and seems to think that the city giving planning favors to Northwestern was motivated by discrimination without giving compelling evidence.

            Most of the ‘evidence’ comes from comments from a single alderman who complains about a bunch of stuff, but there are no official policies or documents sited that lay out specific things that the city did.

            I think the fact that the document spends most of the time discussing things that the city was not even involved in is a red flag.

            Please note that I am not denying all of the discriminatory practices that took place in Evanston’s history. Rather the documentation supports a variety of PRIVATE actors who were culpable and very little to suggest that city policies resulted in egregious outcomes.