Ramona Burton's home Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Ramona Burton’s home is getting a makeover.

The city of Evanston has begun its local reparations program, dispensing $25,000 grants to the 16 inaugural beneficiaries, and Burton, who was one of the first to be selected, is planning to use her funds to get eight new windows, a new roof and a new backyard fence.

“And then with another program that Audrey Thompson told me about, I hope to get central air conditioning and a bathroom put down in my basement,” Burton added.

As of May 12, Burton learned that she would have to choose between the air conditioning and downstairs bathroom– she opted for central air.

One of the broken windows that will be replaced. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown
Burton’s neighbor’s broken fence is visible in her backyard. She plans to build her own fence to conceal the “raggedy” one, she says. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown
One of the windows to be replaced. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Thompson, interim Director of Evanston Parks and Recreation, has mobilized the resources of other local outfits like the Handyman Program and Rebuilding Together North Suburban Chicago to help recipients get the most bang for their buck.

Burton knew her $25,000 grant wouldn’t be enough to cover all the home repairs she wanted to make, so being able to potentially get central air from the local non-profit was like “frosting on the cake.” Someone from the city’s Handyman Program has already come by her place to remove a hornet’s nest and fix the siding that had blown off her house

She recently requested that Handyman also come by to fix her kitchen cabinet hinges and her slow leak faucet, on top of putting in a new smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Burton says she received an email confirmation for the work but is still waiting to get in contact with them otherwise, either through email or phone calls.

This window unit currently cools Burton’s entire home. Using city programs, she plans to replace the air conditioner with central air. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Housing program recap

Evanston’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first step in the city’s $10 million commitment to try and make a dent in the historical impact that slavery has had on people today – 4% of the money, or $400,000, is slated for housing. 

Evanston is the first municipality in the country to pass a reparations program since Reconstruction, with this one based on the city’s documented racist redlining practices in Evanston from 1919-1969.

Evanston’s program is currently the strongest example of a city-supported and funded local reparations program in the country. 

Applicants such as Burton, who meet the requirements and are selected, will receive up to $25,000 to help buy or 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 pay for 16 grants of $25,000.

To have been eligible for the current housing program (the application window closed Nov. 5) Black Evanstonians must have fit one of three categories: 

  • Black residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 (called “ancestors”).
  • Direct descendants of a Black resident who lived here from 1919 to 1969.
  • Someone able to submit evidence proving housing discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969.

The Reparations committee randomly selected the first 16 beneficiaries from the “ancestor” category on Jan. 13., but only recently announced them. Six of the 16 have put all of their funds towards home improvement, and an additional six opted for both home repairs and another benefit, such as a home purchase or mortgage payment. 

Burton recounts city visit

In early April, city staff and a representative from Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) came to Burton’s house and gave her a folder filled with everything she’d need to know about her $25,000 grant. 

It included information about the two pre-existing city programs. Ramona chose to use an optional CPAH-provided project manager to help her sort through contractors, who will replace windows and repair her roof.

Burton chose a company to replace her windows using an anonymous bid process Community Partners had in place, but after that same company gave a high quote for roofing, Burton’s project manager shot down the roofing bid, and Burton was grateful. 

“You know, it saves me from doing a lot of the legwork, and puts more of the burden on [CPAH]… So I appreciate that,” she said. 

On May 12, all of Burton’s new windows were installed. The rest of the work will soon follow.

This story has been updated to reflect changes in the amount of work that the joint programs will be able to offer Ramona Burton, as of May 12, 2022.

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...

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  1. Frequent information about the success of this local reparations initiative and continued news of increased donations is appreciated. Thank you for all follow-up information via the Evanston RoundTable’s publications.

  2. Thanks to Ms Burton for being willing to share her good news with all the Evanston community. It’s so exciting to see this program show early results!