A city assessment found that redlining – the now-outlawed practice of denying services to low-income areas, ones often housing mostly Black and brown residents – in Evanston is still adversely affecting Black people’s health 90 years later. 

A Home Owners’ Loan Corp. risk map from 1935, at right, outlined the areas of Evanston from most desirable to least, racially segregating the city. This segregation still exists today and is reflected in many of the racial inequities in Evanston’s health outcomes. Credit: Gina Castro

“It’s heart-wrenching,” said Kim Holmes-Ross, Director of Community Engagement for Evanston Cradle to Career.

Every three years, the City of Evanston Health and Human Services Department completes the Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN). In the past, the EPLAN described only individual health and behaviors and their outcomes. 

But this year’s EPLAN took a different approach. It analyzed how systemic factors within the city affect individuals’ options, and thus, their access to things like healthy food, clean air, gainful employment, education and mental health services, ultimately affecting their life expectancy. 

“What this data shows is that what it really boils down to is options,” said Monté Dillard, pastor at the First Church of God. “People can only decide on things that will impact their health, based on the types of options that they are given in their community.”

The 2022 EPLAN used the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative’s Public Health Framework for Reducing Health Inequities as its conceptual framework for thinking about health. 

To understand health and wellbeing at a neighborhood level, the city collected data on 18 census tracts in Evanston and then broke that data down by race and ethnicity. 

Pastor Monté Dillard, left, “works, lives and prays in the Fifth Ward,” and now he teaches about the impact of redlining on the Fifth Ward as an Advocate for Action for Evanston Cradle to Career. Community Health Specialist Kristin Meyer is at right. Credit: Gina Castro

The EPLAN found that structural racism is the culprit behind many of the racial inequities in Evanston’s health outcomes and that Evanston’s legacy of redlining created inequalities that still dramatically impact the Fifth Ward today.

A Home Owners’ Loan Corp. risk map from 1935 outlined the areas of Evanston from most desirable to least, racially segregating the city. The neighborhoods on the north side of the city, the Sixth and Seventh wards, were deemed the most desirable. While the area of the Fifth Ward was the only area in the city deemed the least desirable, or “hazardous,” as the 1935 map describes.

The areas that were described as desirable on the map are the areas that received the most investment from the city and had a high concentration of white people. The areas that were described as less desirable and hazardous received the least investment from the city. The “hazardous” area is also where the city segregated its Black residents.

The racial segregation established by redlining still exists. The areas the 1935 redlining map deemed most desirable are 81% to 91% white, according to 2019 census data. Whereas in the Fifth Ward, where Black residents were segregated and the city disinvested, only 11% of the population is white.

The 2022 EPLAN used this 1935 redlining map to compare with recent neighborhood-level data. This comparison shows that the inequities seen today follow the same pattern outlined nearly 90 years ago. 

For instance, the EPLAN compared the 1935 redlining map with a 2015 map of life expectancy by neighborhood. The north side of the map has a life expectancy of 80.9 years to 88.8 years. The life expectancy of the region where the Fifth Ward is 75.5 years. That’s a 5- to 13-year difference in life expectancy within mere streets.

When Evanston Cradle to Career heard that the EPLAN was taking a systemic approach to the city’s health, they asked for the City of Evanston Health and Human Services Department to present the data to them.

Ndona Muboyayi lives in the Fifth Ward and is an Advocate for Action for Evanston Cradle to Career. Credit: Gina Castro

“We were all so struck by how powerful the data was, particularly the long-term impact of redlining,” said Sheila Merry, Evanston Cradle to Career interim Executive Director. “It really made us want to bring it to the community.”

Evanston Cradle to Career partnered with the city and other leaders from the Fifth Ward, like Dillard and Ndona Muboyayi, to present the 2022 EPLAN to the public.

The presentations are called City of Evanston Data Walks. So far, there have been two data walks. 

The city’s Community Health Specialist Kristin Meyer and Dillard lead each presentation. They walk attendees through maps highlighting various disparities in the city including median household income, housing cost and tree canopy coverage. 

Representatives from Cradle to Career also frequently weigh in on the conversation. A representative from the city also participates in each presentation to explain the current steps it is taking to address racism in the city. For the first data walk, City Manager Luke Stowe spoke. Mayor Daniel Biss spoke at the second data walk.

“We really want to have city officials there more to listen, than to talk,” Merry said. “But we do want folks to know what the city has underway as well. But a key piece of it is wanting them to hear what the residents have to say about what changes they think need to be made.”

“This is an indication of how unbelievably durable racial segregation is,” said Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, center, in reference to the 2022 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs maps.  Credit: Gina Castro

At the end of each data walk, attendees have the opportunity to discuss among themselves and with city staff what changes need to be made to achieve equity and heal the community. 

Merry said they hope to have a data walk completely in Spanish sometime in late October or early November.

“When folks ask us, ‘Why are we doing reparations now? Why is that our responsibility now, if X were done in the past?’ – part of the answer is that those acts that were done – even the ones that were done in the past – were so durable in their consequences, they are being felt today, right now,” Biss said during the data walk on Tuesday night.  “Anyone who doesn’t believe that, just look at those two maps. All the doubts ought to be dispelled.”

Upcoming data walk dates

  • 6-7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Youth and Opportunity United
  • 2-3:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center
  • 5-6:30 p.m. at Oct. 18 at Robert Crown Community Center
  • 5-6:30 p.m. at Oct. 24 at Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....