Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the Reparations Committee is proposing tapping an existing funding stream, not imposing a new tax.
Conservative Supreme Court justices’ scrutiny of affirmative action led the city’s Reparations Committee to take measures to safeguard the Restorative Housing Program at Thursday morning’s virtual meeting.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing cases from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina about the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Comments from conservative justices, such as Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, have indicated they believe affirmative action needs to have an end point.
The high court’s deliberations came up at Thursday’s Reparations Committee meeting as committee members were discussing a revenue stream recommendation for the City Council.
The committee previously agreed to use money collected from the city’s graduated real estate transfer tax to fund the reparations program. Chairperson Robin Rue Simmons suggested the committee decide on a time frame for using this existing revenue stream before submitting the plan to the City Council.
City Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, agreed and connected the discussion to the U.S. Supreme Court debate, which he called concerning.
“Listening to that discussion amongst the Supreme Court justices, I do think putting a time frame on it will help us legally,” Reid said. “Every decade, a council can come back and determine whether the Black community in Evanston has been made whole or not.”
Ten years is the magic number for the reparations program. The 2019 resolution 126-R-19 that established the revenue fund for reparations is also set for 10 years, Rue Simmons said.
The committee agreed with that time frame, and committee member Claire McFarland suggested adopting another protective measure also inspired by the affirmative action cases.
A 2003 high court precedent, referenced during the court’s recent examination of affirmative action, would limit the practice to no more than 25 years, according to some justices, with no suggestion of renewal.
McFarland recommended the committee specifically state in its revenue stream recommendation that the move would be reviewable and renewable.
“Because we’re anticipating that the program would continue or be renewed and refreshed after some study, I think we need to specifically add some terms,” McFarland said.
The committee voted in favor of recommending the City Council delegate $1 million annually from the graduated real estate transfer tax collected from all property with a purchase price above $1.5 million for a period of 10 years. This would be tapping into an existing revenue stream, not imposing a new tax.
In other action Thursday, the Reparations Committee discussed other revenue streams within the city’s home rule authority. The committee also briefly discussed the Oct. 22 town hall meeting. And Rue Simmons announced that St. Luke’s Episcopal Church donated $70,000 to Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston (RSAE) recently.
Real estate transfer tax
In October, the committee decided to move forward with using the graduated real estate transfer tax to fund reparations.
The tax hasn’t been used to fund anything other than the city’s general fund since it was created in 2019, City Attorney Nicholas Cummings said at the committee’s October meeting.
Rue Simmons, a real estate broker, has pushed for using this tax as a revenue stream since the beginning of the reparations program. In her view, real estate sales, similar to cannabis-related arrests, have injured Evanston’s Black community.
The graduated real estate transfer tax is paid to the city each time a property is sold.
During Thursday’s meeting, the committee voted to use $1 million of the increment accumulated from the tax on properties that are sold at or above $1.5 million. The committee’s recommendation, which needs approval from the City Council, will be for a period of 10 years and align the 2019 resolution so that they come to term at the same time.
In 2021, the city collected an increment of $543,200 from the tax on properties sold between $1.5 and $5 million, according to city records. Evanston collected more than $2.6 million in 2021 on properties sold for $5 million or more in 2021, according to the city.
The city’s Legal Department shared a list of other recommended home rule taxes that could be used as potential revenue streams for the reparations program.
These included the city’s sales tax as well as taxes on auto rentals, athletic contests, municipal hotels, cigarettes, liquor, medical cannabis, real estate transfers and amusement.
Reid took a stance against using the cigarette tax and liquor tax.
“I’m supportive of using general funds, to show that we have a systemic commitment to ensuring that reparations is funding to support this rather than using the cigarette tax or the liquor tax or something like that, which I almost feel would muddy the waters a bit,” Reid said. Rue Simmons agreed.
Council Member Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward, asked about using the city’s sales tax, which Reid said is the city’s largest source of revenue.
The city’s Legal Department is still working on a memo regarding using a portion of the city’s sales tax or the general fund, which the sales tax contributes to, for funding reparations.
Assistant City Attorney Mari Johnson said taking funds from the sales tax directly rather than from the general fund reduces the potential legal liability.
The memo analyzing the legal liability of using the city sales tax or the general fund is expected by the committee’s December meeting.
Town hall recap
The Reparations Committee’s town hall on Oct. 22 garnered 38 public comments. The committee said it would respond to comments at its November meeting.
The majority of the public comments praised the city’s reparations program and the committee, Rue Simmons summarized at the start of Thursday’s meeting.
The comments that were actual questions were repetitive, so Rue Simmons condensed them to two questions and posed them to the committee.
The first question asked why disbursing reparations funds is taking so long. Rue Simmons explained that the program is currently funded from a tax on recreational cannabis and donations from the public, but the committee is working on establishing additional revenue streams, such as the real estate transfer tax.
The second question concerned whether people who can prove lineage to slavery will be eligible for reparations. Rue Simmons said the city’s reparations program is hyperlocal – meaning, it’s focused on the ways the city injured the Black community through tactics such as redlining.
The Restorative Housing Program, the first reparations initiative, is focused on Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 as well as the direct descendants of Black residents from that time. So proving injuries from slavery isn’t a component of the program.
Committee member Carlis Sutton connected this discussion to an issue he heard among the panelists at the town hall debate.
Asayo Horibe, president of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest, was on the panel. Her family received $20,000 in reparations from the U.S. government in compensation for the Japanese internment camps established on U.S. soil during World War II.
The Rev. Michael C.R. Nabors of the Second Baptist Church asked panel members if they thought all Black Americans should be eligible for reparations in the U.S.
Horibe said no. “Not every African American was subjected to discrimination, redlining or all the other issues that reared its ugly head in racism,” she said during the town hall meeting on Oct. 22.
Sutton said Thursday that Horibe’s comments were concerning, and show she isn’t familiar with the U.S. history of discrimination against the Black community.
“I found that disingenuous from a person who’s received cash payments, her group, and these were the people who declared war on the United States from Pearl Harbor,” Sutton said. “So we have to be careful when we open these meetings, that these kinds of insensitive comments are not made regarding what we do on our committee.”
A 1982 presidential commission report found little evidence of disloyalty among Japanese Americans, who had no role in Japan’s declaration of war.
Reparations Stakeholders Authority of Evanston
From here on the RSAE will be providing a regular update to the Reparations Committee.
Dino Robinson, founder of Shorefront Legacy Center, shared an update at the meeting. RSAE has a fund with the Evanston Community Foundation in order to help raise money for the reparations program.
Typically, the Community Foundation charges organizations for managing funds, but Robinson said the foundation isn’t charging RSAE.
RSAE has been educating residents, especially in the Fifth Ward, about the reparations program and developing partnerships with various organizations and faith groups within the community, Robinson said.
Youth art contest
The deadline for the youth art contest the committee is hosting in conjunction with the Evanston Art Council has been extended to Jan. 9. The contest is for Evanston residents or students between the ages of 2 and 22. Participants are asked to submit any form of art that answers the question: “What comes to mind when you think of reparations?”
Participants can email their art to firstname.lastname@example.org or deliver it in person to the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. Contest winners will be awarded $200.