Editor’s Note: The RoundTable has more coverage of the city’s Feb. 2 Reparations Committee meeting. Click here for the other story.

The Reparations Committee voted to extend its contract with Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) at its Feb. 2 meeting for another 90 days, despite its issues with the arrangement.

Reparation Committee member Carlis Sutton sits next to Second Ward City Council member Krissie Harris during a 2022 meeting. Credit: Gina Castro

The extension will buy the committee more time to search for a new administrator to distribute the reparations grants.

“To accommodate the questions, needs of everyone, I think we can reinvestigate in 90 days,” said committee member and Second Ward City Council Member Krissie Harris.

One of the reasons Committee Member Carlis Sutton opposes continuing using the housing organization is that it works slowly.

CPAH says it can complete only one reparations home improvement project a month, but can complete an indefinite number of reparations grants seeking mortgage assistance because that process is quicker.

“I’ve never been in favor of this organization,” Sutton said. “Dilatory practices, procrastination, have brought me great concern.”

“…Here we are years into this process, and we’ve only distributed to about 10 people, I think it’s a disgrace. And I hate to say, here we are on Groundhog Day, waking up the next day doing the same thing over and over again.”

A total of nine of the first 16 reparations recipients selected have used all of their $25,000 grants.

The city’s first form of reparations is via this housing program. The grant can be spent in mortgage assistance, home improvements or to make a down payment or pay closing costs on a home.

Committee member Claire McFarland Barber took issue with CPAH not using enough Black contractors. “I think the outreach should come from CPAH,” McFarland Barber said.

CPAH President Rob Anthony, however, said his office has made a great effort to hire Black contractors. Anthony said they used three lists of minority contractors during their search. Two were provided by the city and one CPAH has in-house.

“We emailed and called every person on that list,” Anthony said.

“So we had to do three attempts for each person. There was very little response to those efforts.

Carlis Sutton (left), Robin Rue Simmons and City Council Member Bobby Burns (5th Ward) at a 2022 Reparations Committee meeting. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

“A couple of Black contractors that we’ve talked to said that because there was such a demand for contractors at that time, they were making a lot more money on other larger projects. And that’s why they weren’t interested in some of these projects.”

Robin Rue Simmons, chair of the Reparations Committee, clarified that the committee is looking to hire specifically Black contractors, not just minority ones. Fifth Ward City Council Member Bobby Burns, also a member of the committee, said he plans to connect with more Black contractors.

“This is a call to action to Black contractors,” Rue Simmons said. “And we’ve done this before, but this is another call to action for Black contractors to get in touch with Council Member Burns and the M/W/EBE [Minority, Women, and Evanston Based Employer] Development Committee so that you are on file.”

The committee is in need of an administrator for the reparations program so that grants can be rolled out to the ancestors at a faster pace. Rue Simmons plans to spend the next 90 days making headway on the search for a new administrator and a strategy to fund the salary.

However, Director of Parks and Recreation Audrey Thompson doesn’t think 90 days is enough time. Thompson sat at the table with the committee members during the meeting as she provides the committee with its staffing needs.

“I do think to get the right person for this might take longer than 90 days, especially if you’re also having to figure out where the funds funds are coming from,” Thompson said.

In an effort to expedite the distribution of grants to ancestors, the committee debated inquiring the way all 133 remaining ancestor applicants would prefer to spend their grants, and then knock out the ones who want mortgage assistance regardless of their number in line.

Ultimately, the committee decided to keep its word and stick to the order it shared with the ancestors.

The committee is concerned about ancestors dying before receiving their reparations as six people have already passed away since applications closed in November 2020. The ancestor applicants are Black residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969.

To accommodate the eldest ancestors and ancestors with health issues, Sutton asked the city’s legal team to research if those specific ancestors can be moved up in line. The legal team will offer advice on this question at the committee’s next meeting.

Gina Castro

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....

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