Editor’s note: This article was updated to confirm that the City Council will need to approve the cash payment amendment.

In a 5-0 vote at an online special meeting Thursday, March 16, the Reparations Committee voted to amend Evanston’s Restorative Housing Program to include direct cash payments as an option for ancestors.

“I’m very happy to see the work of the Law Department and the committee for pushing us to be able to get to more solutions,” said committee Chair Robin Rue Simmons. “We have a significant amount of funding that is being held up because of operational capacity and this will be a solve for that.”

Rue Simmons and Eighth Ward City Council Member Devon Reid both said direct cash payments could speed up the grant distribution process.

As established in March 2021, the Restorative Housing Program included three options for spending $25,000 reparations grants: home improvements, mortgage assistance or a down payment on a home.

Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) is the reparations program’s current administrator, though the city is looking to hire a full-time reparations administrator to distribute the grants.

Sense of urgency

CPAH has said it is able to quickly distribute funds for mortgage assistance, but it told the committee in February that it’s able to do only one grant recipient’s home improvement project a month, which slows the process significantly.

There is a sense of urgency in issuing reparations to “ancestor” applicants – those who lived in Evanston as adults between 1919 and 1969 – because they are at least 71 years old. So far, since the Evanston reparations process began, seven ancestor applicants have died without receiving any grant money.

Robin Rue Simmons, seen in the film “The Big Payback,” addresses a community town hall in Evanston. Credit: Supplied

On Thursday the committee deviated from Assistant City Attorney Mari Johnson’s advice. Johnson had advised the committee to place limitations on cash payments since the Restorative Housing Program wasn’t originally intended to include that option.

She advised offering a cash payment option only to ancestors who don’t own property, don’t want to buy a home and don’t have a beneficiary.

“As far as the Law Department is concerned, it’s really up to the committee,” she said.

Reid, who made the motion to add cash payment to the program for ancestors without restrictions, disagreed with Johnson’s advice. The goal of the Restorative Housing Program was to grow generational wealth, and cash payment achieves that goal, he said.

“We have the money in the bank now ready to be dispersed,” he said. “Let’s get it out to them. Let’s let them make decisions for themselves and for their families that will help them build generational wealth and live their healthiest years to come.”

The City Council also must vote to authorize cash payments as a fourth option. The official program guidelines approved by the council on March 22, 2021, give the council “the authority to make modifications to this policy as necessary.”

Potential tax consequences

One potential issue with cash payments is that they likely would not be tax-free.

“In order to avoid any sort of tax consequences, we may need to add an income reporting component for the recipients,” Johnson said. “But that’s something that we would have to do on a case-by-case basis, likely.”

Earlier this month, the committee voted to give cash payments to two ancestors who were included in the first 16 grant recipients. The city is still working to find out how to distribute those cash payments without tax consequences.

Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, said cash payments would help to grow generational wealth for Black residents. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

On the other hand, Reid said the committee and city could make it very clear to grant recipients that if they decide to receive cash reparations, there would be a risk that a portion of the grant would go to taxes.

The committee also voted Thursday to pursue creating a separate cash payment program that would have to be approved by the City Council. Three out of the nine council members are on the Reparations Committee and support the cash payment program.

Johnson said the city’s Law Department will need proof of how cash payment reparations, like the three other restorative housing options, would repair the city’s long history of housing discrimination against Black residents. Rue Simmons volunteered to gather those records to ensure the success of the program.

In preparation for the committee’s April 6 meeting, Rue Simmons also asked the city to make a report showing the 2019 Equity and Empowerment Commission recommendations for repairing harm as well as the other institutions in Evanston responsible for harm against Black residents.

“I’m hoping that this will be a call to action to more partners and others that represent institutions that are also responsible for the racial wealth gap, the education gap, the health inequities and so on in this community,” Rue Simmons said.

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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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  1. Not from the general fund, please. Those monies are by law for all Evanstonians.

    From the Roundtable June 3rd, 2022 — City Attorney Nicholas Cummings advised the committee not to use general funds because the money is designated for all tax-paying citizens. Using it could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and open up the program to legal challenges.


  2. Don’t get me wrong, I would be ecstatic if suddenly I were to get $25,000!!!! But how long will it last? And how will it permanently affect the lives of the whole receiving family? Is Evanston doing this to “show” that we care or because we truly want to undo age long wrongs to some Evanstonians to make us feel better…?
    Please City Council let me tell you something that behooves you too since you are an Evanston taxpayer: In my mind there is more than one case for “reparations.” In my mind “reparations” also refer to a desperate need to eliminate the evil and demoralizing achievement gap in education that existed in Evanston in 1966 when I immigrated and is still with us today. An achievement gap that has been depriving generations of students and their families from full lives of happiness and accomplishments. And yes, as taxpayers and voters who pay for and oversee our school districts you people in the council are just as guilty as the rest of us for allowing this state of affairs for so many years.
    When kids who leave 13 years from among the wealthiest school districts in the nation, and “graduate” without being able to be accepted to college or be able to secure good jobs…the only one who wins is the hugely paid superintendent who claims to a 93% percent fake graduation rate.
    Those who are so excited about a $25,000 gift from the people of Evanston, how about a gift of not just one time $25,000, but a perpetual reparation gift of many $25,000 from successful careers built through the education gained in Evanston’s schools and beyond?
    Our districts should get serious about their promises to parents and students rather than wasting our money in more hugely paid administrators at a time when student population is declining! They should once and for all address and eliminate that shameful “gap” with programs that work! We all know that the formula for school success in overwhelming part is, parents, parents, parents, getting involved in their kids’ education. And that has not and is still not happening with too many of our students.
    Multitude of studies show that “Parents who are more involved in their children’s education have children who do better in school. (They) have better grades, higher standardized test scores, and are less likely to get in trouble for their behavior at school. Conveying to children the importance of education, such as by talking with them about what they’re learning in school, to helping with homework to communicating with teachers to volunteering in the classroom… has shown to be of primary importance for the success of students.”
    So instead of looking the other way and sigh in despair, our school boards elected to make sure ALL kids succeed, should grab the bull by the horns and do only that, and nothing else until they resolve this shameful issue. If they need ideas, please contact me, I have some. I’m sure the City Council who have families themselves or know people with families would be more than delighted to help with some ideas as well. Because this is not just an issue for some people in the district, but an issue for ALL OF US EVANSTONIANS!

  3. So that the community and others around the country are not misled after reading this article…Robin Rue Simmons nor members of the reparations committee would support Alderperson Devon Reid’s motion back on March 2, 2023 to amend the reparations program to allow for direct cash payments. Alderperson Reid felt it was not right for the committee to vote in favor of amending the program for the Wideman family to receive $50K direct cash and not amend the entire program to offer that to those waiting in the list. The Wideman’s are related to Alderperson Krissie Harris. The committee would NOT support that motion to amend for ALL (not just the Wideman’s) which was why Alderperson Reid pushed for another meeting which took place yesterday March 16th. Alderperson Krissie Harris did NOT support Alderperson Devon Reid in amending the program to offer direct cash payments. The community…for three years…before Alderperson Reid was on the committee…preferred direct cash, but accepted whatever the committee rolled out which was a housing program dressed as reparations – new toilets, showers, windows, bank loans, etc. If direct cash payment was what the committee wanted all along…it would have been made an option long before yesterday. And had Alderperson Devon Reid not PUSHED for direct cash payments…things like new toilets would still be Black Evanstons reparations. Yesterday’s meeting took OVER AN HOUR of Alderperson Reid debating and fighting for direct cash payments. If the committee truly wanted direct cash payments…a special meeting would not have been necessary yesterday and it darn sure wouldn’t have taken almost two hours to decide. Back on March 2nd Robin Rue Simmons, Alderperson Krissie Harris, Claire McFarland Barber, Bonnie Lockhart, and Carlis Sutton would NOT second Alderperson Devon Reid’s motion to amend the program to offer direct cash payments. Alderperson Bobby Burns was not present for the March 2nd meeting. Progress was made yesterday March 16th that will impact the local reparations around the country. And it was because of Alderperson Devon Reid not giving up. It was community members being vocal and not giving up. Period. I encourage the public to go watch the videos to see for yourself what has actually been going on, if you’re at all interested. It’s time Evanston stop the PR train that has been misleading the country about the reparations program for three years now. Ten people out of six hundred have received a housing program. Two are about to be given $50K direct cash because of an error the committee made. But the nation is being told and sold that the program in Evanston is a model that all local governments should use and all their Black people are happy with programs in lieu of direct cash payments. So yesterday’s amendment blows all that PR over the last few years out the water!

  4. The Time Has Come! Cash payments should be an option for Reparations. With the continued excellent leadership of Robin Rue Simmons, I am confident this reality will begin soon. It must! The ancestors are waiting and more than deserving.

    1. Alderperson Devon Reid presented the motion for direct cash payments – not Robin Rue Simmons. On March 2nd Robin Rue refused to second his motion. He had to request a special meeting to push and fight for direct cash payments. Alderperson Krissie Harris did not fight for it or second his motion on March 2nd.

  5. It seems the reparations program is getting off to a bumpy start. It doesn’t seem that the committees know what they want to do and with who. And only a handful of black residents seem qualified to receive it.
    I would like to know if this money is coming from cannabis tax, what happens when the cannabis sales go down and Evanston is not getting as much tax $$.