On January 21, a key topic at the Evanston City Council meeting will be progress on creating more affordable housing in our community. Joining Forces for Affordable Housing is guest-authoring five editorials to inform and engage our community around this issue, which affects wellbeing and future opportunities for all of us.

Submitted by Sue Loellbach, Manager of Advocacy for Connections for the Homeless and leader of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing

Undesign the Redline, last year’s exhibit sponsored by the City of Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, showed the practices and impact of redlining as a major cause of harm done to generations of Black Americans. This exhibit provided examples of how communities across America were impacted by ordinances and restrictive covenants that drastically limited home-ownership opportunities and housing choice for Black residents and created patterns of segregation and housing poverty that continue today. In Evanston, redlining effectively limited Black residents to living in what is currently the City’s 5th ward.

The exhibit generated strong press coverage around the history of redlining, including last month’s piece on segregation and redlining in the RoundTable. And while the exhibit focused primarily on history, it also looked forward, including suggestions on how to take future action to “undesign” redlining by re-framing, re-designing, and re-investing in affected neighborhoods. Members of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, a program of Connections for the Homeless, felt that these suggestions are on target; however, we wish the exhibit had included more information on how these steps could be used to make significant change.

Fortunately, at the same time the exhibit was on display, the City’s Equity & Empowerment Commission was taking action, working on a proposal for reparations, thought to be the first in the country. Starting this month, the City of Evanston has a Reparations Fund line item in its 2020 Budget.  New revenue generated from the sale of cannabis will be allocated to the Reparations Fund, another first in our country.

The next step--a delicate one, will be for the City Council’s Reparations Sub-Committee to define what activities the Reparations Fund will support. Joining forces members are hopeful that the City Council and the Reparations Sub-Committee will take to heart the Undesign the Redline exhibit’s recommendations and create a process that includes elements like the re-framing, re-designing and re-investing steps the exhibit put forth.

The processes used to allocate any City funds and efforts to design affordable housing solutions must be carefully structured. The high-level recommendations for such processes outlined in the Undesign the Redline exhibit are applicable and are listed here:

  • “Re-framing is for changing the narrative we tell ourselves about how we got here, human value, and our perceptions. This big rethink happens in community, across societies, and in our own heart.”

  • “Re-designing begins with a collaborative, community-driven approach to the design process. It embraces our differences as well as our inherent human value: designing new ways that value is generated and shared.”

  • “We need to Re-invest in communities that have been devalued and the target of wealth destruction. How do we make sure all boats rise together without washing some of us away?”

During the exhibit’s stay in Evanston, Joining Forces hosted several discussions, specifically intended to explore the “re-frame, re-design, re-invest” proposal. We have summarized the thoughts, concerns, and ideas that came out of our discussions on our website. As you can see, much of the feedback we received from community members was around HOW the processes would work, with primary concerns being the following:

  • Re-framing: Both sides of the redline need to change. Redlining and segregation are not just an issue in Evanston’s Black communities.

  • Re-designing: The re-design process should be used as a community-building opportunity and needs to address more than just housing.

  • Re-investing: Solutions are multi-faceted and must create improvements to currently dis-invested areas as well as housing choice throughout the community for those who have been impacted by dis-investment.

Joining Forces believes that the multiple efforts going on in Evanston that touch upon affordability need to be integrated, and that a process that takes into account these thoughts from residents must be designed. Therefore, as they work on their respective plans, Joining Forces encourages the City, its Reparations Sub-Committee, and the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee to do the following:

  • Coordinate the efforts between the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee and the Reparations Sub-Committee to ensure increased housing choice and relief from housing cost burden to the greatest number of people through use of their respective funds.

  • Create new processes of collaboration and community input, using the planning efforts of both the Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee and the Reparations Sub-Committee.

  • Commit to continuing public discussions around "undesigning the redline" long-term, and use those discussions for healing and emotional repair while also creating affordability and equity. Read about Alderman Simmons' comments at the recent Reparations Sub-Committee meeting regarding the healing process.

The planning processes currently underway are excellent steps for the City to be taking. They are also excellent opportunities to engage community members in driving change and to build trust between the community and the municipal government. We hope that the municipality will take advantage of these opportunities to make affordable housing a priority that will decrease the equity gap and reduce housing cost burden for those who are burdened the most.

Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, a program of Connections for the Homeless, is a coalition of non-profits, communities of faith, and individuals that are working to increase housing affordability in north suburban Cook County. To learn more about Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, please visit http://joiningforces.connect2home.org.

Connections for the Homeless is a non-profit organization committed to serving and catalyzing the community to end homelessness, one person at a time through eviction prevention, housing, and shelter programs. To learn more about Connections for the Homeless, please visit www.connect2home.org.