From Left, Kimberly Richardson and Robbin Rue Simmons at the Reparations Subcommittee meeting
From Left, Kimberly Richardson and Robbin Rue Simmons at the Reparations Subcommittee meeting

On Feb. 7, the City’s Reparations Subcommittee discussed a way in which it plans to obtain community input, and it laid out a timeline through mid-June, with a goal to present recommendations to City Council on June 5 on how to use the money deposited in the Reparations Fund that was approved by City Council last year.

City Council decided as part of the 2020 budget discussions to deposit up to $10 million in tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational marijuana in the Referendum Fund. 

The Subcommittee has three members: Alderman Robin Rue Simmons (5th Ward), Alderman Ann Rainey (8th Ward) and Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward). Ald. Rue Simmons and Ald. Rainey were present on Feb. 7.

Community Outreach

Ald. Rue Simmons opened the discussion saying, “There are residents that have started to mobilize on their own and to discuss reparations.” One group, she said, is known as the Black Man Group, and there are numerous other neighborhood groups and church groups discussing reparations. “We thought we should support that and make sure that it continues to happen.

“We are working on a document that will allow people who are leading discussions to lead with facts and our policy and what our goals are here in Evanston.” She said the document would be available soon on the City’s website.

Kimberly Richardson, Acting Assistant City Manager and staff to the Subcommittee, said the document will be a “facilitation guide” that will help people facilitate conversations in the community and provide feedback to the Subcommittee in a way that would help guide the Subcommittee in making its recommendations.

Ms. Richardson added that people who were interested in being a facilitator or participating in a discussion group, or who just wanted to keep informed about what the Subcommittee was doing, could fill in a form on the City’s website at cityofevanston.org/reparations.

Ald. Rue Simmons said the City has organized the feedback that it has already received, broken out by categories: entrepreneurship, education, workforce development, wealth gap, homeownership, mental health, and miscellaneous.

“We’ll continue to drop feedback into those brackets,” she said.

The Timeline and Discussion Topics

Ald. Rue Simmons laid out an ambitious plan to develop recommendations on how to use the Referendum Fund.

  • On Feb. 21, the subcommittee will discuss housing and redlining in Evanston, she said, and it will create “guidelines for how the housing funding will be spent and who will receive it.” She said they will discuss a report issued by the Dearborn Realtors Group on possible initiatives.
  • On March 6, the Subcommittee will host community outreach groups that are discussing reparations and gather information from them.
  • On March 20, the Subcommittee will discuss financing and local banks. Ald. Rue Simmons said, “There’s been some criticism in the community that $10 million is not enough. I agree it’s not enough, but it certainly is an important start and it’s something that the City has done, and it can be expanded.” She said some residentshave made donations, and “Ald. Rainey is going to be working to expand that amount.”

The Subcommittee is scheduled to have a housing initiative completed, and to have a Report on Community Outreach Groups on March 20 as well.

  • On April 3, the Subcommittee will discuss mental health and emotional healing and begin to develop a plan to address those issues. “We need to have our community heal, but specific to reparations, the black community,” Ald. Rue Simmons said. “We have inherited trauma from the transplanted slave trade, and we have lived trauma in what we experience in communities in this nation and micro-aggressions. Even if we have not experienced police brutality, we see it on television and how it might happen to us.”

    She said the Subcommittee will have a discussion with experts at the April 3 meeting who can help develop a plan or initiative in this area.

  • On April 17, the Subcommittee will discuss partnering with local businesses in Evanston, and wrap up gathering data from community outreach groups.
  • On May 1, the Subcommittee will follow up on the four focus areas, and on May 15, it will hold a “town hall type event” that will informs the community “where we’re at in the process and where we need to go.”

By the time of the May 15 town hall, Ald. Rainey said, “We will have met with institutional donors, potential donors … We will be able to make a report on who’s inclined to support us and who needs a little more lobbying.” She added that the contributions may not be all in cash, but may be in services.

Ald. Rue Simmons asked staff to report on the amount of private donations at that meeting, and to provide a projection on the amount of sales taxes that would be collected.

  • On June 5, the Subcommittee is scheduled to submit its recommendations to City Council.

Public Comment

About 25 people attended the meeting and many spoke. Carlis Sutton said he thought $10 million was not enough. He said helping senior homeowners was important and helping black ownership of homes and keeping black people in Evanston were important.

Roberta Hudson agreed with Mr. Sutton and added that many retired black homeowners cannot afford to update their homes and stay in Evanston. She added that young people are not being trained for jobs.

Tina Paden said that the City lost about 7,000 affordable homes in the last 10 years, and there was a need to provide affordable homes with two-to-four bedrooms.

Bennett Johnson said it is important to recognize that $10 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed. He urged the Subcommittee to consider ways to leverage the funds through various housing and job programs.

There was also discussion on how the City’s R1 zoning restricts the amount of housing that can be developed in the City. Ald. Rainey said R1 zoning is being looked at throughout the country.

As an example, the City Council of Minneapolis recently adopted a comprehensive plan to abolish single-family-home zoning and allow duplexes and triplexes to be built anywhere in the city.

“Home ownership and housing is a priority,” said Ald. Rue Simmons. “We are losing our black population. .. We have lost, as a black community, half of our wealth during the Great Recession through the mortgage crisis which was another form of obvious discrimination … with the mortgage predatory lending  that expanded the crisis.”