Evanston reparations program approved as city becomes 1st in US to do so; some say it's not enough

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- The Evanston City Council voted to approve the "Restorative Housing Reparations Program" late Monday, becoming the first American city to offer Black residents reparations.

The council meeting went well into the night. In the end, the measure was approved in an 8 - 1 vote.

"This is a start, although a small start. It might have some things that can be improved on but the whole point is that you have to start doing something to help rally others to get on board and make it a better process," said Dino Robinson, the founder of Shorefront Legacy Center.

The first round of $25,000 payments will go to 16 qualifying Black households for home repairs, down payments or mortgage payments.

Qualifying residents must either have lived in or been a direct descendant of a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969, or that person's direct descendant, who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices. Also, residents who also experienced discrimination due to the city's policies or practices after 1969 can qualify.

The City Council voted in 2019 to create the Reparations Fund, using tax revenue from recreational marijuana. The fund is supposed be used for housing and economic development programs for Black residents. There's now $400,000 available.

In Evanston, besides revenue from the 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana, a small portion of the money - $21,340 - is coming to the city in private donations.

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The first round of $25,000 payments will go to 16 qualifying Black households for home repairs, down payments or mortgage payments.



Robinson has researched racism and discrimination in Evanston.

"The city of Evanston did embrace the culture of Jim Crow, and they utilized it is various creative ways of enforcing that without actually putting that in the law books," he said.

"Here we see a town like Evanston that is majority white with a majority white city council that they were able to pass this resolution and to put a real program in place," said Alvin Tillery, NU Center for the Study of Diversity & Democracy.

RELATED: ABC News' 6-part 'Soul of a Nation' begins in Evanston, 1st city in country to offer reparations to Black Americans

Alderman Peter Braithwaite said this is a start.

"What we passed last night was about the local harm, what's going through Congress right now is about the federal harm that will hopefully include cash reparations," he said. "I think we are open to all options, but it was important to establish the first step to help us move forward."

But not everyone on the council agrees.

"I don't think it's anything we haven't see before, and if we are looking at reparations we are looking at cash benefits," Alderman Cicely Fleming said. "That's what happened with the Japanese, that's what happened with the Jewish community, so to announce to African Americans that our first piece of legislation around reparations is housing, and housing that we are giving to the bank on your behalf, it just feels a little paternalistic."

Evanston resident Donna Walker's family has deep roots in the northern suburb.

"My great, great grandfather came here from Augusta, Georgia," she said.

Walker lives in Evanston and owns a hair salon. She's the perfect candidate for Evanston's Restorative Housing Program for Black residents, but she's not going to apply.

"I love Evanston. I would love to own a home here," she said. "Taxes are super-duper high. I would have to have another job outside of my job to just afford it. Why buy something if they're just going to take it away because I can't afford it?"

The application process for the Restorative Housing Program will open this summer. Although Walker said it isn't right for her, she's encouraging those who qualify to consider it.

"I do hope that it helps everyone who apply. Please apply," she said.

Evanston Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who has been the face of the reparations push in the city, said this is just the first step.

"If you are measuring just this one initiative as a settlement for repair it is certainly not enough. It would be an insult to think $25,000 is enough," Rue Simmons said.

She added that she hopes Evanston's reparations program is a nudge to Congress to act on reparations at the federal level.

Evanston officials plan to have more discussions and even form a committee to welcome more opinions moving forward. This program could serve as the model for other proposed reparation programs across the nation.

Other communities and organizations considering providing reparations range from the state of California to cities like Amherst, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, Asheville, North Carolina, and Iowa City, Iowa; religious denominations like the Episcopal Church; and prominent colleges like Georgetown University in Washington.

The efforts, some of which have been underway for years, have gained momentum in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody last May in Minneapolis. President Joe Biden has even expressed support for creating a federal commission to study Black reparations, a proposal that's languished for decades in Congress.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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