The City Council of Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, approved what’s believed to be the country’s first government reparations program for African Americans Monday, March 22nd, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The program aims to address discriminatory housing practices and policies that have impacted black residents for decades. Evanston pledged to distribute $10 million over 10 years, funded through a mix of donations and the city’s 3 percent marijuana sales tax. (Adult-use marijuana has been legal in Illinois since January 2020.)
The measure, approved by an 8-to-1 vote, will launch with the city’s Local Reparations Fund issuing $400,000 to a housing program. Eligible individuals will be able to receive up to $25,000 to put towards a home down payment, mortgage principal, interest, late penalties, repairs, improvements and more.
Per a memo issued by Evanston’s interim assistant city manager, Kimberly Richardson, eligible residents must have “origins in any of the Black racial and ethnic groups of Africa,” and must also have been an Evanston resident between 1919 and 1969, or a direct descendant. Those that faced housing discrimination related to city policies or practices after 1969 are also eligible.
In Evanston, as in countless other cities and towns across the United States during the 20th century, redlining and other discriminatory practices were used to create heavily segregated neighborhoods that still exist today. As The Washington Post notes, Northwestern University, which is located in Evanston, had the approval of the City Council when it refused to provide housing for black students post-World War II, including returning vets. Additionally, evidence showed that real estate agents were leading black residents to specific neighborhoods up until at least the mid-Eighties.
While Evanston’s reparations policy passed overwhelmingly and has the support of the incoming mayor, even those that fought for it see it as only a first step. Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who introduced the initiative in 2019, said, “It is, alone, not enough. We all know that the road to repair and justice in the black community is going to be a generation of work. It’s going to be many programs and initiatives, and more funding.”
To that end, others have criticized the decision to center the program specifically around housing, instead of issuing direct cash payments. The Post spoke to one resident, Tina Paden — who lives in the same Evanston home her black ancestors built in the 1800s — who noted that that mortgage assistance and repair money will inevitably make its way back to the same banks and financial institutions responsible for redlining and other discriminatory practices in the first place.
Alderwoman Cicely Fleming, who cast the lone “no” vote despite supporting reparations, added that the program inherently upholds the stereotype that poor people “can’t handle their money.” She also claimed it disadvantages people who should be eligible for reparations, but either don’t own a home or don’t plan to buy one.
“I don’t think it’s true reparations,” she said. “If we start out with something that is not clearly modeled after what historic reparations are about, we open up a lack of trust,” said Fleming, a longtime resident who is Black. “There’s no way I could go to African Americans in Mississippi who have experienced true racial terror and tell their city councils to do the same as what we’re doing with housing. I would be mortified.”