The city started disbursing reparations payments to locals in 2022, in the form of vouchers for housing, and has since expanded them to include cash.
As talk of reparations ripples through the federal and local governments nationwide, Evanston, Ill., has become the first city in the United States to put money in the hands of Black residents affected by years of discrimination.
“I’m excited to see that over 100 municipalities have followed in their inspiration and what’s happened in Evanston. We all look forward to seeing more legislation put into law and then into practice, and then disbursed,” Robin Rue Simmons, the founder and executive director of First Repair and chairperson of the city’s reparations committee, told Yahoo News.
Simmons, a former alderwoman in Evanston, which has a 16% Black population and is located about 12 miles north of Chicago, has been a pioneer in bringing reparations to one of the Black communities affected by the aftermath of slavery in the United States.
“Most federal policy is implemented with a spark in a local community, a grassroots leader. Every other area of government we look at hyperlocally. And then it trickles up to our congressional leaders,” she said.
But Simmons recalled just having her own city in mind when she started out on the journey of repairing harm to the dwindling number of Black residents in the community.
“I’m a part of a village, the Fifth Ward of Evanston, a historically Black community, and we were losing our residents, who happened to be my neighbors, my friends and family,” Simmons said. “So the spark was the exodus of Black families, the declining homeownership rates and the widening racial gaps.”
In months of research to bring reparations to her city, Simmons soon found out there was no other local reparations initiative on which to model an approach to the problem. Evanston started from ground zero in 2019, she said, to consider best practices for repairing harm done to its Black community.
Here’s how the city is now putting cash into the hands of its Black citizens.
What are the reparations?
Simmons said Evanston used the widening race, education and wealth gaps, as well as the mass exodus of Black residents, as markers to address the economic and educational harm they had suffered. By consensus, she said, the Black community decided that housing should be an area of priority for redress.
“Our harm report also showed that housing is an area in which we were harmed and stripped away of wealth and opportunity,” Simmons explained. “So we’ve started with housing.”
The Restorative Housing Program was initially funded from $10 million that came from a city sales tax on recreational cannabis.
In 2022, the city’s reparations committee started giving $25,000 to about 620 applicants, in the form of vouchers toward the purchase of a home, mortgage assistance or home renovations. The benefits are also transferable to descendants. An additional $10 million was added to the reparations pot from real estate transfer taxes. This year, the committee has expanded from vouchers to include cash, overcoming some dissent from the community and taxation hurdles.
“The biggest challenge has been staffing IT and logistics in terms of taxation. How will certain types of benefits, namely cash, impact residents that are receiving other government-funded benefits and not strip away those very important benefits like housing and food access and health care and so on?” Simmons said. “So that took years for us to get to a place with confidence.”
Who is eligible?
Residents who are receiving reparations are described as “ancestors,” defined as African American or Black individuals who were at least 18 years old and living in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, or as descendants of Evanston residents living during that time. During this period, Black residents were victims of housing discrimination as a result of early city zoning laws.
Simmons says that addressing the economic disadvantage associated with factors like redlining and overcrowding is an acknowledgment that these ordinances were harmful to the Black community and were responsible for racial segregation, as well as other disparities.
“To separate the harms to Evanston allowed us to have a very specific injury, with a very specific way to measure the harm, and therefore a very specific way to determine eligibility, which is everybody Black in Evanston that was here during that period and their descendants,” Simmons said.
How are the funds being disbursed?
Residents can pick up their checks at the city’s Civic Center. Simmons has also requested that checks be hand-delivered to Evanston residents, with a thank-you note offering an opportunity for further engagement.
She said that along with the check, the reparations committee would hold a ceremonial dinner with elected and community leaders and a plaque would be given to each of the recipients as a reminder to hold their leaders accountable.
The application process is closed now, as the committee prepares to develop a new program or extend the reparations program. Simmons said the next phase will focus on addressing the education gap.
“My hope is that although this is a 10-year commitment, that future city councils will prioritize reparations and continue the work even into perpetuity, or as long as it takes for us to address our racial gaps,” she said.
Simmons emphasized the need for more research and public education around understanding the public benefit ofreparations and broadening the conversation to differentiate public policy and equity from reparations.
“Reparations is simply justice, justice that is overdue justice that all other communities are receiving and we are not,” she said.
“Repairing the harm in the Black community, yes, uplifts and liberates and empowers Black families, but it also repairs an entire community and creates healthy families, healthy communities, more wealth, increased tax revenue. There’s a long list.”
Source: Yahoo News
Featured image: The predominantly Black Fifth Ward in Evanston, Ill. The Chicago suburb is preparing to pay reparations in the form of housing grants to Black residents who experienced housing discrimination. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
Chanelle Chandler, a Willingboro, N.J. native, is a producer and writer for Yahoo News. Before joining the team in 2018, she served as a writer and producer for Fox News Edge and as a producer and on-air talent for Rap Entertainment Television. Chanelle eventually chased the sun, relocating to Los Angeles in 2014. When she is not telling stories, she and her husband love to read them to their two daughters.