Evanston, Illinois is paying reparations to Black residents for harm caused by the city’s discriminatory housing policies and practices.
It is the first time that a city in the United States has established a reparations program.
“The program is a step towards revitalizing, preserving, and stabilizing Black/African-American owner-occupied homes in Evanston, increasing homeownership and building the wealth of Black/African-American residents, building intergenerational equity amongst Black/African-American residents, and improving the retention rate of Black/African-American homeowners in the City of Evanston,” a draft of the resolution reads.
Evanston City Council approved the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program with an 8-1 vote. The program will grant qualifying households up to $25,000 for down payments and home repairs.
“We have a large and unfortunate gap in wealth, opportunity, education, even life expectancy,” Robin Simmons, an alderwoman and creator of the reparations program, told NPR in 2019. “The fact that we have a $46,000 gap between census tract 8092, which is the historically red-line neighborhood that I live in and was born in, and the average white household led me to pursue a very radical solution to a problem that we have not been able to solve: reparations.”
Simmons says the plan is a solution for the community. Black residents are arrested at alarming rates for minor infractions involving marijuana and are also priced out of their homes.
“The strongest case for reparations by the City of Evanston is in the area of housing, where there is sufficient evidence showing the City’s part in housing discrimination as a result of early City zoning ordinances in place between 1919 and 1969, when the City banned housing discrimination,” city officials wrote.
Dino Robinson Jr. and Jenny Thompson wrote a 77-page report describing segregationist and discriminatory practices in education, employment, housing, and policing in Evanston from 1900 to the present day. The authors said that these practices have shaped families for generations.
“While the policies, practices, and patterns may have evolved over the course of these generations, their impact was cumulative and permanent,” Robinson and Thompson wrote. “They were the means by which legacies were limited and denied.”
To qualify for the program, residents must have lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or be a direct descendant of someone who did. People who do not meet the criteria can still apply — only if they can prove they were victims of housing discrimination.
The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and the National African American Reparations Commission endorsed the initiative.
“What happened in [Evanston] today is historic & will help provide a pathway for other cities,” Dreisen Heath, a racial justice advocate and research with Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter. “It should be treated as such, knowing there is a long way to go for the city of Evanston and the country at large.”
Cicely Fleming, a Black alderwoman, says she supports reparations but not Evanston’s housing program.
“We can talk more about the program details, but I reject the very definition of this as a ‘reparations program,'” Fleming said. “Until the structure and terms are in the hands of the people — we have missed the mark.”