Aldermen in Evanston, Illinois, on Monday officially approved the disbursement of the first tranche of funds to be distributed to the city’s Black residents as part of a historic reparations program that seeks to atone for previously discriminatory housing practices, the Chicago Tribune reported.
This reportedly makes Evanston the first city in the United States to officially implement a reparations program. The bill, which was approved in 2019, was initially proposed by Ald. Robin Rue Simmons. In an 8-1 vote, the city’s Aldermen agreed to use all revenue generated from recreational marijuana tax to fund the $10 million capped program, Face2Face Africa reported in December 2019. Another alternate source of funding for the program will be through donations.
Per the details of Monday’s memo, $400,000 will be disbursed to the city’s Black residents in the form of housing grants, with eligible applicants receiving up to $25,000. Recipients can use those funds for a variety of purposes, including making down payments on houses in the city, closing cost assistance and making renovations on properties among others, the Chicago Tribune reported.
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In an interview with the news outlet, Simmons lauded Monday’s approval but stressed more needed to be done. “It is, alone, not enough,” she said. “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.”
Backers of the city’s program also said they hoped it would spur the introduction of other reparation initiatives in the United States.
In order to qualify for the grant, the memo states that any resident who wishes to apply must have “origins in any of the Black racial and ethnic groups of Africa.” Either the applicant or the applicant’s direct descendant should have also been an Evanston resident between 1919-1969. Residents who were subjected to the city’s discriminatory housing policies and redlining after 1969, can also apply.
“The Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program … acknowledges the harm caused to Black/African-American Evanston residents due to discriminatory housing policies and practices and inaction on the part of the City,” the memo states, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The memo adds that the program aims at “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,”
Though the program was welcomed by a section of people, others were of a different opinion, with Ald. Cicely Fleming saying it looked more of “a housing program with the title reparations.” Fleming was the only Alderman to not vote in favor of the reparations program.
Some Evanston residents also said they preferred unconditional cash payments to the housing grants. But one of the reasons behind the approval of the program is to encourage the city’s declining Black population to stay. According to data from the U.S. Census, Evanston’s Black population dropped from 22.5% in 2000 to 16.9% in 2017.