As talk of damages spreads among federal and local governments across the country, Evanston, Illinois, has become the first city in the United States to place money in the hands of black residents who have suffered years of discrimination.
“I am happy to see that over 100 municipalities have followed their inspiration and what happened in Evanston. We all look forward to the new laws being passed into law, then put into practice, and then paid for,” Robin Rue Simmons, founder and CEO of First Repair and chair of the city’s reparations committee, told Yahoo News.
Simmons, a former female alderman in 16% black Evanston about 19 miles north of Chicago, was a pioneer in paying reparations to one of the black communities affected by the effects of slavery in the United States.
“Most of the federal policy is implemented with a spark in the local community, at the grassroots leader. We consider any other sphere of public administration hyperlocally. And then it leaks out to our leaders in Congress,” she said.
But Simmons recalled that she was only thinking about her city as she embarked on a journey of making amends to the dwindling number of black residents in the community.
“I’m part of a village, Evanston’s 5th arrondissement, a historically black community, and we’ve been losing residents who happen to be my neighbors, my friends and family,” Simmons said. “So the spark was the exodus of black families, the decline in homeownership, and the widening of the racial gap.”
During several months of research into redress in her city, Simmons soon discovered that there was no other local redress initiative on which to model the approach to the problem. Evanston started from scratch in 2019 to consider best practices for making amends for the harm done to its black community, she said.
This is how the city is now putting money into the hands of its black citizens.
Simmons said that Evanston used widening gaps in race, education, and wealth, as well as the mass exodus of black residents, as markers to reverse the economic and educational damage they had done. She said that by consensus, the black community decided that housing should be a priority area for redress.
“Our harm report also showed that housing is an area where we have suffered and lost wealth and opportunity,” Simmons explained. “So we started with housing.”
The recovery housing program was originally funded with $10 million from the city’s recreational cannabis sales tax.
In 2022, the city’s reparations committee began issuing $25,000 to approximately 620 applicants in the form of vouchers to buy a home, help with a mortgage, or repair a home. Privileges are also passed on to descendants. An additional $10 million was added to the reparations cauldron through real estate transfer taxes. This year, the committee expanded from vouchers to cash, overcoming some community dissent and tax hurdles.
“The biggest challenge was recruiting in IT and logistics in terms of taxation. How will certain types of benefits, namely cash, affect residents who receive other government-funded benefits without depriving them of very important benefits such as housing, access to food, health care, and so on? Simmons said. “So it took us years to get to the place with confidence.”
Who is eligible?
Reimbursed residents are described as “ancestors”, defined as African American or black individuals who were 18 years of age or older and lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, or as descendants of Evanston residents who lived at the time. During this period, black residents were victims of housing discrimination as a result of early urban zoning laws.
Simmons says addressing the economic disadvantages associated with factors such as redlining and overcrowding is a recognition that these ordinances harmed the black community and were responsible for racial segregation as well as other inequalities.
“Sharing harm to Evanston allowed us to have a very specific injury with a very specific way of measuring harm and therefore a very specific way of determining eligibility, which is all blacks in Evanston who were here at that time and their descendants,” Simmons said. .
How are funds distributed?
Residents can pick up their checks at the city’s community center. Simmons also requested that checks be delivered to Evanston residents by hand, with a thank you note offering the opportunity for further interaction.
Along with the check, she said, the reparations committee would hold a gala dinner with elected and community leaders, and each of the recipients would be given a plaque as a reminder to hold their leaders accountable.
The application process has ended as the committee prepares to develop a new program or extend the indemnity program. Simmons said the next phase will focus on closing educational gaps.
“I hope that while this is a 10-year commitment, future city councils will prioritize redress and continue to work forever, or for as long as we need to address our racial differences,” she said.
Simmons emphasized the need for more research and public education on understanding the public good. reparations and expanding dialogue to distinguish public policy and justice from reparations.
“Reparations are just justice, past due justice that all other communities receive, and we don’t,” she said.
“Making amends to the black community, yes, uplifts, liberates, and empowers black families, but it also rebuilds the entire community and creates healthy families, healthy communities, more wealth, increased tax revenue. The list is long.”