Reparations In Evanston, Illinois Start With Housing

tree lines residential street in Evanston Illinois
Prosperous sections of Evanston, Illinois distract from majority Black neighbourhoods where historically, residents were blocked from raising funds to repair and maintain their homes.

For 50 years, from 1919 to 1969, Evanston, Illinois turned its back on its Black residents. It withheld opportunities that were offered white residents. Today, residents living in the Fifth Ward, where the majority of the population is Black, have higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of personal wealth than the city average. Following a process of research and education, the City of Evanston has taken steps to acknowledge the disciminatory practices. One step is issuing reparations payments to Black residents.

The payments are directed to housing. This might be considered fitting, as discriminatory real estate practises, such as redlining and zoning, contributed to the degradation of Black people’s homes as well as the neighbourhoods where they lived. There’s also a practical reason: tying the payments to housing means that the people who receive them do not have to pay income tax on the payment. Considering that the payments are $25,000, this will make a big difference, especially for people with low incomes.

Aside from financial considerations, good quality affordable housing also improves individual health through increased personal stability and less illness. As well, good housing builds up the immediate neighbourhood, which also translates to better health for residents.

Some people believe that reparations payments violate the 14th amendment to the US constitution. Robin Rue Simmons, one of Evanston’s Councillors, who pushed reparations, fully expects a court challenge.

There are also residents who think the program does not go far enough and is too restrictive. Simmons responds this way,

“Our thinking is that we don’t wait until there is the perfect harm report, or the perfect conditions or the absolute answer to repair. . . . Reparations is a complex and protracted process that must start now. It is an emergency, the conditions of Black America and Black Evanstonians are an absolute emergency.”

There are also supporters. One is Cornell William Brooks, who teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School. Commenting on Evanston’s reparations program, he said

“It is a first step, but it is an extraordinarily commendable first step.”

Here are two articles reporting on reparations in Evanston, one in reasons to be cheerful: Evanston, Illinois Is the First City to Offer Reparations to Black Residents and a second in Next City1:Evanston’s First “Reparations” Payments Have Gone Out. Here’s How It Was Spent.


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