Local organizers criticize Evanston’s reparations proposal

EVANSTON — Evanston community organizers criticized the City of Evanston’s proposal for African American reparations. 

The program proposes Evanston committing $10 million dollars from the city’s cannabis occupation tax towards the overall program. The city will commit $400,000 to the first phase of the plan involving housing, according to the City of Evanston. 

“The individuals who qualify and would actually receive a benefit from this program and do not ever get money into their hands,” said community organizer Sebastian Nalls. “This money either goes directly towards the bank, or for the contractor of their choice to redo their home. The residents never receive any form of direct pay.”

Evanston’s first phase of the plan, “Restorative Housing,” will assist families in the areas of home ownership, home improvement and mortgage assistance. 

The plan addresses discriminatory housing policies towards Black residents from 1919 to 1969, according to the City of Evanston. 

According to a report that Evanston historian Jenny Thompson conducted, “builders did not sell properties to Black households if the homes were outside the area set aside for Black people.”

“Homeowners couldn’t get mortgages or they also would get mortgages that were not as favorable financially as other white homeowners would get so it was fundamentally unequal in the ways that the finances were handled,” Thompson said. 

However, community organizers are critical of the proposed plan due to its unusual proposal, lack of qualifiers and future plans. 

Anna Grant-Bolton, community organizer for Evanston Fight for Black Lives, said it is “ridiculous” that only a select few will qualify for the reparations. 

“All Black folks have been harmed by Evanston’s systemic anti-Blackness, and so it’s a little bit ridiculous that only a select few community members are able to access that,” she said. 

Nalls said that currently, 16 individuals, or four families, qualify overall. 

The City of Evanston states that on its website, “the program identifies eligible applicants as Black or African American persons having origins in any of the Black racial and ethnic groups of Africa. The person must reside in Evanston at the time of disbursement of funds.”

However, Evanston is willing to hear cases from those who wish to prove their eligibility. 

Yet, Grant-Bolton and Nalls said that legal barriers could be another obstacle for Black residents. 

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, center, listens as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., right, chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, attends a markup in the House Judiciary Committee of a bill to create a commission to study and address social disparities in the African American community today. Rep. Jackson-Lee is the sponsor of that legislation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP)

“Even out of the people who technically would qualify, you also need the evidence that you qualify, and that’s just not an accessible way to go about it,” Grant-Bolton said. “Lots of folks don’t have access to those resources and access to the time.”

“Ultimately, it’s helping out 16 people in a city of 75,000 where we have a Black community of about 12,000 residents,” Nalls said. 

Reject Racist Reparations, an organization opposed to the current proposed plan, said in a statement that “residents have voiced concerns that those who had resided in Evanston outside [1919-1969] have still been susceptible to the same inequities, which prohibits hundreds of families deserving and needing repair from qualifying.” 

The effect of racist systems, such as gentrification and redlining, did not stop after 1969 and can still be felt in 2021. 

“There are so many different aspects of life that were impacted by racial discrimination and segregation…attached to [the city] for decades,” Thompson said. 

“If you were to have lived in Evanston or moved to Evanston in 1970, what’s the difference between that and moving there a year prior?” Nalls said. 

Organizers are also calling out that these proposed plans should not be labelled reparations at all, and that Black residents deserve more. 

“I think a lot of the problems lie with this current program is that we are diluting the meaning of reparations because reparations is supposed to heal some of the racial wealth gap,” Nalls said. “If we are handicapping residents and saying, ‘you know what their form of reparations should look like, what is entailed and like what they ought to deserve.’ It’s wrong.”

Although Evanston claims that cash payments would be subjected to taxation, Grant-Bolton said the city should pursue direct cash payments. 

The City of Evanston did not respond to The DePaulia’s request for comment. 

Nalls criticized Evanston’s lack of effort for seeking direct payments. 

“There’s ways to circumnavigate this problem, but it’s just whether or not we’re willing to put the time and effort into creating a program like that,” Nalls said.

Evanston is one of the first cities to ever propose plans for reparations, making them a leader in the nation for reparations. 

“I think that it’s helpful in providing money to the very few folks that qualify, who need money going to their mortgage, I’m sure that is helpful and I don’t want to downplay that,” Grant-Bolton said. 

Yet, federal-issued reparations have never been brought up to rectify for slavery, the Jim Crow South or War on Drugs That may change as House Resolution 40 is set to be approved by the House, according to USA Today. HR 40 will study potential reparations for slavery. 

“The issue is that white people want to distance themselves from racism in the past,” Grant-Bolton said. 

However, Nalls said that it is critical that Evanston builds the program around direct payments especially to areas like the Second, Fifth and Eighth Ward. These wards have the highest population of Black residents in Evanston.

“I always emphasize that I’m extremely proud of the fact that we actually took the time to research the damage done,” Nalls said.

Restorative Housing is set to address housing inequity. The city has yet to release plans for the future of the program and what other areas they will address.

“I don’t know how exactly they’re addressing the post-1969, but I think in some of their language, they do allow for things that could have happened after that day, and that people can still make claims that relate to times after that,” Thompson said. 

As the new City Council is set to come into office later this year, they will be responsible for the future of the program. 

Reject Racist Reparations and Evanston Fight for Black Lives will be involved with working out details for the future of the program with the new city council. 

“The damage is not gone,” Nalls said.