Politics & Policy

Evanston, Ill., Becomes First American City to Pay Reparations to Black Residents

A community historian Morris “Dino” Robinson, points to the borders of the Fifth Ward in Evanston, Ill., March 17, 2021. (Eileen T. Meslar/Reuters)

The Evanston, Ill., city council voted 8–1 on Monday to approve a first-of-its-kind initiative to distribute $400,000 to eligible black households as a form of reparations over past discrimination and the lasting effects of slavery.

Qualifying households will be eligible to receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property, according to the Associated Press.

Residents who have either lived in or been a direct descendant of a black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 and who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies, or practices will be eligible to receive the funds.

The program will be funded by a 3 percent tax on the sale of recreational marijuana, as well as donations.

The $400,000 in grants is the first phase of spending from a reparations fund that the city created in 2019. The city expects to pay out roughly $10 million over ten years.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, the lawmaker who first proposed the measure back in 2019, said Monday that “it is, alone, not enough.”

“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,” she said, according to the Chicago Tribune. 

City officials noted that it is unclear how many residents would qualify and the number of available grants is small. Evanston’s population is 17 percent black, 59 percent white, and 12 percent Latino, according to census data.

Cicely Fleming, the lone council member who voted against the first phase of the plan on Monday, said she was concerned with the decision to give housing grants rather than cash payments.

“I want to be clear, I 100 percent support reparations,” she told the New York Times. “What I can’t support is a housing program being termed as reparations. We are potentially setting precedent.”

The topic of reparations, particularly on the national level, is a controversial one. Some Democrats have supported paying reparations to African Americans: Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas reintroduced legislation earlier this year that would fund a commission for studying and creating proposals for doing so. However, such plans have received pushback from Republicans.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that President Biden “certainly would support a study of reparations.”

“He understands we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime,” she said.

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