Chicago suburb to become first city to provide reparations to Black residents for housing

Evanston city council to vote on the issue on 22 March for an initial disbursement of about $400,000 for housing needs

A suburb of Chicago is set to become the first place in the US to provide reparations to its Black residents for housing through a tax on marijuana sales, with a plan to distribute $10m over the coming decade.

Evanston, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan north of downtown Chicago, is set for an initial disbursement of about $400,000 for housing needs, with a vote on the issue set to take place at the city council on 22 March.

Under the proposal, residents would get $25,000 to use towards home improvements or mortgage assistance. To qualify, residents must have either been or descended from a Black person who lived in Evanston before 1969 who suffered from discriminatory housing practices by government and banks.

This funding will be the first to flow in the wake of a landmark decision by Evanston in 2019 to financially compensate its Black residents for historical racism and discrimination. These reparations, set to total $10m, will come via community donations and a tax on marijuana.

Robin Rue Simmons, a Black alderman who represents Evanston’s historically black fifth ward, said reparations were the “most appropriate legislative response to the historic practices and the contemporary conditions of the Black community”.

Simmons said that “although many of the anti-Black policies have been outlawed, many remain embedded in policy, including zoning and other government practices. We are in a time in history where this nation more broadly has not only the will and awareness of why reparations is due, but the heart to advance it.”

However, a group has raised concerns over the proposal, claiming that it does not go far enough to be truly called reparations. The group, Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations, posted on Facebook that “historically racist financial institutions like banks, corporations and various individuals” will profit from the move.

The group wants the program to be called something other than reparations and for the city council to come back with direct payments to Black residents. Simmons has dismissed these criticisms, pointing out the council does not have authority over the banking industry. The National African American Reparations Commission, a non-profit civil rights organization, has cited the Evanston program as a model for reparations for the rest of the US.

The US has a spotty records of discussing and distributing reparations in past decade, with most plans falling short or happening on a minor scale. In recent years, however, it has become a wider conversation: last year, Asheville, North Carolina, lawmakers postponed a resolution that would allocate a $1m fund for reparations. The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, also signed a commitment to the idea for both Black and Indigenous residents.


Oliver Milman

The GuardianTramp

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