Evanston, Illinois to provide housing grants as form of reparations

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Black residents of Evanston, who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 or are direct descendants of someone who did, can start receiving what the City Council calls reparations in early to mid-summer, in the form of housing grants.

The plan is to provide $25,000 grants for home repairs, mortgage assistance, or down payments, to start repairing some of the generational harm that resulted from redlining and other discriminatory housing practices.

Vanessa Johnson-McCoy, a real estate agent in Evanston, said she’s looking forward to seeing more black homeownership in her city. “I see the disparity here in Evanston, even now,” Johnson-McCoy explained. “When I do the market analysis for properties that are in the historically black area, the value is still less. It could be the exact same home.”

Johnson-McCoy’s father worked at the Evanston Hospital for more than 20 years, but housing practices prevented him from buying a home near work.

This is the first initiative of the city’s Reparations Fund, created in 2019 to be funded with $10 million from taxes on the sale of recreational marijuana.

Cicely Fleming, an alderman on the Evanston City Council, cast the one vote against the program.  She said she supports reparations for black Americans 100%, but thinks the proposal is closer to a housing plan than reparations, which historically involve cash payments, so recipients have agency.  “This could be kind of the very low bar we set for municipalities,” Fleming contended. “And the very low expectations that we have for African-American people that the reparations can only be something that is given to the bank on their behalf.”

According to Evanston’s website, if they opted for cash payments, they would not be able to exempt residents from paying state or federal income taxes on the payments, which could be as much as 24% to 28%.

Other cities are thinking of taking a similar approach, and in Congress, federal lawmakers are considering House Resolution 40, a bill to study and commission proposals for reparations.