Council advances reparations plan to counter wealth, opportunity gaps


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) at a City Council meeting in May. The council approved a commission’s recommendations for reparations, including housing assistance programs for black residents.

Cassidy Wang, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen approved reparations recommendations made by the Equity and Empowerment Commission at City Council on Monday, a first step in addressing wealth and opportunity gaps experienced by black residents.

From property tax relief for longtime residential property owners to down payment and rental assistance, the Equity and Empowerment Commission recommends various housing assistance programs for black residents in their memo.

Ideas for the reparations plan will move to a subcommittee, which will include Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th), Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) and legal staff. Rue Simmons recommended the subcommittee focus on areas such as homeownership opportunities, preservation of existing homeownership and expanding entrepreneurship in the community.

The commission also suggested economic aid for black residents, including workforce training, repurposing the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center as a workspace and the provision of low-interest loans for entrepreneurs.

“The time for talking is done,” said Venice Hendricks, an Evanston resident, during public comment. “It’s time for action.”

In June, Rue Simmons requested that a “Solutions Only” subcommittee of the Equity and Empowerment Commission address the impact of historically discriminatory economic and housing policies on black residents.

“We’re at this point because we have done a lot in Evanston to acknowledge discrimination and oppression and racism,” Rue Simmons said. “We have had resolutions and various policies and different honorific actions that have been appreciated over the lifetime of Evanston. It has just not been enough. The racial wealth gap continues. The black residency rate continues to drop.”

Rue Simmons said the city has “demonstrable evidence” of damages done specifically and intentionally to black Evanstonians and targeted neighborhoods in the city. She added the city should work towards an intentional repair policy and budget that calls out support to uplift black residents.

“It’s not just a historical story problem,” Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said. “It’s about present, existing impediments to opportunities…Educational opportunities, predatory lending, deceptive action. I’ve seen a number of situations with reverse mortgages. It’s a lot of subversive things that continue to go on in the community. Things happened a long time ago, but things are still happening.”

Rue Simmons said her goal is for the city to commit $10 million over ten years to reparations programs, using sources like the recent increase of the real estate transfer tax rate from $5 to $7 per every $1000 paid.

Aldermen also supported the Equity and Empowerment Commission’s truth and reconciliation initiative efforts, which follows a resolution council adopted in June committed to ending structural racism and achieving racial equity.

Although she supported the initiative, Fleming said the city should consider changing the term “reconciliation.”

“Reconciling means that you had a harmonious relationship and there was a tear and you came back,” Fleming said. “People in the community don’t all feel like they’ve had that racial harmony… I would like us to think past reconciliation.”

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