Aldermen respond to residents urging delay of reparations vote

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Daily file illustration by Emma Ruck

A conservative lawyer and activist from Washington, D.C. sent a letter to Mayor Steve Hagerty and City Council denouncing Evanston’s reparations program as “unconstitutional.”

Delaney Nelson, Assistant City Editor

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) and Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) pushed back on claims that the city has not involved the public in the reparations process at a City Council meeting Monday.

Over ten residents spoke during public comment in favor of either delaying City Council’s vote on the city’s current reparation’s proposal until after a new Council takes office, or designating the proposal as something other than reparations.

Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations organizers launched a campaign last week criticizing the Restorative Housing Reparations program, which would allocate $400,000 of the $10 million reparations budget to housing grants of up to $25,000 addressing homeownership, home improvement and mortgage assistance. Council is expected to vote on the proposal March 22.

The group, which held a demonstration and press conference outside of the MedMen cannabis dispensary this weekend, encouraged residents to speak during Monday’s public comment.

Residents said the reparations process has lacked opportunities for community input. E3R organizer Rose Cannon said she’s seen residents demonstrate a general lack of awareness about the restorative housing program and what it entails. She also said people were unaware of the reparations eligibility survey the city released earlier this year. 

Evanston Live TV owner Meleika Gardner said the survey was “absolutely flawed” because survey-takers were forced to choose a housing program and weren’t able to indicate interest in other forms of reparations.

“I’ve heard the voices of the community, and housing programs is not it,” Gardner said. “House improvement — I love it. Going to a bank to approve whether or not I can get reparations — that’s a problem.” 

Rue Simmons said between when reparations was first introduced in February of 2019 to when it was passed by City Council in November of the same year, the city hosted 15 public meetings in which residents could provide input on program priorities. In 2020, she said the city “continued an extensive public process” by hosting public subcommittee meetings twice a month until the COVID-19 pandemic began, after which they met monthly. 

However, Rue Simmons said she is excited there is new interest in the city’s reparations program and said the subcommittee is looking to implement a process to include more community members in program development. 

“It is unfair to say that we haven’t included the voices of the community, specifically the Black community, and we look forward to continuing the work,” Rue Simmons said.

Braithwaite said he’s had many conversations with people who want tax abatement, as well as to purchase homes in Evanston and to receive assistance to repair their homes. 

He said residents need to understand that while the national reparations programming is based on slavery and Jim Crow laws, the city’s program is based on discrimination the city has enacted, and the housing program is just the beginning of the local effort.

“I think we should all be suspect, whenever you have a Black effort, and you have Black people with Black allies attacking those efforts in the name of Black unity, is something that I just can’t get my head around,” Braithwaite said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be an ethics complaint but that’s just a feeling that I communicate to our broader community.”

E3R organizer Kevin Brown said the current proposal is not reparations, but instead a “social equity housing program,” and the city needs to “go back to the drawing board to start with the truth and reconciliation process.” 

He added it’s an issue that the city’s program requires interaction with financial institutions, and that residents shouldn’t need a good credit score to receive reparations. Voting on the proposal before the new Council is in office, he said, is “bad public policy.”

Several residents thanked Rue Simmons for creating the reparations program in the city. Still, Cannon said she feels the current proposal isn’t reparations. 

“I want to see reparations in my lifetime, but I want those reparations to be congruent with all the national organizations that state what reparations are,” Cannon said. “I’m fearful that our community will be hurt, wounded once again, by the processing of this housing allotment that you’re calling reparations.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @delaneygnelson

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