‘Too little, too late’: Black residents disillusioned by pace of Evanston reparations program


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

Bruce King said Evanston’s reparations program is too little and too late to correct the history of discrimination toward Black residents.

Jessica Ma, Senior Staffer

Eva Holland-Switchett still lives in the Evanston childhood home her mother bought in 1961. 

She associates the house with memories of love. But Holland-Switchett, who is Black, also remembers the redlining practices her mother fought against to buy the house in the first place. For instance, her mother went to the bank to get a loan but couldn’t get it, she recalled. 

About 60 years later, Holland-Switchett applied for Evanston’s Restorative Housing Program, hoping to use the housing grant to renovate her bathrooms. She said she remains frustrated with the process. 

“With reparations, it’s hard to say whether it’s really going to happen,” she said.

Across Evanston, some Black residents said they are disillusioned by the reparations program, which seeks to compensate them for the city’s historic discriminatory housing policies and practices. So far, 16 residents have received the $25,000 housing grant, while more than 100 residents are on the waiting list. They ask where their promised money is, as they say the program is moving too slowly. At least five people passed away before receiving their promised grants.

Recipients can use the grant to renovate their homes, assist with mortgage payments or contribute to a down payment on a new home. To qualify for the program, applicants must fall within one of three categories: Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 (referred to as “Ancestors”); direct descendants of an Ancestor; or residents who submitted evidence of experiencing housing discrimination after 1969. However, only those in the Ancestor category are receiving money in the current stage of the program. 

“The thing is — when are they going to distribute (the money)?” Holland-Switchett said. “I feel the city is just taking people’s private information.” 

In January 2022, the Reparations Committee used a ping-pong ball machine to randomly select an order for those in the Ancestor category to receive their money.

Rose Cannon is one of the founding members of Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations. The group demands that the program be re-evaluated and more responsive to the entire Black community, according to its Facebook page. Cannon said Evanston reparations are moving at “turtle speed.”

“I know people who have their numbers and they’re waiting,” she said. “It’s tricky, and it makes people unhappy.”  

Last fall, Holland-Switchett received a form to designate who would receive the benefits in the event of her death or sudden incapacitation.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who serves on the Reparations Committee, said the form aims to ensure other family members could still benefit from the program in such a case. 

But Holland-Switchett called it the reflection of the program as a “farce.” If the city planned to distribute the money soon, she said, there shouldn’t be a reason to designate a beneficiary. 

“If you’re here today and gone tomorrow, the next person may not even (receive the money). So where’s the money going to go?” Holland-Switchett asked. “I’m not building hopes upon the program.” 

In November 2019, the city aimed to fund the program through the city’s 3% cannabis sales tax — but, it was found to be an insufficient source of revenue, according to Reid. The estimate relied on having three dispensaries, he said, but the city currently only has one recreational dispensary. 

“Most folks who were supportive of reparations anticipated that we would be contributing $10 million over 10 years — about a million dollars a year,” Reid said. “We have not been able to do that thus far.” 

To catch up, the city decided to allocate money from real estate transfer tax revenue in addition to the cannabis sales tax revenue, according to Reid.

“On top of the $3 million from real estate transfer tax revenue for this year, we’ll be doing a million dollars a year for the next seven years (from the real estate transfer tax revenue), which brings us up to $10 million,” he said. 

Reid, Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) are pushing to find funding to pay everyone in the Ancestor category, Reid said. This year’s funding should be sufficient to do that, he said. 

Evanston Live TV owner Meleika Gardner said the city needed a solid plan before moving forward with the program in the first place. Though she’s not involved with Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations, she, too, thinks Evanston hasn’t approached reparations well.

“People want to know the (answer to the) number one question: Where’s their money?” Gardner said. “Why did you make a commitment to do a reparations program when you had no solid plan of where the money was going to come from to fund it?”

Ultimately, Cannon said she does not consider the program to be reparations.

She pointed out that it does not meet the United Nations’ five-point description of full reparations: cessation, restitution and repatriation, compensation, satisfaction and rehabilitation.

“To me, reparations would be something that would close the racial wealth gap that my people have suffered for nearly 400 years,” Cannon said. “Call it a housing program. Just don’t put the name ‘reparations’ on it.” 

Gardner said she thinks direct cash payments are the only way for the program to work. 

Reid supports direct cash payments as well, adding that they allow people to choose how to best support and repair their lives. He said he put in a referral — City Council’s equivalent of filing a bill — to add direct cash payments to the program. 

“If you are currently eligible for the housing grant, you’d be able to opt into foregoing the housing grant and receive a direct cash payment,” Reid said. “That’s my vision of it.”

He said that in his eyes, the reparations program would then reopen applications, so residents could apply for direct cash payments. 

Evanston resident Bruce King, who qualified for reparations, said he remembers the impact redlining and legal discrimination had on his family. In 1959, King’s mother tried to pick up his grandmother from work, but his grandmother harshly reminded his mother that Black people couldn’t go east of Sherman Avenue after 6 p.m. without being arrested, he recalled. 

He compared Evanston’s reparations program to “throwing a toothpick to drowning men”: The money is too little, too late and too slow. 

Correcting that horrific history, King said, will require a lot more than dollars and cents. 

“The damage that was done was not just done to those who were enslaved. The damage has been ongoing,” King said. “Reparations means to repair. It would mean to address every aspect of life — education, legal, entertainment, sports, agriculture.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JessicaMa2025

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