City Council discusses allocation proposals for remaining ARPA funds


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th). Nieuwsma, who chairs the Redistricting Committee, presented the proposed new ward map to the council.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

City Council discussed proposals for distributing the city’s remaining $6.4 million in Evanston’s American Rescue Plan Act funds Monday. 

In 2021, Evanston received $43 million to respond to health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on input from councilmembers, city committees and staff members, city staff created a list of 13 proposals for the remaining funds. 

Proposals include purchasing mobile vehicle barriers to direct traffic during outdoor events, funding improvement projects in the city’s business districts, building affordable housing and developing a pilot program to address health inequities in lower-income neighborhoods. 

“We’d really like to focus our efforts on things that the council is most interested in seeing move forward,” Interim Director of Community Development Sarah Flax said.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said his top priority is the pilot program to address health inequities in Evanston. 

Citing data collected through the Evanston Project for Local Assessment of Needs study, Burns said there are significant health and quality of life disparities between census tracts that encompass lower-income Evanston communities and the rest of the city. EPLAN found that residents in one tract that closely maps to the predominantly Black 5th Ward saw a life expectancy of 75.5 years, compared to the city’s average of 82 years. 

The $1.5 million pilot program, Burns said, would address chronic health issues, such as diabetes, obesity and asthma, that disproportionately affect lower-income neighborhoods. The program would also provide mental health and nutrition support to residents through collaborations with medical and food industry experts.

“(It) is critically important that we don’t just put the EPLAN on the shelf, but that at least out of a portion of our ARPA funds, we’re creating very specific interventions to try to improve health outcomes that we know are leading to early deaths and other issues in our community,” Burns said.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) proposed setting aside $2 million to support Evanston’s small businesses by continuing or expanding the city’s existing economic assistance programs.

Kelly said many other Midwestern cities spend seven to 12 percent of their ARPA funds on helping small businesses recover from the pandemic. She said, in comparison, Evanston spends too little on helping small businesses.

“(Small businesses) are the heart and soul of our neighborhoods,” she said. “They are represented by 50% of the workforce, and to bolster the businesses, to help them get over that hump after COVID, means a lot to our city.”

Kelly also said she’d like to see ARPA money fund another round of the city’s guaranteed income pilot program, which is run in collaboration with Northwestern. In December, Evanston began giving $500 each month to 150 residents through a lottery. NU researchers are studying how the money improves recipients’ quality of living over the next year.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he thinks the mobile vehicle barriers are a good idea, because having more outdoor events will help the city recover from the pandemic.

He suggested the city could lease the barriers to neighboring municipalities to offset part of the cost of purchasing them.

Council also discussed safety improvements to the city’s crosswalks, such as adding curb extensions and lights.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said she thinks these improvements are critical to pedestrian safety. 

“We have had one fatality and one near-fatality in the 3rd Ward just in the last month (with) pedestrians in crosswalks,” Wynne said.

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) expressed support for Wynne’s suggestion. He said Evanston should be “walkable for people of all ages.”

During public comment, several residents expressed their concerns over the process of allocation for the remaining ARPA funds. 

Evanston resident Mike Vasilko said City Council should commit funds for its Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals.

“The climate crisis is enormous … and that’s why the council, I believe, declared a climate emergency nearly a year ago,” he said. “Yet there’s been no substantial climate action because there’s been no substantial climate action funding.”

Nieuwsma echoed Vasilko’s priority during discussion, asking if the city can allocate ARPA funds toward climate action programs.

However, Flax said the city can only fund climate action programs using ARPA money if they satisfy the act’s other requirements, including addressing the pandemic’s negative economic impact. 

In this case, Nieuwsma said, the city should consider the environmental impact of programs it plans to fund, especially when examining proposals to build affordable housing units.

“We would want to make sure that any money we spent there is tied to CARP commitments,” Nieuwsma said.

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