Reparations Committee approves direct cash payment option for Restorative Housing Program recipients


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Ald. Devon Reid (8th). At Thursday’s Reparations Committee meeting, Reid introduced an amendment to add direct cash payments as another option for reparations recipients.

Yiming Fu, Senior Staffer

The Reparations Committee approved a direct cash payment option for all recipients of the city’s Restorative Housing Program Thursday morning. 

This decision adds another option to the program’s payment structure, which previously allowed recipients to direct a $25,000 grant toward a down payment on a home purchase, mortgage payments or home renovation. 

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the motion will let recipients receive the money faster and spend it how they want to, instead of being pigeonholed into housing specifically. 

“We have the money in the bank now ready to be dispersed. Let’s get it out to them,” Reid said. “Let’s let them make decisions for themselves and for their families that will help them build generational wealth and live their healthiest years.”

Evanston’s Restorative Housing Program is the first step in the city’s 2019 reparations initiative that aims to redress institutional harm for Black residents who were 18 years or older from 1919 to 1969. 

The idea of cash payments as an alternative to housing grants resurfaced earlier this month when the Reparations Committee voted 4-1 at their last meeting to allow two recipients to receive their $25,000 benefit in cash. Both recipients were renters who were not able to take advantage of any of the home improvement benefits.

But the debate around cash payments isn’t new. 

Many advocates wanted Evanston’s reparations program to be solely based on cash payments and did not want the city to pass the restorative housing program. The only councilmember to vote against the Restorative Housing Program, former Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th), said that the city did not gather enough community input and that incumbents were rushing the program out to gain votes. 

Evanston residents Rose Cannon, Kevin Brown and Sebastian Nalls started the online group Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations in March 2021, which encouraged Evanston residents to pressure City Council members to either vote against the initiative or delay the vote until the next City Council took office. 

Instead of developing a cash payment program, Reparations Committee Chair Robin Rue Simmons said in Thursday’s meeting that the city should finish distributing money to its housing program applicants. 

“We do have a program that was designed by community input that happened already,” Rue Simmons said. “We have designed this program. We have applications that are in. We have residents that are waiting to receive their benefit.” 

Rue Simmons said more than 600 people applied and qualified for the housing grant, and the money needs to get to them first. 

Evanston resident Meleika Gardner said she is glad the committee is adding an option for direct cash payments, but felt like she had the door slammed in her face three years ago when she advocated for the very same thing. 

“We know you did not want direct cash payments because you’ll lose control,” Gardner said.  “That’s what this is about. You lose control of the money.”

Other residents defended Rue Simmons during public comment, lauding Evanston for leading national conversations about reparations and advocating for residents to have patience with the legislative process. 

Resident Adriene Strickland, who said she isn’t interested in housing payments but would want cash, said she wouldn’t mind having to wait for 600 people before her to receive payments. She said she’s cheering all the recipients who get the money first. 

“We’re gonna get this figured out and nobody should be throwing stones at people,” Strickland said. 

The committee also voted unanimously to discuss the development of a new reparations program based on cash payments at their next meeting. Two of the members were not in attendance Thursday. 

Rue Simmons said she would reach out to the law department for recommendations and asked city staff to compile a report comparing the committee’s progress to the city’s initial recommendations in 2019. She also said she wants a financial report with real estate transfer taxes and disclosable information from the city’s cannabis tax earnings. 

“I want to make sure that we share every bit of information that we can,” Rue Simmons said.

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