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Chicago suburb to become first U.S. city to pay reparations to Black residents

Evanston official: Reparations plan falls short
"It wasn't honoring my ancestors": Evanston lawmaker on her vote against reparations housing program 09:27

The Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, is about to become the first U.S. city to make reparation money available to Black residents. Part of a growing movement that has picked up speed in the wake of police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd last year, the decision by Evanston officials could also lay the groundwork for other municipalities and states considering reparations. 

"It doesn't mean every city will do it exactly like Evanston has done, but there's a blueprint there," Ron Daniels, who oversees the National African American Reparations Commission, or NAARC, told CBS MoneyWatch.

The Evanston City Council voted 8-1 Monday night to start with an expenditure of $400,000 to give 16 eligible Black households $25,000 each to be spent on home repairs or down payments on property. Funded by a new tax on legalized marijuana, the council previously committed $10 million over 10 years to repairing the ongoing harm that systemic racism has caused Evanston's Black residents, with the housing initiative its first step. About 16% of Evanston residents are Black.

National advocacy groups that advised Evanston on its action expressed optimism that other cities and states would follow suit, leading to further pressure for national legislation. 

Robin Rue Simmons, a lawmaker in Evanston, Illinois, is leading the effort to begin offering financial reparations to local Black residents. Robin Rue Simmons

"We're very excited to see the first national direct benefit from some of the harms we've had to experience from the past," Kamm Howard, co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or N'COBRA, told CBS MoneyWatch "The more local initiatives occur, the more impetus there is on the federal government to act."

NAARC's Daniels agreed. "This is no longer a fringe issue. It gets at the critical issue of addressing and redressing the systematic racism that is one of the original sins of this nation," Daniels said.

The effort in Evanston was led by Robin Rue Simmons, an alderwoman who will join the commission when her term ends.

Ongoing mortgage discrimination in Evanston and other parts of the country justify tackling years of abusive housing practices in any reparations program, according to Howard. "We brought in experts to look at current conditions to justify a housing initiative as a first initiative," he said of his group's work in the suburb just north of Chicago. 

One 2019 analysis by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that Black and Latino mortgage applicants were charged higher interest — an average of nearly 0.08% — and heavier refinance fees when compared with white borrowers.

"Paternalistic" approach?

Evanston's plan came up short in the eyes of some local residents and one council member. Alderwoman Cicely Fleming voted against the resolution, arguing that it is a housing program masquerading as reparations. She cast the only negative vote.

"True reparations should respect Black people's autonomy and allow them to determine how repair will be managed, including cash payments as an option. They are being denied that in this proposal, which gives money directly to the banks or contractors on their behalf," the alderwoman stated in a news release. "If we're doing reparations, let's do reparations right."

In a phone interview with CBS MoneyWatch, Fleming also said many in Evanston's Black community objected to this "paternalistic model of 'we know what's best for you.'" She said she hoped city officials would give Black residents more say on how reparations are handled moving forward, while also giving fund recipients more autonomy on how they use the money.

"If it's reparations, it really has to have a cash component," Fleming told CBSN after the vote. "We have to respect Black people's ability to manage their own funds."

Sebastian Nalls, who organized a group called "Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations," expressed similar sentiments to CBS Chicago, saying, "What this plan is, is not reparations."

The group supports reparations, but says there are too many limits on outlays. "Residents are unable to use their funds for anything other than housing," Nalls said.

But local realtor said Vanessa Johnson-McCoy told the station, "Housing is the just the first step, and there will be other parts of this initiative."

"I say it's definitely a start, and I say yes, we have to begin somewhere," Johnson-McCoy said.  

A federal measure that would establish a commission to study and develop reparations has about 170 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and advocates are hopeful the White House would take executive action if the Senate fails to pass the bill.

Around the U.S., cities including Asheville, North Carolina; Amherst, Massachusetts; Burlington, Vermont; Chicago; and Providence, Rhode Island, have started reparation efforts, although none yet allocate funding to Black residents.

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