As elders call for promised repair, Evanston, Ill., plan doesn't fix harm, it adds to loss

·3 min read
Cars drive past a sign welcoming people to the city of Evanston, Illinois.
Cars drive past a sign welcoming people to the city of Evanston, Illinois.

Editor's note: Cicely Fleming, the only member of the Evanston City Council to vote against reparations legislation passed this year, wrote about the city's plan in April. This is an update. See the original column here.

Evanston, Ill. — Four months have passed since Evanston made history as the first municipality to approve a housing program resolution labeled as reparations. The celebration ended, the media left, the academics moved on, and not one Black resident in Evanston has been “repaired.”

The resolution that passed on March 22, 2021, was merely suggestive, not legally binding (resolutions are, by definition, simply "a formal expression of opinion, will or intention" agreed on by a legislative body, committee or other group). With no approved application or selection criteria, the $25,000 housing vouchers remain another example of the government’s unfulfilled promise to the Black community.

I will admit, it has only been four months and the government is not known for its expeditiousness. However, our premature celebration of a program that did not even have a codified timeline for implementation leaves Black Evanstonians still waiting.

The past harms we set out to repair are being exacerbated when elders call looking to access funds that are not ready to be dispersed. When Evanston natives who have relocated learn that they are ineligible, not because there was no harm, but because they moved away (though eligibility would return if they moved back); when the Black folks who questioned the plan (yet were told by white folks how great this is) are left behind, again having their voices ignored, we are not repairing harm, we are adding to it.

While I still say that the March 22 resolution was not reparations, I am even more concerned with the snail's pace being taken to get the housing program up and running for the 16 residents who need the support. As we near the end of the federal COVID-19 eviction moratorium, it is imperative that we move to get these funds to the banks on their behalf to ensure that 16 more Black families do not lose their already-undervalued and over-mortgaged homes to the same banks that continue to thrive on the racial inequities that built this country.

There is no perfect plan, but ours was rushed through – plagued by the desire to meet media expectations and personal and political ambitions.

It's not the responsibility of states to repay the debt of chattel slavery; that falls to the federal government. But cash payments to Evanstonians for the wrongs of redlining and mortgage discrimination would have been more efficient, more equitable and a more accurate model of reparations than the city's current plan. And that effort, unlike the one that has been stalled for several months, could have started with the elders of Evanston – the ones who directly experienced housing discrimination. It's hard to see how money from the current plan, which passed without enough input from the Black residents who are supposed to benefit from the coffers, can be distributed without a lottery. A random system that could potentially give repair to an 18-year-old who can prove lineage before giving monetary repair to the teen's great grandmother is inherently unfair.

All of these challenges come at a time when the Evanston City Council has four new members, and the city has elected a new mayor, who are also being faced with leading the city through COVID-19 recovery. The committee in charge of Evanston's reparations program is slated to meet again in August, and current proposals for implementation may be rejected by an entirely new group of city leaders.

The elders of our community deserve better. They deserve real, meaningful repair.

Cicely Fleming, an Evanston, Ill., native, a member of the city council and a founding member of The Organization for Positive Action and Leadership, a group committed to promoting equity in government.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Evanston, Ill., plan doesn't fix harm, it adds to loss

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