EVANSTON, Ill. – Despite obstacles, Evanston officials say the city’s reparations program is moving forward though some residents say it’s not fast enough.
Anthony Swope was one of many who gave a testimonial at the Evanston Reparations Committee meeting on Thursday. The Evanston resident shared how he convinced his wife, Eleanor, to apply. Unfortunately, she’s one of several approved applicants who died before receiving benefits.
The issue is another that the city’s groundbreaking reparations program is facing. Yet, Swope says he is helpful.
“I’m exceedingly full of joy to see that there are people who are recognizing people of color,” he said.
Sixteen people were selected for the first round of benefits, but hundreds of others continue to wait, leaving some residents frustrated.
“You spend a lot of time on dinners, stale tactics, showboating, canceling meetings and time with the media, instead of what’s really important, which is getting this $25,000 to people in their 70s, 80s and 90s and plus,” said Evanston resident Tina Paden.
Local Bennett Johnson added, “If we do it right, it will be an example for the entire country.”
The effort, led by former councilmember Robin Rue Simmons, switched gears earlier this year.
“We have overcome so many barriers that are keeping us from delivering,” she said.
Instead of only housing-related benefits for mortgage reduction or home construction, which saw long delays, those selected can choose $25,000 cash payments as an option.
But that comes with a risk.
Evanston officials say the money shouldn’t be taxed, but they’re still waiting for clarity from the state on whether it would affect entitlement benefits. If it does, officials say they’ll need legislative help from Springfield.
“What we don’t want is people losing benefits as a result of us trying to actually help them. So you give them a cash payment and now they can’t get health insurance,” said Nicholas Cummings, with the Evanston Corporation Counsel.
On funding, committee members were encouraged that more than a million dollars were added to the reparations fund from the real estate transfer tax after tax revenue from recreational marijuana fell short. A new cannabis dispensary is opening in late 2023. Still, committee members are calling on institutions like Northwestern University to step up to donate.
“They have all kinds of programs that they assist all over the world. It seems to me that charity should begin at home,” Carlis B. Sutton said.
Sutton’s family was forced to move because land clearance pushed Black residents into certain parts of the city. He expects to receive benefits in the next round of applicants, though his brother was among those who died waiting.
While Sutton says no money can repair the damage of racism and housing discrimination, he applauds Evanston’s effort as a step forward.
“They should fulfill this commitment as expeditiously as possible,” Sutton said.
The next round of benefits prioritizing elderly ancestors should be released this summer.