This city is the first in US to pay reparations

The historic step could be a national model

Apr 05, 2021 | Editorial | Current Events | Government
Article headline image

The first step in a $10M plan

Evanston, IL, will become the first US city to offer reparations to Black residents after the City Council approved the groundbreaking plan last week. Funded by tax revenue from legalized marijuana, the program in the Chicago suburb aims to distribute $10 million over the next decade. The first phase will offer $400,000 in the form of housing grants to address past discriminatory housing practices and policies. Each qualifying household would receive $25,000 to use for home repair, interest, late fees, or a down payment.

Wait, what exactly are reparations?

Reparations are commonly thought of as cash payments to rectify long-lasting damage, including wealth disparities, rooted in slavery. By some estimates, Black Americans are owed $12 trillion or more. While historic in its magnitude, Evanston’s plan isn’t the first time America has tried reparations: In 2015, Chicago agreed to compensate 57 victims of police brutality — nearly all Black men — with a $5.5 million measure. On two separate occasions, Congress awarded payments to Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps during WWII. Some Black residents in a Florida town received a few thousand dollars each as an apology for a massacre 70 years prior by a racist mob.

Evanston’s reparations differ in a couple of ways: for one thing, the city has chosen to provide housing grants instead of cash payments. For another, the program specifically targets Black residents who can prove they or their ancestors were subjected to housing discrimination, such as “redlining,” in Evanston. In this practice, banks would refuse to insure mortgages in or near Black neighborhoods, preventing residents from building wealth through homeownership.

Too little, too late?

While Evanston’s pioneering plan is being touted as a national model, some residents have raised concerns over its specifics. Critics have been quick to point out the first initiative will only cover 16 households in a city that’s 17% Black, or approximately 12,000 of the city’s residents. Since the reparations are limited to housing needs, critics also say the program won’t have an impact on the wider Black community and does little to repay the long-term debt owed to Black Americans. (While, ironically, banks and mortgage lenders stand to benefit.) But even if Evanston is more symbol than substance, its program is a pioneer in the US, where Americans are increasingly aware of racial inequality even as a large majority still reject reparations.