Evanston aldermen voted Monday night to allocate the first $400,000 of a local reparations program to offer housing aid to Black residents.

The program, believed to be the first of its type in the nation, was developed over the past two years by a council subcommittee chaired by Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward.

The program would offer forgivable loans of up to $25,000 for down payment assistance, home improvements or mortgage loan reductions.

Applicants could qualify by showing that either they or an ancestor lived in the city between 1919 and 1969.

A staff memo to aldermen says officials believe Evanston had racially “discriminatory housing policies and and practices and inaction” during that period.

Alternatively, an applicant would have to prove they experienced housing discrimination due to city polices after 1969.

Assuming all recipients got the maximum grant amount, the program could assist 16 households.

In the memo, Interim Assistant City Manager Kimberly Richardson says applications for the program won’t become available until midsummer at the earliest, and that the applications will be reviewed by a Reparations Committee. The deadline to apply to become a member of that committee is March 31.

Dozens of people addressed the issue during public comment — split between those who voiced support for it and those who objected that it was inadequate, shouldn’t have focused on housing, shouldn’t be called reparations, or that there hadn’t been sufficient time for public input.

Cicely Fleming.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, picked up on some of those complaints, in casting the only vote against the program.

She said, “I am 100% in support of reparations. But what is before us tonight is a housing plan dressed up as reparations.”

Fleming had initially been appointed to the Reparations Subcommittee in September 2019, but had resigned by the end of that year. She was replaced on the panel by Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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