Members of Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission voted Thursday evening to ask the City Council to provide property tax relief to black long-time owners of residential property in the city.
The panel also proposed that the city provide housing repair and rehab assistance to black property owners, downpayment assistance to income-qualified black home buyers and rental assistance to income-qualified black residents.
The commission also proposed that the city’s Gibbs-Morrison Center be repurposed to provide co-working space for black entrepreneurs and that the city invest in workforce training for black residents and provide low-interest loans for black entrepreneurs.
It suggested that funding for the programs come from revenue generated by sales of city property and a portion of the real estate transfer tax.
The resolution said the measures would help “remedy the city’s role in historical and institutional racism and discrimination.”
The resolution adds that while much of the “wealth and opportunity gap” affecting black residents are tied to home loan redlining practices in parts of the 2nd and 5th Wards, the commission didn’t want to limit the reparations programs to residents in those neighborhoods.
The panel ducked addressing issues regarding how the policies might be implemented, “acknowledging that additional research and data are necessary to create a fair and equitable process and determine the long-term sustainability of the funding sources.”
Evanston voters last fall approved an increase in the transfer tax on high-value properties that the city budget for this year anticipated would generate an additional $850,000 in annual revenue. But transfer tax revenue has varied dramatically over the years depending on the state of the real estate market, and a budget presentation last week suggested RETT revenue may fall next year.
The sale of city-owned property is an even more volatile revenue source. The City Council had anticipated receiving $4 million this year from the sale of the library parking lot to an office building developer, but then voted against approving the developer’s plans, which means, at least for the time being, no revenue from that source.
Update 9:30 a.m. 8/16/19: A commission member, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said in an interview with Evanston Now this morning that once the recommendations reach the City Council, the city’s legal staff will need to address issues about what legal limits there may be on racially targeting the benefits of city programs.
In addition, city staff, she said, will need to work to refine the details of the programs broadly outlined by the commission.
She also said the city needs to better track how well the city’s existing housing and other social programs serve different racial groups.
“This is a start, and we need to start somewhere,” Wynne added.
The commission’s recommendations are scheduled to be on the City Council’s Sept. 9 agenda.