Two aldermen told Evanston's Equity and Empowerment Commission tonight they want the city to acknowledge and apologize for racially discriminatory policies it has adopted in the past.
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, got general support for the proposal from the commission members.
Fleming, who distributed a draft resolution on the subject to commissioners but refused to provide a copy to a reporter, said, "It's important that the city make an official statement acknowledging its history, what's been done in the city based on racism and class."
"I would like to have this resolution make a bold statement. It won't heal everyone's heart, but it's important to know what we have done as a city to cause harm," Fleming added.
Rue Simmons said she wants to work on reparations -- "how do we draft policies that repair the damage done to black families that were confined to the west end of the 5th Ward, that were excluded from the rest of the city and still in many ways are financially enslaved and haven't had the same educational opportunities."
Rue Simmons suggested that black students from Evanston should have free access to Northwestern University and Oakton Community College if they're academically qualified to enter those schools.
Fleming said the city needs to address the disparity in homeownership levels, which she claimed was only 5 percent in the black community and 95 percent in the white community.
In reality the disparity in homeownership is dramatic, but not nearly that stark. The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows that 62 percent of white households and 38 percent of black households in Evanston are homeowners.
Rue Simmons focused on the disparity in income levels. Census data shows the median income for black households in Evanston is $50,356 while for white households it's $93,356.
Fleming and Rue Simmons said they'd both like to see the ordinance that limits to three the number of unrelated people who can share a housing unit abolished and zoning changed to permit greater housing density in what are now R1 zones.
Commission member and former alderman Delores Holmes said she'd started working on the three-unrelated issue in 2005 and it still isn't resolved.
"A lot of families would rent out spaces in their homes -- that's how they could survive," Holmes said. But at that time only she and Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste supported changing the rule.
The most vocal opposition to changing the rule has come from homeowners near the Northwestern University campus who complained about students doubling up in off-campus apartments.
Rue Simmons said she hoped to get all nine aldermen to support the resolution acknowledging how city rules contributed to racial segregation, but Fleming, saying she was a pessimist, and would be satisfied if it could pass with the minimum five votes.