In 2019, a year before the nation would face a Black Lives Matter reckoning, a city in Illinois passed a historic resolution: reparations for Black residents who'd been affected by anti-Black zoning laws and segregation-leaning housing practices. Evanston, which is located just north of Chicago, was the first city in the country to pass such a measure.
Now, CNN reports, the Housing Restorative Program is giving residents the option of a cash payout. Funds were first released in 2021; the grants started rolling out last year. Qualifying Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969—or their direct descendants—were offered $25,000.
The grants are supposed to be used for mortgage assistance, renovations, or a down payment on a house, but a vote held this week added a new option for a direct cash payment. That may sound great, but the program has been slow to give grants; there are still 124 on a waiting list approved to receive money. According to CNN, six people have died while waiting for their reparations. Six hundred and fifty residents overall have applied; the city says it's still sorting through those applications.
How many have actually gotten their hands on reparations so far? Only 14. One of them, 74-year-old Ramona Burton, said she used her reparations to put a new roof on her home, repair her chimney, and install eight new windows and a privacy fence. "We never see the money," Burton said. “The city paid the contractors for the work.”
Surprisingly, some of the funds came from the sale of marijuana. In 2020, Illinois approved legal recreational marijuana. The initial funding for the Housing Restorative Program came from some of that tax money. Unfortunately, cannabis sales and donations alone might not be enough to keep the funds moving.
Evanston might be the start of a trend: Cities including Asheville, North Carolina; Detroit; and San Francisco are weighing reparations. San Francisco's could be as high as $5 million for every eligible Black resident.
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