City in Illinois transfers reparations funds to Black-owned bank

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 17, 2024 11:55 AM EDT
This city in Illinois has transferred its reparation fund to a Black owned bank. Photo credit: Bob Korn/Shutterstock

Evanston, a city in Illinois has transferred its reparations fund to Liberty Bank, a Black-owned bank. The Evanston Reparations Committee has deposited $17 million to the financial establishment, which has been invested and committed to the cause for a while to ensure that recipients get the most out of the funding. Liberty Bank has provided services for first-time home buyers who chose to use their reparations funding for mortgages and has offered 100 percent refinancing on predatory loans.

“This is a way that this repair can be multiplied. $17 million in a Black bank is going to give more lending power and access to Black businesses, Black mortgages that are fair and other forms of support so this is a very, very big deal,” said Robin Rue Simmons, Evanston Reparations Committee Chair.

In 2019, Evanston made history by becoming the first city in the United States to enact a government-funded reparations program solely focused on addressing the injustices its Black residents have endured. The city established a committee to fund and administer reparations to residents who met particular criteria. The fund currently supports initiatives such as the Restorative Housing Program, which aims to increase homeownership, build wealth and intergenerational equity among the city’s Black residents, and improve the retention of Black homeowners in the city. It is the first step in a wider plan to narrow the racial wealth gap and enact significant economic justice for Black people in the area.

To be eligible for the fund, Black Evanstonians have to fit one of three categories. They could either be residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969, referred to as “ancestors”, or direct descendants of an ancestor or they could submit evidence that they had suffered housing discrimination due to the city’s policies after 1969. The reparations program has so far disbursed over $4.5 million in funding to Black Evanston residents. The city gathers its funding through a city tax on adult recreational cannabis, donations, and annual transfers of $1 million from the city’s real estate transfer tax. A total of $10 million is set to be added to the fund from real estate transfer taxes by 2035.

“If we have inspired more than 100 municipalities to do reparations, what if they follow this model? Let’s not be scared to dream,” said Robin Rue Simmons, Evanston Reparations Committee Chair.

Evanston is considered a successful example of how reparations can be meaningfully made. The city’s actions have resounded widely with dozens of other communities across the country contacting its administration to ask for advice on how to establish their own reparations program. Last year, a reparations advisory committee in San Francisco, the largest US city yet to adopt a plan recommended a one-off payment of $5 million each to eligible Black residents.

The topic of reparations has been at the forefront of political debate in the US for a long time. These discussions began during the abolition era and the end of the Civil War. However, it was not until 1989 that the first measure to study reparations was tabled in Congress.