Evanston plans event to select descendants for reparations funds

The Evanston Reparations Committee has announced the selection event for reparations for the descendants of those who experienced racially discriminatory housing practices in Evanston over the decades.

The selection process to determine the funding disbursement order will be held in the Evanston Township High School auditorium on Jan. 11 starting at 5:30 p.m. Letters will be sent to those who are eligible for the event informing them they will be given a selection number after the event that gives their place in line for funding.


“We’re very excited about this,” Reparations Committee Chair Robin Rue Simmons said during the Dec. 7 meeting. “Please spread the word because there is a large descendant community that’s been waiting.”

The committee expects to be able to disburse payment to at least 80 direct descendants in 2024, according to the letter, and those selected will be contacted in March to decide how they would like to spend the money. A majority of those in the ancestor group have been awarded funds from the city’s cannabis dispensary tax revenues, with 26 of 140 ancestors, those who were 18 and older at the time and directly experienced racist housing policies in Evanston from 1919 to 1969, awaiting disbursements or continuing to weigh their options.


According to the drafted letter, there are 454 verified direct descendants of the 492 applicants. In order for the last 38 applicants to become verified, further information is required.That could include ID cards, documentation on the ancestor or documentation showing the relation to the ancestor.

To be considered for the selection event, all documents must be submitted by Dec. 29. For those unable to attend the Jan. 11 event, the disbursement order will be placed online the next day on the city’s reparations webpage, cityofevanston.org/government/city-council/reparations.

“Please note that all verified Direct Descendants will be funded,” read the drafted letter. “However, there are more recipients than available funding at this time. Reparations funds will be disbursed as revenue is received to the Reparations Fund.”

Most ancestors have chosen the direct cash benefit option, resulting in over $1.6 million being allocated. The next most popular selection, home improvement, reached less than half that amount — just shy of $719,000.

Eight ancestors have died since reparations were approved by the city and the committee is looking to work with their families to ensure funding is allocated. Harris strongly encouraged those in the program to complete beneficiary information forms to speed the process up in the event a recipient dies.

“Because we have lost some ancestors, now we want to award their beneficiaries their award but because they didn’t have a beneficiary form, it’s going to be a little bit challenging,” Harris said.

A new cannabis dispensary, set to open in early 2024, can help boost that funding, as the city’s Municipal Retail Cannabis Tax is allocated to the reparations fund. The total amount is unknown as state mandates don’t allow that information to be released until a sufficient number of dispensaries open in the city to protect the existing businesses’ privacy.

The Okay Dispensary is planned for the corner of Howard Street and Chicago Avenue with the West Town Bakery opening next door. Each business will have a separate entrance as well.


“This is how we will generate and get through our descendants,” Harris said. “We’re excited to really dispense … and get our funding out to our residents. That’s so important.”

Further funding for reparations comes from the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax with $1 million per year being allocated for the next 10 years starting in 2024.

Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said the new dispensary is a big win for the city especially considering there was a time another dispensary was planned across the street over the city border in Chicago.

“The building is called Evanston Gateway so what a great way to celebrate entering Evanston from the south,” Zalmezak said. “We’ll benefit from it and hopefully the entire region benefits from it.”

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