For the first time in the history of the United States, a city is making recovery payments to black Americans, who have been discriminated against by the government. In Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, the first phase of recovery payments was approved last night. It is a compensation of $10 million for the discrimination in the housing market, resulting from slavery and segregation.
“It‘s a start,” says Alderman and architect Robin Sue Simmons to The New York Times. “As a city, we are truly proud that we can lead the country to recovery and justice.”
The recovery program is funded by income from cannabis taxes, since last year cannabis is legal in Illinois. The municipality will first invest 400,000 dollars in mortgage support, subsidies for housing repairs or down payments for a new house. The remaining amount has yet to be distributed.
“The program could become a model for other cities and states struggling with their own form of possible recovery payments,” says correspondent Ryan Hermelijn.
Like many American cities, Evanston once imposed racial separation by means of so-called ‘red-lining‘. Black Americans were not allowed to live in white neighborhoods. “Banks did not invest in black neighborhoods. And because of the stricter mortgage requirements, black residents were not allowed to buy houses, even in their own neighbourhood,” says Hermine. With this, black Americans were sentenced to continue renting. “And with that, they missed one of the most important ways of acquiring assets: their own home.”
After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, several cities set up a task force to deal with a recovery fund. Evanston is the first city to come up with a concrete plan.
However, there is also criticism of the recovery programme. Some black Americans don’t believe that this is the right form. In addition to cash compensation, they also want formal excuses from the government for the slavery past. “To be clear, I am 100% behind recovery payments,” says Councillor Cicely Fleming to The New York Times. “But what I don‘t approve is that a housing program is seen as a recovery payment.”
The recovery programme is now also intended only for people who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or who had to deal with discrimination on grounds of urban policy after 1969. It’s not clear how many people are eligible.
Recovery payments are also on the agenda of national politics. Congress is debating a bill for a national recovery committee. This proposal states that USD 12 million will be earmarked for a committee to deal with the history of slavery and discrimination. Some 170 democrats support the proposal.
The bill was considered in 2019, but then parked because of the presidential election. President Joe Biden supports a national recovery committee, but the chances of it being approved by the Senate are small.
“President Biden has identified racial justice as a priority of his policy. In Evanston, they hope that this historic step will be a new impetus to continue fighting for recovery payments at the federal level,” said Hermine.