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Chicago suburb becomes first U.S. city to pay Black residents reparations over ‘redlining’

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The Chicago suburb of Evanston has become the first U.S. city to offer reparation money to Black residents whose families suffered lasting damage from decades of segregation and discriminatory practices.

The city council voted 8-1 on Monday to begin distributing US$400,000 to eligible Black residents through US$25,000 grants for home repairs, down payments or mortgage payments in a nod toward addressing historically racist housing policies.

“I’m proud of our community for taking this bold and courageous action to begin the process of remedying racial disparities that have harmed our Black community for decades,” Alderwoman Ann Rainey said in a statement.

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Evanston’s city council in November 2019 committed US$10 million over a decade to the reparations effort from a new tax on legalized marijuana. City council members said the housing plan is only the first in what they hope to be a series of programs to address past discriminatory practices in areas such as education and economic development.

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The effort in Evanston, where about 16 per cent of the 75,000 residents are Black, could become a model for other cities and states grappling with whether to pursue their own reparations initiatives.

The burgeoning national movement has gained traction as a way to reckon racial inequity following the police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans last year.

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Under Evanston’s plan, a limited number of Black residents are eligible to receive US$25,000 each if they, or their ancestors, lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 or if they can show they suffered housing discrimination due to the city’s policies.

As across the United States, Black people in Evanston were subjected to “redlining,” a practice in which banks refused to make housing loans in predominantly Black neighborhoods. That kept Black residents from home ownership, a key source of wealth.

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The practicality of implementing reparations programs, especially on a national scale, is still a matter of debate.

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Some opponents ask whether taxpayers can afford to pay out what could be billions, or even trillions, of dollars and question how eligibility would be determined.

Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations, an opposition group, has noted the initial payments from the city’s housing program will cover only 16 households. The group also opposes restricting the money to just housing needs.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)

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