Can A Local Reparations Program Undo Decades Of Housing Discrimination?

Talking about reparations was once politically taboo. Not only was the idea largely unpopular, but the term too was understood differently depending on who was asked. Even the most progressive racial stalwarts – those who said they advocated reparations for blacks as reparation for slavery and state sanctioned discrimination – had no specific plans for how they thought reparations should work. Then, last month, Evanston, Illinois made a historic announcement: The city council had just approved spending on what is believed to be the land first state reparations program for black Americans.

The initiative aims to address the discriminatory housing policies of the past that have impacted blacks by enabling eligible residents to receive up to $ 25,000 for mortgage and down payment assistance, home improvement and more. Individuals who qualify for the money must be of black ancestry and resident of Evanston between 1919 and 1969, or be a direct descendant of someone harmed by discriminatory housing policies or practices during that time. Eligible are also those who experienced housing discrimination due to urban policy or practices after 1969.

This has prompted some Critic to say that this initiative is more of a home ownership program than actual redress. But one expert who studies redress said something that was close to my heart: redress is essentially about restoring a past wrong. In the case of Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, the city chose to extend its history of discrimination through unfair housing policies such as “Redlining, “A practice where lenders refused to insure mortgages in and near mostly black neighborhoods. So, yes, this is not redress in the way many people traditionally think of the term – i. H. direct cash payments to black descendants of enslaved people trying to correct the effects of systemic racism – but it is likely that this program will take some more initial steps to eradicate housing inequality. And to be very clear, even the most comprehensive reparations program you can think of is going to fall short in some way because ultimately there is no amount of money to pay someone to help overcome the effects of slavery. “You can’t even get close,” said Rashawn Ray, Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

But why is this program still a first step in repairing the damage done to blacks during the Evanston redlining era? For starters, it tries to address those City history of segregationist housing policy This limited the supply of housing for blacks and increased the cost of home ownership for them. Home ownership builds prosperity and helps secure the financial basis long-term, because houses gain in value over time. Stable housing can also lead to Accumulation of generational wealth. According to quarterly data from the US Census BureauBlack home ownership is now one of the lowest of all racial groups in the United States at just 44 percent. Eventually confirmed Evanston’s plan the city’s racial wealth gap saying that the program will help “build intergenerational prosperity among the city’s black residents”. “Repairs are, by definition, repairs, and the express aim of this policy is to repair the damage caused by it [Evanston] on blacks, ”said Andre Perry, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Author of the Book “Know your price. ”

That means being the first something is always chaotic, and even Evanston’s program supporters, like Perry and Ray, admit that it’s not perfect. So let’s evaluate some of its shortcomings.

The most common argument I’ve heard against the program so far is that eligible recipients don’t get cold, hard money. In other words, there isn’t a lot of flexibility in how people can spend the money. Ray told me that he believed that black residents could be better served by a program where beneficiaries could choose how they would like to spend their money – maybe money on housing, but also on higher education, student loan debt, or start-ups of your own company. “There may be some people who want to take the money and deal with the tax implications, but that should be their prerogative,” he said.

By asking citizens to use the funds solely on home-related expenses, the plan largely ignores the fact that blacks are often faced with unfair property valuations lead to higher property taxesracial Differences in Appreciation at Homeand gaps in both retirement provision and Stock investments. One of the Evanston city councilors told me that the city will offer homebuyers and homeowners educational resources that Ray says are essential for first-time homeowners, especially black homeowners, to improve their financial literacy in black communities. “Not only could we not buy houses at the same rate [as white people]but also that we didn’t have the same knowledge to know what to do after we got these resources, ”he said. And gaining that knowledge could go a long way toward addressing the barriers to home ownership Have blacks historically faced. In 2019 the Urban Institute, a Research organization based in Washington, DC, predicted that promoting an equitable and accessible home finance system would narrow the home ownership gap.

Scientists have also criticized the source of funding for the program. Currently, the program is almost entirely paid for by the city Sales tax on marijuana, which was legalized in Illinois last year. While some proponents have hailed this as progressive and innovative – Black Americans are disproportionately affected through marijuana-related arrests – other reparations experts have suggested linking funding more sensibly to past housing discrimination. Thomas Craemer, a professor at the University of Connecticut who studies reparations, told me it would make more sense to let local mortgage lenders, who benefited from redlining, fund the program.

Some in the community are also upset that Evanston hired banks to manage the grants on behalf of blacks rather than just giving them the money directly (which is one of the reasons a black alder woman voted against the proposal).

Finally, it is a local government program aimed at combating racism and discrimination the federal government, States and municipalities. By the grand scheme of things, the Evanston program is negligible when you consider how much slavery has cost blacks. Scientists estimated the work of four million enslaved black Americans to be worth $ 3 billion in 1860. Today economists appreciate that The US owes trillions in unpaid wages – an amount that cannot realistically be financed at the local level. “The main improvement would be … make it a federal policy and expand it from home ownership to slavery and post-slavery discrimination,” Craemer said. “So basically make it bigger and more comprehensive.”

Of course, a federal program shouldn’t prevent cities like Evanston from issuing their own minor guidelines, but it’s also important that the federal government participate in a reparations program – if nothing more than simply recognizing the role it has played in racism against blacks Americans both during and after slavery.

Even so, Perry emphasized that we should not take up this criticism of the program, given the technical details of how we would or could carry out reparations have served as barriers in the past to make something happen. “We can’t let style differences get in the way of people’s real efforts to repair damage,” he said.

Where are we with these problems? Evanston is perhaps what we most likely want from reparations for now. Although federal legislators push again The congress to create a commission to investigate reparations is still not a special people’s policy nationwide. A survey released last summer – at the height of nationwide protests after the George Floyd dies in police custody – found that 80 percent of black Americans believed the federal government should compensate the descendants of enslaved people, compared with just 21 percent of white Americans. And with similar suggestions The national level has stalledAt the local level, it could be difficult to pay for a thorough program without federal funding.

Still, both Craemer and Perry told me the program in the Illinois area could encourage other communities and states to take similar action. “We’re in an era right now where people understand the need for relief,” Perry said, referring to the money the government gave to small businesses and people during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, a black lawmaker in Maryland last year Legislative proposal that would have created a statewide fund to compensate today’s Marylanders who provide adequate evidence that they are the descendants of slaves in the state, while other places in the US – like Asheville, North Carolina, and Amherst, Massachusetts – have also considered their own initiatives. “The Evanston proposal reflects the dynamism of the reparations movement at all levels,” added Perry. “You were the first, but you won’t be the last.”

And again – we cannot stress this enough – the important thing to remember is that the city is still a test case for a problem with no obvious solution. Ray said we often wait to make things perfect, which is impossible because “politics is imperfect and people are imperfect”. “Evanston found a model. Is it perfect Can it be criticized? Yes, ”he said. “But it’s Chapter 1. It’s not the bookend.”

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