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The first 16 residents of Evanston, Illinois accepted in the city’s reparations program have begun to receive their $25,000 housing grants.

Last March, Evanston city council voted near unanimously to approve the first-of-its-kind reparations program designed to compensate Black residents for racist housing policies that robbed communities of wealth. The program caught national attention when leaders introduced it in 2019,  the first city to move beyond simply discussing reparations.

The 16 grant recipients were selected at random in January from 122 applicants who qualified as “ancestors” under the city’s reparations program requirements.

Ramona Burton, 72, was shocked when she learned she became one of the first recipients.

“I’m like, are you telling the truth?” she asked ABC 7 News over the phone.

“I want to get a new roof put on my house. I want to get new windows,” she said. Burton has lived in Evanston her whole life. Her parents moved to the city sometime in the 1920s or early 30s.

Reparations program begins in Evanston, Illinois

To be eligible, residents must be a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969, or a descendant of such a person. Moreover, applicants also qualified if they’d been a victim of discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969.

“A single financial contribution is a small part of the reparatory work that needs to be done and that we’re committing to do,” Mayor Daniel Biss said at last week’s city council meeting. “We make these allocations of funding as a recognition of how much more work we have to do thereafter, but also as a recognition that it’s simply not acceptable any longer to not take this tangible step.”

Each recipient received $25,000 in tax-free grants that can be used to pay for a home purchase, pay off a mortgage or cover the cost of home improvements from the Restorative Housing Program, which aims to address the effects of housing discrimination and redlining on Black Evanstonians.

Of the first 16 Evanstonians selected to receive grants, one has selected assistance with the purchase of a home, one is still deciding how to spend it, two have selected mortgage assistance and have already received the money, six chose to use the grant for a combination of mortgage assistance and home improvement, and the other six chose to use their full grants for home improvements, city staff announced.

Mike Creef is a fighter for equality and justice for all. Growing up bi-racial (Jamaican-American) on the east coast allowed him to experience many different cultures and beliefs that helped give him a...