US has never made headway in discussions on how to compensate Black people for more than 200 years of slavery.
Council members of the city of Evanston, Illinois, have voted in favour of giving funds to Black residents as a form of reparations for housing discrimination – the first city in the United States to take such action.
The plan, passed with an 8-1 vote on Monday, will distribute $400,000 of a $10m fund generated by marijuana tax revenue, to up to 16 families to use towards housing needs.
For Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, the architect of the Evanston Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program and Program Budget, it was an “initial first step” after years of discussion and input from locals.
“It is not full repair alone in this one initiative but we all know that the road to repair and justice in the Black community is going to be a generation of work. It’s going to be many programmes and initiatives and more funding,” Rue Simmons said.
Under the plan, residents who qualify will receive $25,000 to use towards home improvements or mortgage assistance.
To qualify, they must have either been or be descended from a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 who suffered from discriminatory housing practices, including “redlining” – unfair refusal of services such as loans – from government and banks.
The move has been closely followed in the US and could become a model for elsewhere in the country as racial injustice has risen up the political and public agenda.
Evanston is a suburban city of 75,000 people, home to Northwestern University and located just north of Chicago along the shores of Lake Michigan.
The meeting on Monday, which lasted more than three hours, had more than 60 people giving public comments, both for and against the plan.
Those opposed asked for more time for public discussion and called it a housing programme rather than reparations.
“As a Black woman, I am 100 percent in support of reparations… but what we have before us tonight, I will counter, is a housing plan, with the title reparations,” said Cicely Fleming, the lone alderman to vote against the measure.
Rue Simmons said they were ready for any legal challenges, saying that civic action groups and international law firms were “ready to provide pro bono legal defence to us in the event that we should have some sort of situation in court.”
Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, who moderated the meeting, said that he expects families to begin applying for the funds this summer.
Council members said the plan was not a substitute for any future federal reparations for the descendants of slaves.