In the first of its kind, Evanston, Illinois, has created a reparations program that seeks to begin the process of redressing harm from the housing industry. Let’s talk about reparations and Evanston’s groundbreaking initiative.

Imagine looking both ways before crossing the street at a pedestrian crosswalk. The coast is clear, so you begin to cross to the other side of the street. Suddenly, the sound of squealing tires frightens you. Tragically, just as you look up, a car hits you while you are in the crosswalk before you can get out of the way.

Some in the community rally, and new initiatives sprout up (like adding a functioning stoplight at the crosswalk with speed bumps up and down the street) to keep any further injuries from happening to you or anyone else. Those preventative actions deserve applause.

But what about your existing injuries? It’s great that measures have been taken to curb future harm, however, your ability to function has been crippled — and you deserve restitution. Would you tenaciously seek repair? It’s likely you would.

Similarly, across the United States, there has been documented harm done to Black, Indigenous and people of color surrounding the denial of access and opportunity in many areas of life, including housing.

As we approach April (National Fair Housing Month), we celebrate the passage of the preventative Fair Housing Act of 1968 (and its subsequent amendments) that was a hard-fought legislative battle that regrettably took the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be realized.

But that act did not sufficiently redress the harm already incurred (*see footnote). So in the first of its kind, Evanston, Illinois, has created a reparations program that seeks to begin the process of redressing harm from the housing industry.

Why reparations now?

Before we look at the ground-breaking work in Evanston, let’s talk about reparations. The International Center for Transnational Justice defines reparations as:

States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them. Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations.

They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims — and help to change the underlying causes of abuse. Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.

Specifically, “Black codes” that morphed into “Jim Crow” segregation laws (of the South and North) denied the equal rights of American citizens simply, superficially and frankly despicably on the basis of race and/or skin color.

Terribly, this segregation affected citizens of color in many regions but was a particularly devastating blow to Black citizens in their pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and property (including real estate) in the United States with a documented impact that is still tangible in 2021.

The local, state and federal governments in the United States in many instances caused and instigated unlawful, unequal treatment, explicitly prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. One notorious example is redlining.

There was also the government-led razing of various predominantly Black communities like Detroit, Michigan’s “Black Bottom,” metro Atlanta, Georgia’s Macedonia Park, and Richmond, Virginia’s “Harlem of the South.”

As just one more egregious government-pushed example (there are several), racially restrictive covenants for a subdivision judicially enforced was an express denial of one’s 14th Amendment rights.

In other instances, these levels of governments looked the other way and did not seriously try to prevent unlawful, unequal treatment. See the destruction of Black Wall Street, the terrorism and banishment of Blacks from Forsyth, Georgia, and the Black home burnings in Harrison, Arkansas, as it became an infamous “sundown town.”

Those are just three heinous examples of far too common forced removal and uncompensated property seizure of Black citizens during just the 20th century. (Imagine going back decades prior — awful).

If you think that was a long time ago, too long to worry about or create restitution for today, then it’s important to realize we still have Black citizens (and other citizens of color) living who endured the perils of Jim Crow segregation that included 35 years of racist housing policy (my living grandmother and siblings are examples).

Thus, it is not a bygone, to-be-forgotten history when those harmed (even if children at the time) are still living. They (or their descendants, in cases of death) deserve compensation for losses suffered.

As stated in the definition above, reparations publicly affirm that those harmed are rights-holders entitled to redress to overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They are owed this by local, state and federal governments that allowed and perpetuated citizen rights to be trampled — and Evanston has figured out a way to start the redress process.

Who was behind this groundbreaking initiative?

Evanston’s Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, a champion of this initiative, recommended that we hear from the man and the legend responsible for the report that became the framework for the case for reparations in Evanston.

Without hesitation, I was honored to sit down with and capture the wise words of Morris “Dino” Robinson (founder and executive director of Shorefront Legacy Center). In this candid video that felt like medicine to my soul:

  • Review some of the lingering harm that the federal government has inflicted along with local government’s complicity.
  • Hear how Shorefront Legacy Center made this initial housing reparations initiative an actionable starting point.
  • Be inspired to actualize in your own community the six guideposts essential along the road to real reparations that Robinson shares.

Want a 2021 primer into race and real estate in the U.S.? Download today your complimentary copy of my new book, How to Be an Anti-Racist Real Estate Pro.

*Footnote: As quiet as it kept, the fair housing policies beginning in 1968 have not corrected the racial housing gap for Black citizens. In truth, the racial housing gap has increased over the decades with “years of homeownership” being one of the biggest drivers of this inequity that had its origins and perpetuation in racist segregation laws and racist (particularly anti-Black) federal, state and local housing policies.

Thus, reparations are a needed part of this work but so are updated fair housing policies. If you have not heard, a new movement (that has already captured the interest of industry leaders and over 15,000 citizens) has begun, led by Richard Rothstein (author of Color of Law) to work toward such improvements.

Learn more about the New Movement to Redress Racial Segregation (NMRRS) by clicking here. Plus, are you virtually attending the Housing Solution Summit in May where Richard Rothstein and Bryan Greene (of NAR) will speak? This summit has no fee options and will discuss more solutions to make homeownership equitable.

Lee Davenport is a licensed real estate broker, trainer and coach. Follow her on YouTube, or visit her website.

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