The writer is a contributing columnist for the The Washington City Times
I live on one side of the track in a small town outside of Chicago, and most of the city’s black residents live on the other. In the US 8092 census trail, on the predominantly African American side of Evanston, Illinois, the mean life expectancy at birth is 75.5 years.
In Census 8094, on the predominantly white side of this city of 73,000 residents (16 percent of whom are black), life expectancy at birth is 86 years. That’s the America of today in a snapshot: a country where skin color can still mean the difference between life and death.
That truth became vivid last week when US television broadcast live the trial of a white police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, a black man whose death last May sparked the biggest anti-racism protests in the US in more than 50 years.
But it’s not just traumatic police camera footage that brings this life home to those of us who live in the racially divided cities of the American Midwest. My morning walk traverses the great canyon, from the country of the 86-year life expectancy to the country of the 75-year life expectancy, and it doesn’t take a genius to say which one is which. The houses on the one hand are many times larger, more beautiful and newer than those on the other.
Evanston is by no means alone: According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, black households owned 3 percent of the total wealth of American households in 2019, despite making up 15 percent of the households, while white households owned 85 percent of the wealth. , but deserved. two thirds of households.
So when Evanston decided in 2019 to become the first city to establish a $ 10 million recovery fund for African-American residents, it’s not surprising that they focused on housing.
Last month, Evanston City Council voted eight to one to spend the first $ 400,000 of the fund, funded by the city’s share of Illinois recreational marijuana tax revenues, on a “housing recovery program.” The fund will pay up to $ 25,000 as a down payment for a home, for home renovation, or for mortgage interest relief, enough to help just 16 families. Eligible persons must have lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or be a direct descendant of a person harmed by a discriminatory housing policy known as “redlining”. Areas perceived as being in decline or “dangerous” were marked in red on broker maps, often predominantly black or mixed areas.
Daniel Biss, the elected mayor of Evanston, says he thinks the decision to stick to a housing-focused program (rather than the direct cash payments favored by Councilor Cicely Fleming, the only vote against) was likely influenced by a letter the city received stating the legality of reparations.
Focusing on housing, an area where the city can point to a clear history of racial discrimination, will make the program more likely to survive the inevitable constitutional challenges, said Alvin Tillery, director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at the Northwestern University. , also in Evanston.
“Given the conservative case law on racial equality in America, governments are really limited in terms of what they can do. Programs must be “narrowly tailored” to cope with the specific damage and in this case that damage is increasing again, “he told the The Washington City Times in an interview.
A report by city historians outlines Evanston’s history of housing discrimination: In 1940, most of the city’s black residents were confined to the current 8092 census trail, the place where life is still a decade less.
Tina Paden, 50, lives in the house her African-American ancestors built in Evanston in the late 1980s. She told the The Washington City Times that cash payments should go to seniors who were at least alive during the redlining period. But most of them don’t qualify for the plan, says Paden, a real estate agent, because older black Evanstonians renting now are unlikely to buy a home that late in life, and those who own a home can’t take advantage of it. .
Biss says, “If it works, in terms of measurably narrowing the gap, that will be the most compelling argument of all.” Perhaps this tale of two tracts will be told differently the next time a census is taken, in 2030. But if history is any guide, it may be too much to hope for.