The City of Evanston’s Law Department has received the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of State and Local Government Law’s Jefferson B. Fordham Award for Government Law Office of the Year. The award was given in recognition of the Department’s work on the city’s Restorative Housing Program.
The ABA Section of State and Local Government Law’s Jefferson B. Fordham Awards honor the accomplishments of practitioners and institutions active in the practice associated with state, local, regional and tribal government law.
What is the Restorative Housing Program?
The Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative developed for local reparations by the city’s Reparations Committee, and is focused on preserving, stabilizing, and increasing homeownership and building intergenerational equity among Black/African American residents. The first $400,000 allocated to this program represents 4 percent of the city’s $10 million commitment to local reparations.
Applications for the program were open from September 21 to November 5, 2021. More than 600 applications were received. Of them, 122 qualified and 16 were selected as the first beneficiaries of funds. Since January, a committee along with city staff, met with each of the 16 beneficiaries to guide them through the process of selecting benefits, which include up to $25,000 towards a home purchase, mortgage assistance or home improvements. In April, these participants made their benefit selections.
City Law Department contributions
The Law Department played an integral role in this process by first advising the city’s Reparations Subcommittee that it must identify specific acts of racial discrimination taken by the city in order to implement a program based on race. Relying on US Supreme Court precedent, the Department conducted thorough research, uncovering numerous instances of complicit discrimination related to housing throughout Evanston’s history.
Based on research gathered, the Law Department then worked with the City Manager’s Office to develop eligibility criteria for the program, determining that it should focus on an era of discrimination between 1919 and 1969. The year 1919 was chosen because it marked the first year the city embarked on a master plan that included discriminatory zoning, directly impacting Black residents. The city also developed a “Land Clearance Commission” in the 1930s and 40s that displaced homes of Black residents to the western borders of the town in order to expand downtown. In 1969, the city passed a productive fair housing ordinance.
To finalize the process, the Law Department worked with the City Manager’s Office to develop the guidelines currently in use to award funds to ancestors and their descendants. These guidelines and additional information can be found at cityofevanston.org/reparations.
“Congratulations to the city’s Law Department on their hard-work, ingenuity and dedication in guiding this important initiative. I am proud to have been the previous corporation counsel and now the interim City Manager while this program made it through to fruition. I want to thank the current corporation counsel, Nicholas Cummings, and his entire team for their efforts in achieving this extraordinary award,” said Kelley Gandurski.
Submitted by City of Evanston