In 2021, the Evanston City Council voted 8-1 to pay $400,000 to eligible Black residents. Each qualifying resident – who lived in Evanston from 1919 to 1969 and was a victim of housing discrimination – received $25,000 to fund home repairs or assist with down payments on buying property.
According to a report by the Evanston Roundtable, Kenneth Wideman, 77, and his sister Sheila, 75, are two of 16 residents selected to receive the reparations grants. They are the only two who have yet to use them because they don’t own homes and do not want to purchase any due to the burden of maintaining them at their ages.
“I came here this morning to ask the committee, the people that’s in charge, if possible, that you can make some changes or help my sister and I to get something out of the reparations before we are eliminated,” Wideman said to Evanston’s reparations committee at a Feb. 2 meeting.
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Wideman is a military veteran who fought in the Vietnam War and is 100 percent disabled, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. He said Sheila is disabled, also. They both live in subsidized apartments and are on fixed incomes.
“I do not have any property; my sister doesn’t have any property, and we were on the list,” Wideman said. “I don’t want to be taking care of a home at my particular age.”
“She’s disabled, too,” Wideman told the RoundTable. “She can’t handle a house. Right now, she can hardly walk. She has to walk with a cane.”
Wideman wants the council to allow him and Sheila to use their grants to pay rent and buy furniture. “There should be more options,” he said.
Making the grants available for rental assistance was debated in 2019, but the committee decided against it, said city Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings.
“I suspect it was because the program is meant to remedy two issues – housing discrimination and creating wealth,” Cummings said in an email to the RoundTable. “Rental assistance will help the wealth of the landlord, but not the recipient of the grant.”
Carlis Sutton, a member of the reparations committee, said the city didn’t ask applicants if they were property owners during the application process. She doesn’t think the Wideman siblings should be excluded from receiving their money because of the oversight.
“These individuals filled out the form as was asked, and they did not lie about not having a home ownership,” Sutton said. “So my question is, why should these two be penalized for following the process of the City of Evanston?”
Activist Meleika Gardner agreed, saying she was “heartbroken” over Kenneth and Sheila’s dilemma. She initially supported Evanston’s program but now says its flaws can harm well-deserving residents.
“I’m really upset with how Evanston is changing what reparations is,” Gardner told The Daily Northwestern. “They’re watering down reparations. It’s not reparations if you’re excluding the already excluded.”
A proud lifelong Evanston resident, Wideman said he hopes the council will reconsider.
“Nothing is etched in stone. I just want the city to do the best thing for the community,” Wideman said. “I was raised here. My blood is here … I fought for this country, and I’ve been giving back since Vietnam. I’ve given to this community for a long time.”