Brief Justice, Equity, and Repair
How Local Governments in the US Are Designing Reparations Programs
Christina Plerhoples Stacy, Lydia Lo, Lauren Fung
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Two hundred fifty years of slavery and 90 years of Jim Crow, followed by racist housing policies, mass criminalization and incarceration, and other policies of structural discrimination and exclusion (PDF), have led to massive racial inequities in many domains, including housing, employment, and even life expectancy. Wanting to chip away at these lasting harms and repair relationships with Black communities, localities across the United States have begun crafting local reparations programs to help eligible recipients overcome the enduring intergenerational consequences of anti-Black discrimination and human rights violations. This brief provides examples of how different localities are designing such programs across the country. It is meant to inform burgeoning local reparations programs.

Why this matters

Though legal chattel slavery for Black Americans ended in 1865, its effects endure and have been multiplied by many other subsequent racist policies and programs. For instance, racist housing policies that prevented people who are Black from purchasing homes in the suburbs, combined with massive investments in highways, segregated people who are Black far from opportunity and denied them the wealth that homeownership generates. Black-headed households are still less likely to own homes, because that wealth was not passed down generation to generation to support down payments and mortgage costs.

The United Nations makes clear that human rights violations perpetrated by any government entity require reparations, and local governments did originate many racist policies that have left lasting damage within Black communities today.

What we found

Many localities throughout the US are making progress toward designing and/or implementing local reparations programs. In this brief, we explore the progress made by localities that had passed initial legislation to study, design, and/or implement reparations initiatives for harms perpetrated against Black residents as of March 2023. Examples include Evanston, Illinois, which was the first city to implement its reparations program through grants of $25,000 that can only be spent on housing repairs, mortgage payments, or down payments, and San Francisco, which has not yet made reparations payments, but whose reparations commission has recommended a one-time lump sum payment of $5 million. (See table 1 in the brief for a more detailed accounting of progress jurisdictions have made on different parts of the local reparations process, and see figure 3 for the timelines of five jurisdictions farthest along in the process.)

As cities and other localities continue to design new and innovative reparations initiatives, sticking as closely as possible to the desires of affected community members while navigating the unclear legal boundaries of reparations should be a key goal of any local initiative.

In addition, a reparations program can serve not just as a one-time initiative but as a pattern of new relationships and power shifting between local governments and historically harmed Black communities. For example, Evanston has set an example in seeking to expand and build on its initial housing reparations initiative. Other localities can similarly consider their first forays into reparations as seeds and groundwork for future expansions leading to deeper, more holistic repair and equity.

Research Areas Race and equity
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center Research to Action Lab
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