“You will seize your opportunity:” Meeting with one of the first 16 recipients of reparations
Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH), a non-profit organization that develops affordable housing, has been chosen by the city to help distribute the first 16 local restorative housing grants. One of the 16 recipients, Louis Weathers, happened to serve on CPAH’s advisory board for 20 years.
“Repairs came to Evanston in 2012 by [former] Alderman [Lionel Jean-] Baptiste,” Weathers, 87, told the roundtable when asked where he first heard about the local repair effort. “But the black people paid no attention to it. So it kind of happened [away] until my girlfriend arrives, Robin [Rue Simmons]. She was my alderman… She’s cool.
He said he went to early meetings about the restorative housing program to find out what the “ground rules” were, and overall he says the program is great, although like many others, he had reservations about these rules.
“You had to own a house, you made us use the funds in a certain way. I wasn’t too happy about that. But that didn’t stop me from supporting him,” he said.
Weathers said he was not a political person, but had political knowledge.
“When something is done politically…both sides have to gain something.”
He found out he was chosen in the first round of housing recipients days after the Jan. 13 draw, after the city posted the official list on its website. Weathers couldn’t believe it. He felt like he was winning the lottery, although, he said, the city council explained that it was not a draw.
“I didn’t think I was lucky,” he said. His wife, originally from Jamaica, was happy for him because she knew Weathers was involved in the community growing up. “She’s not from Evanston. It didn’t affect her like me.
The Evanston Local Repairs Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative in the city’s $10 million commitment “to eradicate the effects of systemically racist past practices of the city government and all city-affiliated organizations.” . The first $400,000 of the reparations program is for housing.
Applicants deemed eligible for the program and selected to participate can get up to $25,000 to buy or renovate a home or pay off a mortgage. The home must be in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence. The figure of $400,000 is enough to pay for 16 grants of $25,000.
To participate, Black Evanstonians must fall into one of three categories:
- Residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969, called “ancestors”.
- Direct descendants of a black resident from 1919 to 1969.
- Residents who have provided evidence that they have experienced housing discrimination due to city policies or practices after 1969.
There were over 600 applicants to the Restorative Housing Program, 122 of whom were ancestors. The Reparations Committee decided to prioritize this group for the first 16 grants.
Weathers decided to donate his $25,000 to his son, Michael Weathers, so Michael could reduce his own mortgage.
Weathers said he was temporarily loaning the funds to his son because he was receiving money from his late mother’s inheritance that was not yet settled.
“So he’s going to collect the inheritance money and pay me back,” he said.
Weathers family history
Weathers’ parents came to Evanston and in 1932 bought the house Louis now lives in. Three years later, in 1935, Louis was born at Cook County Hospital in Chicago because Evanston Hospital was segregated and did not accept black mothers.
Her mother was born in Joliet and her father in Birmingham, Ala. Weathers’ father was an interior designer who served wealthy clients in suburbs like Kenilworth and Wilmette. His father will take the young Louis to work with him throughout his childhood. His mother stayed home and did housework.
“At that time, wallpaper was very popular,” he said. “And I said, ‘I would never do that. It’s too tedious a job. It had to be cut. They didn’t do the paper like they do now. What if you put too much paste on it? or you tore it up, you had to go back and start all over again.
The Weathers family was only the second black family to move into his street, he said, with Swedes living next door and Italians living across the street. Weather’s father was a Cub Scoutmaster, holding meetings in their basement with other children.
The father of the only other black family who lived on his street was a postmaster at the post office and a scout master, so the two fathers became close, Weathers said.
“His wife wasn’t working either,” he said. “We didn’t socialize with anyone else. We didn’t need… The blacks had their own businesses.
Weathers’ personal story
Louis Weathers said growing up in Evanston was wonderful and he enjoyed it very much, noting in particular the separate YMCA where he learned to swim, play table tennis and shoot basketball.
He is the youngest and grew up in the house mostly on his own. As his siblings were much older than him, they were gone by the time Louis reached college.
Weathers enrolled in Foster School, Haven Middle School, and then Evanston Township High School without ever having a black teacher, he said. The trend continued in college, where he briefly studied music at the University of Illinois before giving it up and ultimately leaving school early.
Weathers continued and served two years in the army during the Korean War, before returning to Evanston and working at the Davis Street Post Office from 1958 to 1969.
His first marriage lasted 22 years, until a divorce in 1980 which prompted Louis to move to Maryland in 1981. Sixteen years later, in 1997, he retired to Evanston to care for his mother and his sick sister as the main carer.
He even took and passed courses to become a Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA to take good care of his family. At that time, a state law allowed CNAs to be compensated to care for seriously ill family members, and the state paid him even more because his mother had a brain tumor.
“So I used my money to hire girls [from my classes], I hired CNAs,” Weathers said. “And I used my money to give it to them. I was free to come and go… I understood everything.
Most of the time, several CNAs came and went to take care of his family.
Weathers has remarried and has lived with his wife for 27 years. He has two children, Darlene, 54, and Michael, 60, from his first marriage and one child, Victoria, 36, from his current marriage.
What does he hope will happen next for local repairs? Well, he says the city is committed to continuing over the next 10 years with the first $10 million, but he’s excited that additional programs are “opening up” that will make more black Evanstonians eligible for repairs.
“Now I told all those people who were against it. I said, ‘You’re going to have your chance.’ …didn’t like the way they did this one. So now you can go to town hall meetings and tell them whatever you want. And see if they accept your proposal.