Providence’s newly formed reparations commission is considering what form payments might take and looking to other cities for inspiration.
In a meeting Monday, Silas Pinto, who is serving as the city’s first-ever director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, noted that reparations are being considered and implemented in a dozen other cities, including Boston, where a city councilor proposed a similar commission in February.
The list also includes Amherst, Massachusetts, which has sourced roughly $200,000 in funding from a cannabis tax, private fundraising, grants, a Community Preservation Act account and American Rescue Plan Act funds, which Providence also plans to use.
Evanston, Illinois, the first U.S. city to institute race-based reparations, committed $10 million, which it raised partly through a 3% tax on recreational marijuana.
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So far, housing and land ownership comprise one of the largest spending categories for cities investing in reparations. Those funds are not paid to individuals, but toward renovations and down payments, for example.
Direct cash payments, tuition and scholarships have also been popular investments.
‘Closing the racial wealth gap’
Pinto said it’s evident that cities are “viewing reparations work really through the lens of closing the racial wealth gap,” adding that “it’s going to come down to issues around land ownership, around how are we supporting our minority-owned businesses and how are we helping individuals?”
However, as Providence is aiming to use $15 million in ARPA funds, it will need to comply with rules on how those funds should be spent.
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Keith Stokes, vice president of the 1696 Heritage Group, which helped to create Providence’s “Matter of Truth” report exploring the city’s role in slavery and discrimination over the course of more than four centuries, explained the U.S. Department of Treasury regulations.
Funds, Stokes said, must go to “populations that have had the highest measurable impact — the social, economic and health impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to “qualified census tracts.”
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“So in the case of the city of Providence, when we think of qualified census tracts, we’re thinking about zip codes and neighborhoods that we already are very much engaged with,” Stokes said. That includes Fox Point, Olneyville, South Providence and Washington Park.
While Amherst, Evanston and a few other cities are offering reparations on a one-time basis, Commission Chairman Rodney Davis has made clear that the panel does not intend for Providence’s contributions to be a one-off.
“This is the beginning of what we hope will be something that will be able to be perpetuated through the investment of more than just the City of Providence,” Davis said. “This is the reality. The amount of money that is set aside, though proportionately a lot of money, is not much money in the big scheme of things. And so if we really want to see a true movement toward reparations, we’re going to have to begin to look at other partnerships, other institutions to be able to have that continue.”