The Kalamazoo City Commission will meet for a Work Session on Monday, February 24 to discuss proposed ordinance changes seeking to address structural racism and inequality in housing. The work session will be held in the Community Room at City Hall (241 W South Street) starting at 6pm.
The proposal would update Chapter 18 of the Kalamazoo Code of Ordinances, which addresses Community Relations and Discrimination, to eliminate blanket housing rejections for any demographic. Among the changes proposed would be new protections for people using housing vouchers or county identification cards, as well as those who have previously been incarcerated. Additionally, rental housing application fees would be regulated, and a civil rights board would be established to review contested cases of discrimination that would come under the purview of the ordinance.
“It is necessary to address access and barriers to rental housing,” stated Kalamazoo Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin, who is introducing the proposal. “Too often the conversation is only about affordability and not on the reality that even people who have jobs, income, or housing subsidies are still being denied access. This will also help to ensure that landlords and property managers are abiding by applicable ordinances and treating all renters fairly.”
This proposal is a collaboration between several community partners with expertise and firsthand experience in these areas, including the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), and Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Kalamazoo. At ISAAC's 2018 public meeting, elected officials and public leaders in attendance agreed that updates were needed to address these issues and committed to supporting these changes.
"We developed these ordinances using powerful local voices and testimonies directly from those most impacted by inequity," said Dr. Charlae Davis, executive director of ISAAC.
In 2018, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) awarded an Innovation fund grant to community organizations in Kalamazoo through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR). The grant funded community engagement and data collection to better understand housing issues in the Kalamazoo area, and the engagement from the GARE work strongly supports the concerns addressed in this ordinance. The partner organizations include the City of Kalamazoo, MDCR, ISAAC Kalamazoo Housing Task Force, Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, and the TRHT initiative hosted by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
If adopted, this would be the first major change to address housing issues in Kalamazoo since gender identity and sexual orientation were added as local protections in 2009. Similar ordinances were adopted by the City of Grand Rapids in August 2019.
"Homelessness and affordability are central to the dialogue around housing in our community, but a key issue related to this is discrimination," said Sholanna Lewis, director of TRHT Kalamazoo. "If we don't address these systemic issues, people in our community will continue to be at risk of experiencing homelessness and housing instability."
About Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation
Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Kalamazoo, hosted by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, is a community-based movement to bring about transformational and sustainable change to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism. Kalamazoo is one of 13 TRHT locations nationwide, and one of four in Michigan (the others include Flint, Lansing, and Battle Creek). TRHT was launched in 2016 by W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Learn more at www.trhtkzoo.org.
About Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community
Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community is an interfaith, community organizing network of diverse congregations, organizations, and strategic partners working together to build the Beloved Community in Kalamazoo County. ISAAC understands that we must be united in order to accomplish what cannot be easily done as individuals or single organizations. ISAAC’s current work includes the following social justice issues: housing, community violence, anti-racism, and gun violence.
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