Community members who have faced barriers to housing in Kalamazoo now have expanded protections on their side, with revisions to local housing ordinances passed at the September 8 meeting of the City Commission of Kalamazoo.
"We are excited about the changes to the housing ordinance and believe they will help increase housing access for people of color in Kalamazoo," said Sholanna Lewis, Director of TRHT Kalamazoo. "Housing insecurity particularly impacts young people and the Black population in our area, so these protections have the opportunity to increase racial equity when it comes to housing."
Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Kalamazoo and Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC) had advocated for the changes to the ordinances, which add protections for:
- people with previous evictions
- people using housing vouchers
- people using a County identification card
- previously incarcerated people
The previous lack of protections served to reinforce structural racism and inequality in Kalamazoo, since these barriers disproportionately impact Black people and other people of color. Without these protections, landlords could create "blanket policies" that broadly excluded groups without allowing for an individual assessment of a person's background and credentials.
In addition to offering expanded protections to the aforementioned groups during the housing application process, the ordinance now limits the amount of rental application fees to the actual cost of the background check process. In the event that an applicant is denied housing, it also asks landlords to provide applicants with a written statement explaining the reasons for the rejection.
Landlords who discriminate against the newly protected groups are subject to up to a $2,000 fine. A Civil Rights Board will be appointed to review allegations and violations of the ordinance as well as make recommendations to the City about changing discriminatory practices and policies.
"The Civil Rights Board is an important part of the ordinance's enforcement," said Lewis. "The work of establishing the Civil Rights Board and ensuring the policy works as intended has just begun."
In a public comment period during the Kalamazoo City Commission meeting, the community expressed impassioned support for the changes. Out of the 62 voice comments that were received, 58 were in favor of the revised ordinances passing. After a few minor alterations to wording and supportive remarks from City Commissioner Chris Praedel and Mayor David Anderson, the ordinances were passed unanimously by the City Commission.
After the decision, Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin, who helped draft the language of the original ordinance and advocated for its adoption, offered remarks on the years-long journey to passing the expanded housing protections, acknowledging the importance of partnerships and community involvement.
In regard to the unanimous decision, Griffin said "Housing is foundational and impacts the course of a person's life, influencing everything from their health to the opportunities they have. We have studied the positive effects of policies like this in other communities in Michigan and across the nation. It is my hope that we will see similar improvements to housing access and life outcomes here in Kalamazoo."
The ordinance had previously received community support during a public comment period at the first reading on August 17. A number of changes and clarifications were made to the ordinance based on community feedback.
"We are so pleased to see that the city has decided to adopt expanded protections for Kalamazoo community members," said Dr. Charlae Davis, executive director of Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community (ISAAC). "The proposal was based on a robust body of research, listening and collaboration that began years ago, but these protections feel especially relevant in our moment. While there is still much work to do and a long road ahead towards true equitable housing opportunities in Kalamazoo, this move is a step forward on that journey towards building the Beloved Community."
Next steps for the City Commission include appointing a Civil Rights Board and looking at options for facilitating nondiscrimination training for area landlords. TRHT Kalamazoo and ISAAC plan to continue their work in advocating for fair and accessible housing in Kalamazoo.