Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Kalamazoo and Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC) are calling on the community to support new local housing laws that will fight structural racism and inequality in Kalamazoo. Community members are encouraged to call and write the Kalamazoo City Commission to voice their support of the law ahead of the first reading of the proposal on August 17. The City Commission's final vote on the ordinances is scheduled for September 8.
"We've seen homelessness and housing instability worsen due to COVID-19," said Sholanna Lewis, director of TRHT Kalamazoo. "One critical piece of the puzzle to address housing issues in Kalamazoo is removing discriminatory barriers that are more likely to impact Black people and other people of color."
The proposal would update the City’s Housing Code, Chapter 18 of the Kalamazoo Code of Ordinances. Among the changes proposed would be new and stronger protections for:
- gender and sexual identity
- people with previous evictions
- people using housing vouchers
- people using a County identification card
- previously incarcerated people
Additionally, application fees would be regulated, and a civil rights commission would be established to review cases of discrimination that would fall under the purview of the ordinance. Partners, along with now Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin, helped draft the original ordinance language. Since the original language was proposed, the City of Kalamazoo has collected community input and made revisions that were discussed at the July 20 City Commission meeting. The questions from community included who has the adjudicative authority; who processes the initial complaints and whether or not they would be biased toward landlords; and the conciliation process.
"It is important that the ordinance language includes an enforcement process that will truly protect residents from discrimination and that they civil rights board and any staff involved have a true commitment to and knowledge of anti-discrimination, civil right and the community members it's intended to protect," said Patrese Griffin, Vice Mayor of the City of Kalamazoo.
"We're proud to have been able to work closely with Vice Mayor Griffin on this proposal, which has been deeply informed by community members impacted most by housing discrimination," said Dr. Charlae Davis, executive director of Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community (ISAAC). "We also received technical assistance from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) to write the proposal and consultation from the ACLU and other cities with similar policies. The goal is to make this ordinance impactful. The reporting and enforcement mechanism has to be prioritize transparency and accountability."
Here are five ways community members can show support for the proposed housing ordinances:
- Attend the Virtual Ordinance Hearing Sessions hosted by the City of Kalamazoo on August 17 and September 8.
- Email letters of support to the City Commission.
- Mail written letters of support to the City Commission. (Anticipate delays in mail delivery).
- Call a City Commissioner to voice your support.
- Attend additional community engagement sessions hosted by the City of Kalamazoo throughout the month of August.
- Show support on social media using the hashtag #HousingEquityKzoo or #FairChanceForHousing.
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.