One year ago at the ISAAC Public Meeting, we presented the shocking facts that high-income households get four times more housing benefits than low-income households, due to the creation of the Federal Housing Administration mortgage program created by FDR. If you were African American, your family could not get a mortgage during the period of the 1930’s through the 1960’s because of this federal policy called “Redlining.” African-Americans had no opportunities to build wealth through home-ownership. Although Redlining technically ended in 1968, we still experience the inherent effects of the policy in homeownership and rental housing, right here in Kalamazoo. Families and individuals who have vouchers from the Vote Yes 4 Kids millage are being denied housing based on their source of income.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, signed in 1948 by 192 nations, including the United States, declared housing a basic, human right. It states: “Everyone is entitled to a standard of living adequate for their health and wellbeing, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services…” Yet, even 70 years later, people within our own community are still being denied housing due to automatic rejections based on source of income and past evictions and convictions without considering individual circumstances.
At last year’s Public Meeting, we shined a light on these barriers to securing housing. In response, a long line of City Commissioners, Kalamazoo Township Trustees, and County Commissioners publicly committed to supporting a Fair Housing Amendment to help reduce the housing inequities in our community, and committed to attend a workshop on Kalamazoo’s own history of racism and housing segregation.
Since that powerful response one year ago, ISAAC Housing Task Force has been working closely with TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation), funded by the Kellogg Foundation at select sites across the nation and embraced here by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Together, we have engaged in data collection and deep learning. This includes two workshops for local municipalities’ commissioners and staff, on “Healing through Understanding the Local History of Racism and Segregation”. Our powerful speakers were: Dr. Michelle S. Johnson and Librarian Matt Smith, Gun Lake leader John Shagnoby; and Patrese Griffin. Attendance was excellent, especially from City of Kalamazoo Administration, and moved folks to ask deep and serious questions about what needs to happen next for our community to transform. We have also partnered with the Fair Housing Center, City of Kalamazoo, and Michigan Department of Civil Rights under the GARE Innovation Grant to host focus groups, conduct a survey, and analyze data about the experiences with fair and affordable housing. Over 50% of Black folks said they experienced discrimination. 60% of the homeless count is Black, and evictions and convictions are a real barrier to getting housing. We also looked at how affordability is defined, who gets a mortgage, and other key data points. We see how deeply connected discrimination and homelessness are, and how racism has limited access to housing options at many levels. We plan to share the results of that data in the coming months to continue to partner and use it to inform our advocacy and strategies as a community–including the ordinance that was one of the task force asks, but also many more strategies that can impact rental and homeownership. Through partnership we will continue to learn from our community members and also practitioners from across the country doing innovative work.
ISAAC is extremely thankful that the City of Kalamazoo then resourced us to be able to hold focus groups/listening sessions around housing inequities with our Community members impacted the most! During each session we engaged in deep listening, asking participants to tell us about their housing journey and housing obstacles. We heard powerful stories. Here are 2 lived experiences that were shared:
“…My experience looking for housing in Kalamazoo is not a good one at all. I’ve cried and been really mad, at the fact that everywhere you go there is an application fee…. You don’t even know you’re denied, they don’t write you back. You know because of the silence. They want you to make 2 or 3 times more than what the rent is. It’s crazy!”
- Latina Grandmother
“What’s your past got to do with it? You know what I’m saying? Everyone on this earth has made mistakes…. Convicting us of what we have done in the past. I’m a man of 65 & you are still convicting me. I got out in 1993, they are still convicting me!”
-Focus group senior
For the past year, I have been working closely with Lanna Lewis, Dr. Charlae Davis, Stephanie Hoffman, and Andrew Chaponda on ordinance language for our new “Housing Equity Ordinance.” We have engaged over 2500 people including housing voucher providers and landlords, as well as people who have or are experiencing a housing crisis. We have reviewed best practices across the country and looked at models from Michigan cities. The ACLU and PRRAC (Policy & Race Research Action Council) out of Washington DC also provided assistance. Our “Housing Equity Ordinance” will reduce discrimination, increase the protected classes of people, eliminate blanket policies so applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and improve enforcement by creating a Human Rights Commission. The NAACP, and the office of the 60th District and State Rep. Jon Hoadley support this housing equity ordinance. It will come before the City Commission soon, and there will be two public hearings. We encourage anyone who has experience with housing in this community to speak in support. And we will need all of you who believe in housing equity to turn out to show community support!
Last week we shared with the City Commission our support for the Housing Equity Ordinance that Patrese just described. This is an important step in providing affordable housing for all. There’s lots of work still to be done and we’re counting on your help.
Thank you to the ISAAC Leadership Board for unanimously approving the continuation of this work! And our thanks also to you, the congregations who have steadfastly held that every man, woman, boy, and girl has a right to a home that is accessible, affordable, and safe.
The ISAAC Housing Task Force and TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation) are partnering to create an even stronger alliance, an alliance which will allow ISAAC to secure funding, have access to marketing and support that will propel change in our community–the change that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., envisioned in his Beloved Community.
I challenge us all to continue to be a part of this change!