De-mystifying affordable housing and homelessness in Grand Rapids
While this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, there is still a long ways to go before housing is truly fair. Until we address the history of redlining and its effects on our neighborhoods, homelessness as a situation and not an identity, the local impact of federal funding, youth in crisis, and how we can best educate ourselves to support our neighbors, Grand Rapids won’t adequately address the housing crisis and segregation. Here are seven things you can do to help impact the housing crisis in Grand Rapids
- Learn about the ways in which people are displaced and become “homeless”
There is no one way to be homeless or to ‘look homeless’. Anyone can find themselves in the midst of a housing crisis, I know from personal experience how fast you can go from being one paycheck behind to getting an eviction notice and couch surfing. Approximately 63% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a survey done by Bankrate. There are however, staggering increases in homelessness amongst African Americans, women, and LGBT+ identifying individuals.
In December of 2014, HQ – a drop-in center for 14 – 24 year old youth experiencing unsafe and unstable housing – opened its doors for youth to take steps toward the safety and a future of their own design. HQ is “beginning the end of homelessness starts from place of rest and belonging. From this space, youth can pursue safe housing, education, employment, and community support.”
There were 36,811 homeless students enrolled in public schools across Michigan during the 2016-17 school year, according to data from the Center for Educational Performance and Information. More than 3,300 attended the traditional districts in the Kent and Ottawa county ISDs or charter schools – approximately 2,320 in Kent and 1,034 in Ottawa. Kent’s homeless population is up around 85 students from 2015-16, while Ottawa saw a reduction of more than two dozen students.
- Work to understand how policy impacts the creation of local affordable housing solutions.
Housing and zoning ordinances and policies are unique to each state and city and diminishing the complexity of systemic barriers will only limit the growth of quality affordable housing, propelling gentrification forward. Realtor.com says Grand Rapids ranks No. 3 in its ranking of the 10 U.S. cities with the “biggest housing shortages” and that median home prices were also up 23.7 percent in 2016. While the Urban Institute concludes that West Michigan has nation’s ‘most racially uneven’ housing market recovery.
New changes to HUD announced by Ben Carson, the current United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, have been coming up in the news in articles such as: Ben Carson vs. The Fair Housing Act. For those unfamiliar with the importance of the Fair Housing Act, here are a few key elements. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was developed the week following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to start combating segregation and is also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968 with Title VIII being commonly known as the Fair Housing Act. It is in place to protect individuals and families from discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, marital status, and age. Discrimination is illegal for housing in matters of renting, sales, lending, and insurance.
In Ben Carson’s hometown of Detroit, HUD plan would raise rents 21 percent for Metro Detroit poorwhich would further displace individuals and families. During the past year, we’ve seen changes in affordable housing initiatives and distribution of funding. There is a webcast of a roundtable panel discussion with Ben Carson aired on June 8, 2018 which can be viewed from their live stream here. You can read the proposed HUD budget for 2018 here and previous budgets for HUD funding. Learn more about what the City of Grand Rapids has been discussing to address housing affordability.
- Know your Fair Housing rights and federal policies
The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan has training opportunities open to community members, non-profit employees, realtors, loan officers, landlords, and more. As someone having gone through the training, I would highly recommend learning more about policy from the national, state, and local lens.
- Get active, voting in local, state and national elections
Know and contact your elected city officials. You can register to vote online or in person, encourage your friends and neighbors to join you in local elections. If you are able to drive then check in with people who may need assistance in getting to the polls in your precinct. You must register to vote in MI at least 30 days before the next election and you can register to vote by mail and in person by submitting a completed State of Michigan Voter Registration Application (Form ED-121) to your city or township clerk.
- AttendCity Commission meetingsand speak up!
Linc Up has a community bus that takes residents to and from City Commission meetings and provides a free dinner as well. Updates from most meetings can be found regularly on The Rapidian website. There is a City Commission meeting TONIGHT, June 12, 2018 and you can find more information about agenda items and topics from Lyonel Lagrone’s article on Business usurps public purpose in Residential Rental Application Fee Ordinance and you can access information about the Linc Bus to the meeting here.
The City of Grand Rapids is starting to live stream the meetings on Facebook for those who can’t attend so you can stay up to date on community happenings. Don’t know what’s on the agenda for the meetings? You can view the meeting agenda online and see how the City Commission works so you know what to expect.
By attending local meetings, you can engage and network with residents from other neighborhoods and get a stronger sense of happenings in the City of Grand Rapids. This includes the Housing NOW!and Grand Rapids Homes for All advocacy groups.
- Volunteer at local organizations that support persons who are currently displaced and create affordable housing solutions.
Getting involved with organizations that supply housing solutions. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition says the housing crisis “isn’t just about affordability — it’s about economic mobility, too.”
Today, Dwelling Place owns and manages nearly 1,200 apartments and homes in 21 housing communities throughout West Michigan, serving households with a wide variety of incomes and backgrounds. For our 350 formerly homeless residents, Dwelling Place also provides critical support services. Dwelling Place continues to build partnerships to aid growth and revitalization efforts of neighborhoods including resident leadership initiatives to showcase and sustain the impact of community voice. Dwelling Place is a community development non-profit organization and NeighborWorks America Chartered Member that provides affordable housing, support services, and neighborhood revitalization in West Michigan since 1980.
Volunteer at an organization that provides housing solutions or supports persons in crisis.
- Spread the word and have conversations with neighbors
Get engaged in conversation with neighbors or people in neighborhoods aside from your own by attending a Neighborhood Association Meeting near you.
Mariah Cowsert is an AmeriCorps VISTA for NeighborWorks America serving as Communications Coordinator at Dwelling Place and is a volunteer at HQ. She was previously the Community Outreach Coordinator for The Rapidian and has interned at Kids’ Food Basket and Dwelling Place. Mariah is moving to Washington D.C. this summer to continue her work in the nonprofit sector. She believes that if you show up for yourself and others in your community, you can make a direct and sustainable positive impact.