Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) is directing a national innovation grant to the City of Kalamazoo for racial equity work in the housing sector.

Kalamazoo is one of only three locations nationwide to receive the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) Implementation and Innovation Fund grant to strengthen partnerships and develop a racial equity lens for fair housing. The other locations are Austin, Texas and Fairfax County, Va.

The grant, requested by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KZCF), is for $20,000, but will be matched by other local funders.

Scheduled for 2018, efforts will focus on, but not be limited to the Edison, Northside and Eastside neighborhoods, according to Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, vice president for Community Investment at KZCF. The results of this work will be incorporated into the City of Kalamazoo’s required Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Consolidated Plan for 2019-2024.

MDCR will work with the City of Kalamazoo and KZCF, along with community partners, including Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community), and ERACCE (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equity).

"As the local convener of the TRHT partners in Kalamazoo and the legacy funder of racial equity work in our community, we are proud to serve as a bridge builder of trust for the nonprofit partners entering into a new relationship for policy change with City and state government," says Gonzalez-Cortes.

According to Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema, "Providing fair and equitable housing in Kalamazoo is vital to our City’s success, as is removing the underlying issues that are contrary to this goal. The importance of this work is recognized by both the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Strategic Vision and the City of Kalamazoo’s Shared Prosperity Initiative. We are excited for the positive change that we will make with our community partners and with this support from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights."

Kris Miller, program director, Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, says "The Innovation Fund grant is important for the community because it highlights the need for community decision making. Using this grant to have a person support that work will be a huge asset to the City. We have opportunities here to create synergy among the partners."

Charlae Davis, executive director of Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in The Community (ISAAC) believes, "Our community members have spoken and housing is a serious concern in Kalamazoo County. Many residents don’t know the power they have to impact changes at a policy level."

According to Agustin Arbulu, executive director, Michigan Department of Civil Rights, "There has been growing concern from residents about issues related to housing, including quality and affordability, as well as high rates of homelessness. This grant award enables us to bring together multiple efforts in a comprehensive and sustained way to help foster actionable change."