Fair and affordable housing is a critical issue that impacts the most vulnerable in Kalamazoo County. Housing plays an important role in individual and family life, providing shelter, stability and comfort. However, discrimination toward people of color and other marginalized identities through systemic barriers prevents fair access to housing.

KZCF collaborated with local organizations, including the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, City of Kalamazoo, Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, and Interfaith Strategies for Action and Advocacy in the Community (ISAAC), to identify key reasons for this inequity:

  • Discriminatory practices, lack of understanding of fair housing laws and other barriers.
  • Vague definitions of "affordable" housing that greatly impact low-income residents and neighborhoods.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) states that housing expenses (rent and utilities) should not exceed 30 percent of household income. However, the rules are not always determined by a family’s actual income, but with HUD using the middle income in the area — sometimes called the median income.

Defining affordability
In Kalamazoo, HUD’s calculation is based on a geography called the Kalamazoo-Portage Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties). The average income in this area is $70,300 according to the 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate. When different income ranges from the Kalamazoo area are used to determine cost of housing, an inconsistent sliding scale creates inequity of housing affordability among neighborhoods.

Kalamazoo County has a unique opportunity, with an increase in public and philanthropic resources, to create new solutions and options that center on what is affordable for residents and neighbors.

Along with some of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) partners, KZCF has assisted in the collection of information about housing experiences through surveys, focus groups and interviews.

Voicing concerns
According to one survey respondent from the Edison neighborhood: "I drive through my neighborhood every day, worried about the people in it. Those whose houses, rented or owned, are falling apart. Those who struggle to keep things like energy, water, etc. I worry about the condemned houses that sit vacant, that I am sure people are squatting in, and they are not safe in them. I worry about all the people who are homeless, that have nowhere to go... especially the kids who are growing up with a huge lack of stability. I know how hard our family struggles to have money for fixing up our old house, with what is considered a decent income. I can’t imagine how much others around us are struggling to keep up."

The surveys will inform the recommendations developed for both local government and housing agencies in the new year.

The collaborative is committed to see, hear and understand that the community need around housing continues as they partner with the community to identify the best solutions.

NOTE: This article was summarized from a two-blog series written by the collaborative on fair and affordable housing. Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read the full issue of our latest Update newsletter as a digital magazine where this article was featured.