Affordable Housing a Top Issue for Kalamazoo

Corey Davis | JRN 3200

Kalamazoo, Mich. – Some citizens of the city of Kalamazoo believe the biggest issue they are
currently facing in the city among all things is the availability of affordable housing units. This is
according to a public forum held recently.
The meeting was held by the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community

ISAAC is a faith-based community organizing group made up of congregations and
organizations that unite in order to accomplish what can’t be done as individuals in terms of
social and economic issues, according to their website. They focus on the most pressing issues of
injustice in Kalamazoo County. While every two years, hundreds of members assemble with
other citizens to vote on what they think are the biggest issues effecting Kalamazoo citizens at
the time. They then form task groups who identify the problem and come up with possible
solutions, sometimes calling for elected officials to act.

In the most recent meeting, the issue of affordable housing in Kalamazoo was voted as the most
pressing. This will be what the task force focuses most of its attention on in the coming months.
They will then present their ideas for policy change to elected officials, according to a news
release. Other issues that were brought to attention were immigration, education and health care.
Although Kalamazoo is considered a college town with the likes of Western Michigan
University and Kalamazoo College, the problem of affordable housing goes beyond the ‘broke’
college student trying to find a cheap apartment for the year. Many other citizens and families
seem to be having trouble finding a comfortable, inexpensive living situation.

“We have a gap in our community, a gap between the number of housing units affordable to
people working full-time at low-wage jobs and the number of affordable units we need. That gap
is 3,000 housing units,” Community Development Manager for the city of Kalamazoo, Dorla
Bonner said in a news release.

The population of the city of Kalamazoo in 2016 was around 76,000, while the number of
households in the city was around 29,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That averages
out to be about 2.66 people per household, compared to the 2.57 number of people per household
in the entire state of Michigan.

The average household income in the city of Kalamazoo in 2016 was around $35,000, and about
$51,000 in the entire state. While the average cost of rent was $715 in Kalamazoo and $799 in
Michigan, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meaning the average household in Kalamazoo
spent roughly 25 percent of its monthly income on rent, compared to 19 percent in Michigan.
While these gaps in numbers retrospectively don’t seem huge, they do end up impacting the
citizens and families that are living from paycheck to paycheck, wondering why they are
spending at least one-fourth of their monthly income on their house, and sometimes more if they
own it.

While ISAAC continues to plan out their strategy for affordable housing, the Kalamazoo City
Commission recently approved an agreement with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation
(LISC) that would provide $43 million towards economic opportunity and affordable housing
programs by 2022. Part of the goal of this agreement, which is not yet legally binding, would be
to prevent tax foreclosures, provide the development of new housing and education toward home
ownership. The money for this plan is expected to come from the Foundation for Excellence and
to be matched by LISC.

The Foundation for Excellence was started after anonymous donors gave $70 million to the city
of Kalamazoo to address systematic challenges to the prosperity of the city. It is still unclear
what will be done with the entirety of the money, but property taxes have already been lowered
and $10 million a year worth of community projects will be launched through 2019, according to
the Foundation for Excellence website.

There was no response from ISAAC when asked how they were coming along on their plan to
address elected officials with policy change. They have yet to announce what their plan entails.
Although some could speculate it will have something to do with the Foundation for Excellence
and align with the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Strategic Vision and Master Plan.

Another underlying problem that has an effect on the economic opportunity and affordable
housing issue is the poverty rate in the city of Kalamazoo, 33 percent, compared to the poverty
rate in the state of Michigan, 15 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These statistics
are alarming and shall be addressed with Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 and Shared Prosperity
Kalamazoo. Positively thinking would have the issue of affordable housing mostly dissolved by
the time of ISAAC’s next meeting.

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