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Published in Nonprofits

Kalamazoo expands housing protections, offers loan program for housing, nonprofit, equity projects

BY Sunday, September 27, 2020 12:42pm

KALAMAZOO — The Kalamazoo Community Foundation has added a stronger racial equity analysis to its longtime Impact Investment Loan program.

“What we’ve learned in the last couple of months is that we’re being impacted by a double pandemic of COVID but also racism and structural inequity,” said Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, KZCF’s vice president of community investment. “So we’re deeply concerned about the access of capital that has been so limited for people of color.”

The loan program, which has been available for the past 15 years, is available to businesses or organizations for projects that support community growth in the areas of housing equity, creating an inclusive economy and developing nonprofit infrastructure. 

The program has low interest rates based on the consumer price index plus 1 percent, often placing the loans below market rates with flexible terms and a shorter application process.

Applications for the loans will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed four times a year by the foundation’s Impact Investment Committee using a racial equity assessment guide. 

The foundation hopes to issue a minimum of $2 million in loans a year, Gonzalez-Cortes said.

“The Impact Investment Committee has a lot of newer faces, a lot of diverse community members, backgrounds and diverse racial representation,” Gonzalez-Cortes said. “Those pieces are newer and different.”

Set to open in 2021, The Creamery housing development in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood is a past Impact Investment Loan recipient. The project will provide apartments for low- and middle-income residents and is equipped with a 24-hour childcare center and a small business accelerator.

“Seeing forward-thinking projects like The Creamery become reality demonstrates how KZCF and community leaders can work together to create a stronger Kalamazoo,” Jim Escamilla, a member of the KZCF Board of Trustees and chair of the Impact Investment Committee, said in a recent statement. “We are excited to see how we can support similarly ambitious initiatives that align with our values.”

Housing barriers

While the loan program has flexibility for projects that may fall outside of the three stated goals, housing equity is a key component.

“Access to housing is a huge need in Kalamazoo, and we know there’s a housing gap,” Gonzalez-Cortes said. “We haven’t been building new housing at a pace that’s keeping up with the demand. Certainly we’re concerned about low and affordable housing, but we also have a lot of interest in mixed-use housing with a range of people earning different incomes.”

City officials have also taken action to address housing equity. On Sept. 8, the Kalamazoo City Commission revised an ordinance to add housing protections for residents with previous evictions, those using housing vouchers and people who were previously incarcerated.

The ordinance also limits fees associated with the cost of a background check. If an applicant is denied housing, the landlord now has to provide a written statement explaining the reasoning for rejection. Landlords who discriminate against the newly protected groups could face up to a $2,000 fine. 

The city commission also called for the formation of an appointed Civil Rights Board to review allegations and ordinance violations and make recommendations to the city about changing discriminatory practices and policies.

“We are excited about the changes to the housing ordinance and believe they will help increase housing access for people of color in Kalamazoo,” Sholanna Lewis, director of truth, racial healing and transformation at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, said in a statement. “Housing insecurity particularly impacts young people and the Black population in our area, so these protections have the opportunity to increase racial equity when it comes to housing.”

The Civil Rights Board is a key part of the process and ensuring the policy works, Lewis added.

Kalamazoo Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin helped draft the ordinance language. He said at the Sept. 8 meeting that he hopes the ordinance will help increase housing access and quality of life in Kalamazoo.

“Housing is foundational and impacts the course of a person’s life, influencing everything from their health to the opportunities they have,” Griffin said. “We have studied the positive effects of policies like this in other communities in Michigan and across the nation.” 

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