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Fair Housing Center of West Michigan awarded federal housing discrimination funds ‘in the nick of time’

BY Friday, March 04, 2022 05:05pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan is one of 11 agencies in the country receiving federal funding to support housing discrimination victims who have been increasingly affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced a total of $2.47 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the 11 organizations. The Grand Rapids-based Fair Housing Center of West Michigan will receive $125,000. Another $3.28 million will be available to eligible applicants that are not included in initial funding rounds. 

Agencies can use the funds to conduct housing education and outreach activities and to address fair housing inquiries, complaints and investigations. 

The funding announced today is on top of annual funding that the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan applies for through HUD, Executive Director Nancy Haynes told MiBiz.  

“It comes in the nick of time,” Haynes said. “It’s essential and we weren’t sure how we were going to manage without this extra funding. Since June 2021, the number of calls we’ve had has skyrocketed.”

In a typical pre-pandemic year, the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan has about 150 cases involving housing discrimination claims. In 2021, the organization dealt with about 200 cases that mostly took place during the second half of the year after a federal eviction moratorium was lifted, Haynes said. The caseload for 2022 could be as high as 250 cases when the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program ends, Haynes said.

The center takes complaints of housing discrimination and also launches its own investigations based on national trends. Landlords and property owners also use the center as a resource to ask questions about how to comply with fair housing practices. 

“We had seven staff members as of June 2021, and we’ve grown to nine staff and still could hire more people if we had more funding,” Haynes said. 

The growing number of calls and surge in caseload is not unique to West Michigan, according to Haynes, who hears similar stories from housing organizations across the country.

“A big part of the problem is the lack of places to move,” Haynes said. “If you find out you’re being evicted, even if you have a voucher, there is just a shortage of affordable housing throughout Michigan, so it just exacerbates the stress people feel.”

Haynes’ organization has seen a surge in calls in general, but a higher ratio of people of color have been calling with housing questions and complaints, Haynes said.

“As we embark on our new normal, our country has sadly carried the housing discrimination of old with it,” Demetria L. McCain, HUD’s principal deputy assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said in a statement. “While dealing with the struggles the pandemic has brought, too many residents have also had to suffer through the harms discrimination brings. The funds provided today will ensure that our fair housing partners have the financial resources they need to oppose discriminatory practices in the communities they serve.”

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