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Kalamazoo's 2019 budget proposal includes efforts addressing poverty

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The city of Kalamazoo is launching new plans towards a successful future, as city leaders announced its proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year with about $64 million set to be invested towards improvements.

Jeff Chamberlain, deputy city manager, said water lines, sewer lines and roads will see some of the biggest investments from the proposed budget. As part of Kalamazoo’s Foundation of Excellence, there’s also a $10 million focus on providing more equity and opportunity for people that live in Kalamazoo.

“We want to tackle things such as can we help people get new jobs? Can we help people start up new businesses in the town? Are there micro loans that can be done through the city or one of our partners?” Chamberlain said.

Part of that $10 million will address poverty, neighborhood enhancement and affordable housing.

“People struggle with rent or trying to get their homes repaired and so we are working with community partners to see what’s the best way we can help people out on a day to day basis,” Chamberlain said. “We are partnering with some other nonprofits to try to bring in some outside money to match what the city is putting in to grow the pot of affordable housing even more.”

The city is partnering with H.O.P.E. Through Navigation to build six affordable homes for people recovering from substance abuse and incarceration. Some of the people were homeless with several others during the Bronson encampment.

“It shined a light on the fact that it just does not exist. And it doesn’t exist for those people, but it doesn’t exist overall in the county of Kalamazoo. There’s really not enough housing for people that are affordable in this city,” said Gwendolyn Hooker, president of H.O.P.E. Through Navigation. “More affordable housing options. They’re not there. There hasn’t been a new affordable housing development in my lifetime.”

Hooker said she’s been working on her “Tiny Homes” project for years. She’s modeling a similar tiny homes project happening in Detroit to address affordable housing. She said the idea came about because the target demographic of people H.O.P.E. serves was looking for housing.

“It wasn’t because they didn’t have the money, it was because people would not rent them for various reasons—mostly the criminal background or because they had the substance uses distorted history,” Hooker said.

Hooker was able to establish donors and a partnership with the city. H.O.P.E. will host a reception to launch the project Jan. 25 at 5:30 p.m. It will be held at the Northside Association for Community Development, located at 612 N. Park St.

Hooker said she’s happy to see the city collaborating on new ideas to address poverty.

“This is not a new problem. This has been a problem for many, many years. And it’s time to set aside those dollars and really start addressing it in meaningful and impactful ways so people are actually seeing the work,” Hooker said. “We didn’t get in this place where we’re at overnight, so it’s going to take time. I know a lot of people are frustrated, they don’t see the big picture. They really don’t see the work that the city is doing. But they are taking steps going toward equity and shared prosperity for everybody.”

The homeless encampment in Bronson Park showed just how many people are on the streets in Kalamazoo. There are no plans in the budget for a city funded shelter. Chamberlain said the city does have ideas to address the root of the problem.

“We are working with a group of citizens for a very wide variety throughout the city to look at anti-poverty programs that we can do. And so that handles not only just homelessness, but other people who are perhaps struggling in their homes and how do we keep them in their home people who need jobs, how do we get them connected,” Chamberlain said.

On Monday, Dec. 10, the city will have a work session to discuss the proposed budget. The session will be held at City Hall from 4-8 p.m. and is open to the public. There will also be two public hearings before the budget is expected to be approved by late January.

Hooker is encouraging more people to get involved in local government by attending sessions and meetings.

“You have to show up and have to get involved, so you know what’s going on. Things that matter to you, you can actually lend your voice and help get those things accomplished,” Hooker said.

H.O.P.E.’s "Tiny Homes" project is scheduled to break ground in the spring of 2019.

The City of Kalamazoo's 2019 Budget Proposal can be viewed here.

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