KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Vice mayor Patrese Griffin smiled brightly and clapped in the middle of the Kalamazoo City Commission virtual meeting on Tuesday night September 8.
All the commissioners, the mayor and other city official voted ‘yes’ to pass the anti-discrimination housing ordinance.
Griffin was thrilled.
“We made history here by passing a significant huge non-discrimination ordinance that added protected classes,” Griffin said during an interview with FOX 17 on Friday. “It eliminated blanket policies for people with evictions, for people with criminal histories, and also dealt with application fees and created a Civil Rights board. So, yes it was huge and we did it.”
In the meeting Griffin said she was a “ball of emotions.” Getting the ordinance passed was years in the making and she was grateful that her colleagues saw the need for fair and equitable access to housing as much as she did.
“I still don’t really have the words for that because it’s so near and dear to me,” Griffin said. “For people who may not have necessarily had that experience to relate and understand and listen, and then ultimately vote yes for this, it’s just inspiring.”
Griffin said her work in getting the ordinance passed began four years ago when she experienced homelessness herself. In 2016, the home she and her family were renting was unexpectedly deemed condemned due to numerous electrical issues.
Griffin, her husband and their three children had to leave immediately.
“That will never leave me,” Griffin said. “It was traumatizing is really what it was. Coming home, being thrown into a situation of homelessness when you weren’t necessarily expecting that and then having to navigate through those systems.”
Griffin said for over a year, she and her family did not have home. They stayed with one family, who made it possible for them to get by. She and her husband Ed applied for many homes, spending hundreds of dollars on fees, only to be turned down and in some cases never hearing back.
However, they figured out why.
“After about 8 months, Ed’s like I think maybe my criminal background is causing issue with this,” said Griffin, who's husband last felony was in 2001. “And so we’re like many other families ‘what do you do?’ Do you lie and say you’re a single parent, move into a house and run the risk of being evicted because you lied on your lease?”
Griffin said they felt desperate at times.
One of the hardest parts was watching her children, who were still in school at the time, experience the shame and trauma that associated with being homeless and not having a house.
“As a matter of fact our daughter just graduated from high school, she graduated from Kalamazoo Central, and she was one of three people who gave their speech,” Griffin said. “That was one of things she talked about, how she started high school in a hotel room because we didn’t have anywhere to live.”
Griffin believes that the experience has built their character and is now a part of their testimony just as it’s a part of hers.
Children, and other groups like survivors of domestic violence, and people with arrest and criminal records, motivated her to get the ordinance recognized and passed. She hopes it'll help to eliminate the stigma.
“There’s a lot of blame placed with being house-less and with people being in housing crisis because the narrative had always been, you know, ‘you put yourself in that position,’ Griffin said. “And, there are so many people who didn’t put themselves in that position. And the solutions and the suggestions for help are a little bit misguided when you have people who didn’t put themselves there.”
That’s why Griffin was so emotional when the ordinance passed Tuesday night. She knew that it was going to give people experiencing any kind of housing crisis a fair shot at housing.
“It’s time. It’s time,” Griffin said with a big smile. “I can’t even probably put it into words all the way, how thrilled I am that we made it to this point.”
***For more information on the Civil Rights Board, click here.***