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Politics & Government

Kalamazoo County commissioners look forward to year of planning for affordable housing

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Kalamazoo County commissioners have a year to plan before a new affordable housing millage goes into effect.

The property tax, passed in November, will raise over $6 million in that first year, two thirds of which will go toward affordable housing development, and the other third toward rental assistance and services like career counseling.

This November the measure prevailed by just 2.5 percentage points, a margin that county commissioner Zac Bauer says “we’re not overlooking.”

Tracy Hall, chair of the board of commissioners, says the commission has “one shot” to “do something bold” with the funds raised by the millage.

“The voters, by a slight majority, trusted us,” she said. As for the 63,610 who didn’t, she hopes they will “take a look back” and say, “OK, I may have voted no on this, but look at all they’ve done in the last couple years.”

Commissioners say the year of planning will allow them to shape projects according to community needs. To that end, they plan to hold a meeting this winter with community leaders, developers, and organizations that work in affordable housing.

Stephanie Hoffman-Nelson, executive director of Open Doors Kalamazoo, co-led the campaign to get the millage passed. She says the projects funded by the millage will improve overall health and stability in the area.

“Housing, for us at Open Doors, we believe that is the foundation of any family or individual’s success,” she said.

Projects made possible by the millage will build on recent efforts in the city and county to combat homelessness and housing inequity. Revenue from a county millage passed in 2015, which lapses at the end of this month, provided rental assistance to families with children in school.

This September, the Kalamazoo city council voted in unanimous favor of two housing ordinances designed to reduce discrimination on the basis of renters’ sources of income, prior evictions, and criminal records.

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