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MLive only asks the Mayor of Grand Rapids if there has been progress made after her first term

March 4, 2020

On Tuesday, MLive posted an article with the headline, A look back at Rosalynn Bliss’ first term as Grand Rapids mayor

Near the beginning of that article it states:

Those priorities were wide in scope, including to improve racial equity and community-police relations, increase affordable housing, reduce homelessness, strengthen local schools and grow the local economy, among others.

The MLive story provides a fairly clear path for readers to determine whether or not Mayor Bliss was able to achieve the goals she laid out in 2016, with the 6 areas listed above. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether the MLive article provides us with an accurate assessment of whether or not the Mayor met those goals.

The MLive article is laid out in sections that deal with most of the 6 areas identified, but the only source cited in the article was Mayor. This type of journalism tends to provide a forum for those with political power, but without much verification. For instance, Mayor Bliss is quoted as saying:

“Our local economy is strong. You’ve seen a lot of development and energy downtown, and you see a lot of energy and vibrancy and growth in our neighborhoods. A lot of people want to move to our city and I think that’s a positive thing.”

What the Mayor said might sound nice, but the MLive writer provides no verification of whether or not the economy in Grand Rapids is doing well. It is true that more people are moving into the city, but that does not necessarily reflect how well the economy is doing and it certainly doesn’t take into consideration “for whom” is the economy doing well.

This begs the question as to why no other sources were cited. Wouldn’t it be more accurate or more complete to get feedback from people in the community, especially people who are working on these issues and those who are directly affected by them?

Affordable Housing

The MLive ariticle acknowledges that the Mayor established a Housing Advisory Committee and that most of the 11 recommendations were adopted. (The Housing Advisory Committee was made up of developers and non-profits representatives, but did not include those who are experiencing housing insecurity) However, just because a committee was created and some of their recommendations were adopted is not an indication that more affordable housing was created in the city. The City of Grand Rapids does list what has been accomplished in regards to affordable housing between 2012 and 2016, but this is not current data that would apply to the first term of Mayor Bliss. In addition, there is no data that reflects how many people have left Grand Rapids, especially renters who could no longer afford the increased cost of renting. 

Homelessness

The MLive article suggests that veterans are no longer homeless in Kent County because they are now connected to resources, but this is not a clear indication that no US military veterans are homeless.

In regards to non-veteran homelessness, the Mayor acknowledges that there are lots of families with children who “are struggling” with housing stability and that there needs to be a more systemic solution. Unfortunately, there is no data provided on how many people are experiencing homelessness or housing instability. The article does say that the Mayor is working with the county and private partner to address the issue of homelessness. This is also not an answer and it doesn’t provide a clear benchmark as to how the problem will be solved. Will there be a push by the city to adopt a living wage policy, so people can afford stable housing, especially since the Mayor acknowledges that the problem is systemic. You cannot solve the housing crisis of any kind without having economic justice.

Racial Equity

Again, Mayor Bliss is the only source on the topic of Racial Equity cited in the MLive article. On the matter of racial equity it is mentioned that there was a commitment by the City to hire more minority-owned businesses. This is a good thing, but the reality is that most black and brown people in this community don’t own businesses and are, like most people, workers.

The article also states that the City just came out with an Equitable Economic Development & Mobility Strategic Plan. However, this plan leans heavy towards creating and providing support to minority-owned businesses and does not address the wealth gap that exists between white people and minorities. In addition, like the Housing Advisory Committee, those involved in creating the strategic plan are not people who are economically struggling, meaning people whose lived experience could offer ideas about how to create economic justice.

Lastly, on the matter of “growing the economy,” the MLive article cites Bliss saying she is proud of getting a Food Truck ordinance, economic development around Medical Mile and getting the insurance company, Acrisure, to move to Grand Rapids. The question we should ask here is how are any of these three things creating more racial equity in the City of Grand Rapids?

Living in a Safe Community

The last area mentioned in the MLive article has to do with public safety and strengthening relations between the police and the community. Bliss again is cited as saying that she commended the GRPD for establishing its youth-interaction policy in 2018 and foreign nationals policy in 2019. Here, the question should be asked whether or not either policy has led to less police abuse of children of color or of undocumented immigrants? Again, no evidence is provided to support these policy changes or whether or not black and brown communities feel safe with the police in their neighborhoods. This is where having other voices would not only be useful, but critical for actually being able to determine if any change has been made that the public can identify.

This MLive article falls short in so many ways. It fails to include real data or evidence to support any of the claims made by the Mayor. The article does not include other voices, which would provide a greater perspective on what has or hasn’t been accomplished in Grand Rapids over the past 4 years. Lastly, those most impacted by the housing crisis, racial inequity or police abuse are not included in the article. In fact, one could argue that these perspectives are equally or even more important than what the Mayor thinks, since these are the people who have actually experienced harm because of the larger structural issues of housing instability, racial inequity and police abuse. Maybe the City should invest in getting input from the entire community on these matters. Until then, its all political speak and doesn’t mean anything to people who are being displaced, who are homeless, who are experiencing poverty and who have little or no trust in law enforcement in this city. How would you grade the City of Grand Rapids on these matters???

(Note: On Tuesday, March 3, the Grand Rapids Mayor gave her annual State of the City speech at a private venue to an invite only crowd. I’ll bet that those who are homeless, experiencing housing instability, those experiencing poverty or living in fear of the GRPD were not on the invite list.)

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