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Why we can’t go back to the way things were in Grand Rapids: Part V – Demand Housing Justice

September 7, 2020

In April, we posted an article arguing that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we could not return to normal. In early May, we posted Part II in this series, focusing on the Food System and then in late May, we wrote Part III, which focuses on labor and a new economy. In Part IV, our focus was on Climate Justice, with an emphasis on White Supremacy. In today’s post we want to look at housing and why we can’t go back to normal.

One common theme in each of these posts was that the pandemic exposed the serious flaws in Capitalism and how millions in the US are clearly considered expendable by the systems of power and oppression.

In addition, it is important to acknowledge that you cannot achieve housing justice without economic justice, racial justice and gender justice. In fact, you cannot achieve housing justice within the current political climate which rewards “the market”, but doesn’t care about the well being of people.

Right now, all across the US and in Gran Rapids, thousands of families are facing the possibility of eviction. The COVID 19 pandemic has caused thousands of people in Grand Rapids to lose their jobs, plus many families are taking care of children, since many school districts have gone to online instruction. Parents are home with their children, some working and some not working. Despite the difficulty that is compounded by the pandemic, landlords and property management companies are wanting to make profits. As was said earlier, the pandemic has exposed the brutality of the market, the brutality of capitalism, and why we can’t go back to the way things were before.

What we are proposing in this article is nothing new, since it has been practiced in many communities and societies throughout the world, as it relates to housing justice.

We have to move away from this idea that housing should be dictated by the market. Housing, like other basic needs, should not be left up to the market, but should be something that everyone has access to. Housing is not only a right for individuals and families, but it should be something that is shared and is available to all. Like food, health care, education and other basic necessities, housing should not be a commodity, instead housing should be practiced as a necessary component of what it means to be human. The fact that thousands are homeless or are experiencing housing insecurity in the Grand Rapids area is criminal.

Another important point is that the history of housing in Grand Rapids begins with the theft of land from indigenous people by those practicing Settler Colonialism. In fact, throughout the history of this community, housing has always been intertwined with White Supremacy, classism, displacement and gentrification, as we have documented in our post entitled Housing Justice through a Historic and Intersectional Lens: Looking back, imagining forward and fighting right now.

However, until we can move as a society away from market-based housing to housing justice, there are things that people can do to that will get us to housing justice.

  • We need to stop allowing public money, in the form of tax breaks or subsidies, to go to housing developers. Literally millions of dollars are given to developers in the form of tax breaks or subsidies in Grand Rapids on an annual basis. If housing, as we are constantly reminded, is driven by the market, then make developers foot the bill for new housing on their own. We don’t give home owners or renters the same benefits or incentives as we do for companies that construct housing.
  • Redirect the public money that currently goes to developers and provide that public money to people who are facing housing insecurity. The City should set aside the amount of money that currently goes to developers – tax breaks, subsidies – and make it available for people who are struggling to pay their rent or maintain their mortgage. In addition, this pool of funds should not only be given to people who are facing housing insecurity, but this pool of public money should be allocated based on the collective decisions made by people who have previously benefitted from this fund……meaning those who make the decisions of how the public money gets used should be made up of people who are or have recently been housing insecure.
  • There are currently lots of property in the Grand Rapids area, both residential and commercial, that people could occupy. Yes, I am advocating that people engage in squatting. Squatting is a long standing tradition in many countries and societies and the basic premise of squatting is that people are using buildings that are not occupied by other humans. See the book, The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting, by Alex Vasudevan.
  • We should promote more cooperative housing. There are a few cooperative housing ventures in Grand Rapids, but this way of living could be expanded. Cooperative housing can reduce housing costs for individuals and families, so that they are not spending a significant percent of their income on housing. In addition, cooperative housing promotes cooperation and can lead to people cooperating in other areas of life, like food, child care, transportation, education and work cooperatives.
  • People is Grand Rapids should seriously investigate and pursue the practice of Community Land Trusts. Community Land Trusts operate on the idea that people go in collectively to access land, homes and work spaces that are collectively owned and/or have written into the trusts that this land/property can never be gentrified, bought out by developers or used for unjust or unsustainable purposes. Community Land Trusts can include just 2 plots of land, a city block or larger. For more information on Community Land Trusts go to
  • One last strategy that people can employe is the creation of Tenant Unions. Tenant unions are a way for people to demonstrate their collective power by fighting for housing justice against exploitative landlords and property management companies. Tenant unions can fight for rent control, fight against unsafe housing conditions, fight against discriminatory and abusive property owners, plus they provide an opportunity to build community through mutual aid with other tenants. Earlier this year, a tenant union was formed in the greater Grand Rapids area, called the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union/Unión de inquilinos del área de Grand Rapids.  In fact, this tenant union is hosting an in person meeting this Saturday, September 12 in Gran Rapids. For details, go to this link

If we are serious about fighting displacement, gentrification and market-based housing companies, then these are some of the tactics/strategies that we can employe in the struggle for housing justice.

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