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The Housing Crisis and Policing in Grand Rapids: What we can expect from the new incoming City Commissioners

November 29, 2022

Back in October, GRIID posted an article that provided some analysis of the current inequalities and injustices that various social movements in Grand Rapids were attempting to address. We provided several bullet points on the critical issues that these movements were addressing. In that same article, we posted links to the candidates who were running for City Commission, specifically their campaign pages.

Two of the main issues that local movements have been addressing are housing and policing. We now know that Drew Robbins (1st Ward), Lisa Knight (2nd Ward) and Kelsey Perdue (3rd Ward), each were victorious. Here is what each of the candidates who will take office in 2023 had to say about each of these issues during the campaign, at least based on what was on their campaign pages:

Drew Robbins

Robbins did not address housing on his campaign page, but he does say this about policing:

Protecting the community is the number one job of any city. I want to help our new Police Chief, Eric Winstrom, make his changes to the department, to transition from warriors to guardians. Good policing starts with good Commissioners. I want to be your voice on the commission to be helpful, not a hinderance, and to make sure we can all feel we are safe.

Robbins was endorsed by the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association and received $10,000 from the cop union, funding which played a significant role in his win. This is completely opposite of what the Grand Rapids movements have been demanding at least since June 2020. 

Lisa Knight

Knight addressed, both policing and housing on her campaign page. On the matter of policing, this is what she said:

Helping our communities feel safer, through continued work with our local Safety departments, State and Community legislators, to help create policies that will impact our community members positively.  

While the language used in talking about policing is more humane, there are no clear policy matters addressed, certainly nothing like what the larger movement around policing has been demanding. 

On housing, this is what Knight had to say: 

I will work with our City and local organizations to address the lack of housing and be strategic in helping homeowners. I plan to expand housing options and engage our community in the efforts for change.

Again, the rhetoric is positive, but also vague and noncommittal, especially around affordable housing, gentrification, the cost of rent, and the issue of the unhoused, all of which are main issues that the housing justice movement has been addressing.

Kelsey Perdue

Perdue does not address housing issues specifically, but here is what was under her heading on public safety:

There is a lot that makes a community safe and unsafe: affordable housing, hazard-free environments, physical and mental health, trusting police-community relationships, green spaces and inclusive development to name a few. Kelsey will bring transparency and curiosity when reviewing and making public safety investments. 

The language that Perdue uses is closer to what some of the movement demands have been, specifically the idea that the more resources that are used for community, the safer they are, thus are less reliant on cops. 

Last week, there was a news story that provided some updates on where Robbins, Knight and Perdue stand on the issues of housing and policing, in an article entitled, Housing, public safety are top concerns for 3 new Grand Rapids city commissioners.

Unfortunately, the article frames the issues around policing and housing by relying on information from the GRPD on the matter of policing and crime, and on the matter of housing they rely on data from the City of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Frey Foundation, K-Connect and Housing Next. In both matters of housing and policing, the reporter limits the narrative and scope of both of these issues. For example, on housing they article deals primarily with the number of housing units needed, but fails to address real affordability, the proliferation of Property Management companies, gentrification and how displacement is taking place in several areas of the city. 

The reporter then asks each of the new City Commissioners to get further insight into what they might do to address policing and housing. Lisa Knight had this to say about housing: 

“Right now we know that on top of everything else we have to be even more creative in the face of inflation in how we support those who cannot afford quality housing. There are a number of different things that went through my mind, such as: E.g. zoning, tiny houses, container houses – I hope we are all ready to come around the table to find ways to address this.”

On the matter of policing, Knight said, “I want to find more ways that they can work with the community to build a stronger bond of trust than we have right now.”

Knight does at least list some possible housing alternatives, but never addresses the issue of affordability, the massive wealth gap in this city or the lack of a real living wage, which is key to what people can afford. On the matter of policing, Knight accepts the notion that the police can be reformed and that the goal is to build trust, both of which ignore what the real function of policing in this community has always been about, which is the protect systems of power and oppression.

On the issue of housing, Perdue states: “Obviously we have a housing crisis, so we definitely have to be part of the leadership and decision making of how we get out of it,” Perdue said. “We know that lack of supply is a big part of the problem, so it’s really important to ensure what’s within the city’s power to facilitate the construction and renovation of homes at all price points. We know that we need more living space in every price range.”

Again, the issue of income, the lack of a living wage, or that housing is a fundamental human right are absent from her comments, which sees housing within a market framework.

On the matter of policing, Perdue states: “What we’ve heard from the community and local police is that safety and crime prevention is about more than the police. People need resources, opportunities and stability, and housing is also part of that infrastructure and access to care.”

While the language around the lack of resources going to real community needs is important, nothing is addressed around what the function of policing is in this community, how there is a disproportionate policing of communities experiencing poverty, particularly Black and Brown communities.

The response from Robbins is not surprising, considering his open support of the cops and their financial backing of his candidacy. Robbins says: “The most important thing is safety. Police response times and crime have also increased. We still need a police department that is fully staffed and highly trained to respond to calls when they arise.” These comments are essentially talking point that the GRPD and the police union have been using since the demand to defund the GRPD has been raised in June of 2020. 

On the matter of housing, Robbins make it about himself, stating, “It’s a very complicated subject and there are a lot of things involved, but I’m a creative thinker and I like to think outside the box.” Robbins also talks about zoning issues, housing density and the housing regulations, which have been concerns and talking points from the Real Estate industry, the Rental Property Owners Association and the GR Chamber of Commerce. Not surprising, Robbins received $10,000 from the GR Chamber of Commerce and $1300 from the Realtors PAC during the campaign. 

Time will tell to see what the new City Commissioners will do on the critical issues of housing and policing in the New Year. However, since it is clear that Robbins will do the bidding of his paymasters, the social movements that have been making demands around housing and policing will need to pressure Perdue and Knight to get them to embrace a non-market solution to housing justice and a more abolitionist framework around public safety and policing.

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