With a lot of Kalamazoo residents out of work, many of our friends and neighbors are facing a tough road ahead. Whether it's the fear of losing their homes or threat of utility shut-off, too many of us are feeling the wolf at our doors. Thankfully, there's a group of people in Kalamazoo who want to help; the newly formed Greater Kalamazoo Renters Union, an organization board member Andy Argo says, "gives renters a way to amplify their voices and be heard in a way that one person or organization, no matter how influential, cannot.

"The need for an organization like ours is something that has been echoed in the community for many years," Argo continued. "Even before the crisis, community problems such as income inequality, housing discrimination, rising rental rates, and concerns about the safety and habitability of living conditions have been documented in almost every corner of the city and county. We have studied other cities where renters have formed their own unions, and have seen the incredible gains these groups have made by coming together and pushing for changes to be made by their municipal governments and local landlords."

A suspension of rent collection, a moratorium on utility shut offs, and an extension of the eviction moratorium are among the issues that the GKRU is working to address. Whether going directly to the city to affect change, or speaking with utility providers to reach an agreement, there's no one way to seek the results their constituents are counting on. "The most important message we want to get out to these organizations is that in the midst of this crisis we all must embrace empathy and forgiveness, and make sure our community remains whole when we reach the other side. We encourage landlords to engage in dialogue with their tenants with an empathetic and realistic understanding of the difficulties brought on by the crisis, and to embrace temporary solutions such as financial forgiveness and other extra measures in agreement with their renters. In particular, we need to make sure that the current situation doesn't lead to a mass eviction crisis later on, where families across the area may suddenly find themselves without a home." Recently, the eviction moratorium was extended state-wide to June 11th by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

We're all looking forward to the end of Stay Home Stay Safe. We're all hoping to find some sense of normalcy at the end of a time none of us could have anticipated. So when the dust settles, what is the future of the GKRU? Argo says they aren't going anywhere. "If we want something done right, we have to do it ourselves. Rather than work only as an advocacy group or a campaign, the Union's strength will come from mass participation of renters themselves. As we grow, we can use our collective power and energy to achieve fairer and more equitable living conditions for residents in Kalamazoo. History has proven time and time again that, when common, everyday people stand together, they can secure victories that a single person or a small group simply can't."

Want to get involved? Click here to fill out a membership application for the Greater Kalamazoo Renters Union, and find them on Facebook, here.

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