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City meeting hears concerns over rental application fees, stories from Westside Cancer Crisis group

The Grand Rapids City Commission held their quarterly night out this past Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at Harrison Park Elementary School.
Westside Cancer Crisis group speaks at Grand Rapids City Commission

Westside Cancer Crisis group speaks at Grand Rapids City Commission /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

/Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

/Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

The Grand Rapids City Commission held its quarterly Night Out on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at Harrison Park Elementary School.

Public comments on agenda items began with Jolanda Howe from Grand Rapids Homes for All.

Howe said that while she was grateful for commissioners who pushed for it to come to a vote, she’s “concerned about this latest draft."

"With each draft of the proposal we’ve seen it get weaker in terms of rentals. With this last draft we have lost the part that talked about giving information to those who have been denied on why and particularly the screening service that was used. Seeing this draft change and hearing the conversation this morning and hearing on the major partners in this Clay Powell from the RPOA gives me pause and gives me concern," Howe said.

She added, "We’re talking about a man who’s out for the interest of landlords. And landlords looking out for the interest of landlords is the reason we have this to begin with, that we’re in this mess. And the people who are actually experts at what would be needed as seeking an ordinance like this are people who are seeking housing, people who are renting, people who are not homeowners. And who really need a system that’s going to be fair and simple. That’s why I reached out to Eric Delong. I feel that if the conversation partners around the table are going to be landlords instead of residents, that isn’t fair. The residents of this city deserves a place at the table for conversation and not just three minutes behind the microphone at a public hearing.”

Jim Howe, also with Homes for All, expressed similar concerns and noted the proposed ordinance contradicts and misquotes itself. He also said that if the original draft and current draft are compared, commissioners can see that all the obligations for landlords have been removed.

Commissioners spent time repealing old ordinances.

“The City Clerk’s office has been going through obsolete or redundant licences and making recommendations to repeal them. It’s been on our list for a long time to go through old ordinances and rules and clean those up,” Mayor Bliss said.

Conversation around an ordinance to amend the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption took some time as commissioners expressed concern over the unintended consequences of this amendment, how it would be enforced and how it would interact with loitering and trespassing laws.

How this ordinance would interact with Good Neighbor plans and Healthy Corner Stores were also expressed as concerns.

Commissioner Kelly withdrew the motion, with the commission planning to come back to the ordinance later in July.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, members of the Westside Cancer Crisis group came forward together to highlight the high rates of cancer on their childhood block across the street from the Butterworth landfill, which became an EPA Superfund site in 1990's, and press the city to do more to help them figure out what was going on.

Shane Smith, one of the founders of the group, said, "It was shut down in 1973 due to high contamination. There was never any testing done in the residential neighborhoods. Every one of us has had a high impact in our family of cancer over there. For example, on the 300 block of Indiana alone, there have been over 70 cases of cancer, approaching 80. Just on that one block in the last 20 years. My dad’s entire generation is pretty much gone. We feel like this has been kicked down the road long enough.”

Donna Smith, Shane’s mother, listed numerous family members who died from cancer. Mitze McCarty was in tears, talking about her son and husband whom she lost to cancer.

Pete Szczepanek, a former neighborhood resident, said, “We are now into the third generation of family members with cancer. I lost my father and my mother. My sister passed away from pulmonary disorders. Both of my grandparents, aunt, uncle cousin, all in the same neighborhood. I was diagnosed last October with cancer.”

He noted how fun it was to dump their own trash there when he was younger, but also called for studies to be done, “I just think the explanation that everything flowed into the the river and away from everything is misleading.”

Third Ward Commissioner David Allen did not attend the meeting.

The June 5, 2018 city commission meeting can be viewed on the City’s Facebook page. The meeting agenda and minutes can be viewed on the City’s website.

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