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State House continues hearings on housing discrimination bills

Rep. Dievendorf represents several mid-Michigan municipalities, including parts of Lansing as well as DeWitt and Grand Ledge.
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Emily Dievendorf
Rep. Dievendorf represents several mid-Michigan municipalities, including parts of Lansing as well as DeWitt and Grand Ledge.

Sweeping housing protections – including a bill to create a “homeless bill of rights” – would be enacted in Michigan under a package of legislation that was the subject of a hearing Thursday before a state House panel.

The main bill lists a broad array of rights. Those include a ban on employment discrimination against people who don’t have a permanent mailing address or list a shelter as a home address, a right for homeless kids to be registered at a school, the right to documentation so a homeless person can vote, and the right to move about public spaces regardless of housing status.

“The homeless bill of rights ensures that there are equal rights and privileges and access to public services regardless of housing status, real or perceived,” said Representative Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing), the bill sponsor.

The legislation is aimed at combating homelessness and getting more families into secure housing. Other bills in the package include a ban on discrimination based on source of income or non-violent criminal history.

Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson testified in favor of the bills. He said housing affects crime rates.

“I will tell you selfishly, if you can help fix the stable housing issue, not only here in the state but be an example across the country, you’re going to reduce crime and you’re going to reduce victims and you’re going to save families,” he said.

Republicans on the committee expressed concerns about many of the bills.

Republican Representative Jay DeBoyer (R-Clay) said landlords do not want to turn away prospective renters but also have to take into account the safety of other tenants.

“And my question would be why do we as the government believe we can tell a landlord what they believe to be a risk because, frankly, we’re telling them that it’s OK to consider a financial risk but it’s not OK to consider a criminal risk,” he said.

There is a similar package of bills introduced in the state Senate. The House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats, who have declared housing as a priority in this session.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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