The Issues

Equity & Inclusion

Kentwood is one of the most diverse urban cities in West Michigan. According to the US Census, Kentwood residents are White (63%), Black (22%), LatinX (10%), Asian (9%), Biracial (4%), and Indian, and Pacific Islander (.3%). Our community consists of 52% females and 48% males. Almost 7,000 senior citizens and more than 2300 veterans reside in Kentwood. While the vast majority of our Kentwood neighbors were born in the US, 18% were born in different countries (including but definitely not limited to Bosnia, Vietnam, the Republic of Congo, Mexico, Korea, Somalia, Guatemala, Burma) and 24% speak a language other than English in their homes.

Regardless of our country of origin, income, age, race, or gender, Leonica Riley Erwin recognizes we all came to live in Kentwood because we want a home where we feel safe,  to live close to our jobs, and have schools that provide our children with a quality education. While Kentwood is rich in diversity, there are some inequities that can be improved on.  For example, Kentwood has an overall poverty rate of about 10%; however, more than 21% of our Black American neighbors and 17% of our LatinX neighbors are living in poverty. The rate of homeownership for women in Kentwood is only 35% compared to 67% for men. There is a $12,000 wage gap between men and women living in Kentwood that increases with higher educational attainment. Residents with felonies, even nonviolent ones, struggle to find sustainable employment and affordable housing within the city limits. As Kentwood’s City Commissioner At-Large, Leonica will address issues of equity and inclusion in the following ways:

  • Introducing a proclamation for the City of Kentwood to join over 210 cities throughout the nation in declaring racism a public health crisis and making a commitment to eliminating it;
  • Developing a citizen-driven Commission on Equity and Tolerance to solidify the City of Kentwood’s commitment to incorporate policies, ordinances, processes, and practices that are inclusive and reflective of the City’s demographics;
  • Making English as a Second Language (ELS) classes, credit counseling, and homeownership programs more accessible to Kentwood residents that need those services;
  • Sponsoring expungement clinics for eligible residents who have up to three felonies and unlimited misdemeanors, including many marijuana-related charges that occurred prior to 2018.

Support for Small Businesses & Startups

The City of Kentwood’s economy is stable with an average (3.7%) unemployment rate and a higher-than-average job growth rate of 37.5% when compared with the nation. In 2020, Kentwood was named one of the best small cities to start a business. Leonica wants to use this opportunity to support more entrepreneurs in bringing their businesses to Kentwood. Every shopping plaza and office in Kentwood should be completely filled with sustainable businesses in the next ten years. Leonica knows the people in Kentwood have dreams that are ready to become reality. There are people baking cakes, designing clothing lines, creating beauty products, practicing hairstyles, taking photos in their homes, and studying for a licensing exam, just waiting for an opportunity to lease affordable commercial retail and office space in Kentwood to entrepreneurs. There are small business owners who are looking for creative ways to pivot their service delivery systems due to unexpected expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Leonica seeks to be their voice on the city commission by advocating for the following:

  • Enhancing the City’s current marketing campaigns so current and future businesses and startups are more aware of resources and services (incentives, tax abatements, financial assistance, etc.) available to support them through the City of Kentwood;
  • Establishing a business diversity ordinance to ensure local businesses are not getting pushed out by large chains;
  • Reorienting local incentives and tax abatements to accelerate the growth of small businesses in Kentwood, especially those owned by women and minorities.

Affordable Housing

Kentwood’s population has grown at a rate of 7% since 2010, yet the number of homes being built since that time has dwindled to 2%. Kent County has a housing crisis. There is not a homeless shelter in Kentwood and those in neighboring cities are consistently full. This causes numerous families to live in Kentwood hotels and fewer families to vacation in them. Many families have found themselves in situations that require multigenerational living. The moratorium on evictions has limited the number of rental units available so families have nowhere else to go. The demand for homeownership in Kentwood is currently very high but the supply is almost nonexistent, creating a very competitive housing market especially in Prinston Estates and Bailey’s Grove. The number of Kentwood residents (and Boomers in general) approaching retirement requires a more concerted effort to attract more senior housing development projects. Leonica would initiate the following steps to increase housing units in Kentwood:

  • Working with the Planning Commission to attract developers interested in building additional single-family, multi-family, and senior housing units in the City of Kentwood and annexed areas;
  •  Identifying strategies to increase Kentwood’s infrastructure and capacity to meet the need of vulnerable populations by maximizing the use of federal and state waivers available through HUD and MSDHA;
  • Strategically developing opportunities to provide eviction prevention and homeowner assistance programs to Kentwood residents.

Community Safety & Wellness

This is a large and broad category of topics that Leonica and her neighbors care about ranging from the upkeep of our parks and trails and pedestrian/bicycle safety to community policing. Our parks and trails are some of the best in the area. Leonica is committed to ensuring these resources continue to be well-maintained and updated for Kentwood residents and visitors to enjoy for years to come. Pedestrian/bicycle safety is a personal concern for Leonica as a mother of young children and a resident who loves to walk dogs. She wants to explore supports available to assist homeowners who would like sidewalks or determine if bike lanes are needed in high traffic areas. Kentwood is a wonderful community with relatively low crime and family-oriented values. There have been few publicized crises about community relations with the Kentwood Police Department. Leonica still wants to be proactive about community policing initiatives that will further strengthen the relationship between KPD and Kentwood residents and visitors. The website will be updated with more specific measures as the campaign progresses and Leonica has time to engage in dialogue with the public on these sensitive matters.

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