The City of Flint, Mich., passed an ordinance Monday to protect its residents from discrimination when renting or buying a home.
The ordinance states that "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, marital status, physical or mental limitation, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or actual or perceived HIV status" can't factor into a decision to rent, lease or sell a property.
"Housing obviously has been a challenge for many of our constituents for many years," said Stevi Atkins, CEO of the Flint non-profit Wellness AIDS Services. "We hear stories all the time about discrimination that occurs ... there had been no recourse to that."
Atkins and other Flint activists, as well as LGBT allies, have been working to get the ordinance passed for two years.
"I hope this allows an outlet for people to empower themselves and stand up and say, 'This is unacceptable,'" Atkins added.
The city's emergency manager, Michael Brown, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in November to take control of the city and its finances, officially passed and signed the resolution.
"We were thankful that even though the emergency manager was in place, this was allowed to pass and not just sit on someone's desk," Atkins said.
Before Brown was instated and Flint City Council was divested of its power, the ordinance was unanimously passed out of committee and approved in its first reading.
While the new law will have a positive impact for LGBT individuals, the language, modeled after Ann Arbor's city code, is purposely broad to include all Flint residents.
"I think Flint has been going through some troubling times, so anything we can do to make people come to the city or stay in the city," Atkins said.
Initially, the ordinance was planned to prohibit discrimination in both housing and employment, but due to a legal issue, Council Vice President Dale Weighill said, the final draft of the ordinance solely focuses on housing. Currently, public employees of the city are protected from the listed forms of employment discrimination, but those protections are not extended to all residents.
Despite the limited scope of his powers, Weighill said he hopes to move forward and, pending Brown's approval, plans to work with the city's Legal Department to draft an ordinance guaranteeing equal employment rights.
There are 18 other cities in Michigan that have passed similar legislation to protect LGBT individuals from housing discrimination. But there has been pushback against equal protection guarantees at the state level.
State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) introduced House Bill 5039 in October, which would prohibit Michigan municipalities from extending the state's anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Act, to protect citizens' rights on the basis of sexual orientation.
But in Flint, Atkins said that there had been little opposition to the local equal protection ordinance, either from residents or in the city administration.
"Flint has bigger things to worry about, quite frankly. Our lack of policing, what's going on with our city government -- I think that's a more immediate need for people than a little housing ordinance," she said. "But for many of us it's a big deal."
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