Last week, the City of Grand Rapids Commission approved providing up to $250,000 for rent and mortgage assistance to Grand Rapids residents meeting Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s La Lucha Fund eligibility requirements. Residents impacted by COVID-19 can apply for funds and receive up to $500 of rent or mortgage assistance for their households.
“I am working on the contracts today [August 17] so we can get the money out,” says Connie Bohatch, City of Grand Rapids managing director of community services. “We are figuring out how we can support the community not only in the emergency phase but also in the recovery phase.”Connie Bohatch
Created as a short-term emergency response to COVID-19, La Lucha Fund provides financial resources directly to Kent County families who are undocumented immigrants or have mixed immigration status — and did not receive Federal COVID-19 relief, i.e. unemployment benefits or the $1,200 stimulus checks that most Americans received as part of the CARES Act. Immigrants who pay their taxes via an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number rather than a Social Security Number were not eligible for the checks. When one spouse was a citizen and one not, married couples filing jointly were excluded, as well.
“Immigration status impacts the ability of some of our residents from accessing federal resources,” Bohatch says. “We wanted to make sure to invest in people who may be undocumented but still continue to contribute to the community with sales tax, income tax, and other ways.”
Funding from the City of Grand Rapids is earmarked for Grand Rapids residents. La Lucha Fund is a partnership among the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, Movimiento Cosecha GR, the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Latino Community Coalition, Latina Network of West Michigan, and LatinxGR.
“There are a lot of families who have not worked since March,” says Lorena Aguayo-Marquez, an affiliate of several La Lucha partners who helps review applications for help. “Many are on the verge of being evicted. It’s very important for our undocumented residents that they have a house, especially with the pandemic.”
Aguayo-Marquez worked with a family who lost their home and moved in with another family. As a result of the cramped living conditions, both families got sick with COVID-19. She also fears that with school approaching, children living in unstable home environments may face insurmountable challenges to academic success. Since the eviction moratorium was lifted nearly a month ago, she has been talking to more and more families applying for help because they are on the brink of homelessness.
“People are really hurting. They have been unable to work for five months, going on six," Aguayo-Marquez says. “Most of the people I spoke to were working up to the pandemic for low wages in jobs that have suffered a lot — restaurants, maids at hotels, cleaning offices. If they still have a job, their hours are reduced … Whatever they had saved is gone.”Lorena Aguayo-Marquez
Other entities providing funding for La Lucha Fund include the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, WK Kellogg Foundation, Heart of West Michigan United Way, The Frye Foundation, the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, and DTE Energy Foundation. Aguayo says that individuals making donations have been a huge help, as well.
“What are we going to do for families without homes? How do the children do schooling and get other resources they need with no roof over their heads?” Aguayo-Marquez asks. “They are always on my mind.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Connie Bohatch photo courtesy City of Grand Rapids
Lorena Aguayo photograph courtesy Dreams by Bella Photography.