State civil rights agency watching housing dispute in Alma

Associated Press

Alma — The state Department of Civil Rights is keeping an eye on whether a mid-Michigan community grants a zoning change to allow temporary housing for teenagers who cross the southern U.S. border.

Executive Director John E. Johnson Jr. said his agency has concerns that Alma might “discriminate against individuals based upon race, color and national origin.”

Bethany Christian Services wants to use a former nursing home to provide housing for boys for up to 40 days or until a sponsor can be found. The boys, ages 12 to 17, crossed the U.S. border without parents or guardians and do not have legal status in this country.

The Alma Planning Commission, however, recently recommended that a zoning change be rejected. City commissioners could take up the issue on Sept. 14, The Morning Sun reported.

Commissioners must not make decisions based on “fears, stereotypes, unfounded assumptions, or alleged public safety concerns that involve unfounded beliefs that members of particular protected classes are more likely to engage in criminal activity,” Johnson said.

In response, Alma’s city attorney said the city is aware of prohibitions against discrimination.

The Planning Commission, noting opposition in the community, rejected the zoning change because it could not resolve the “general health, safety, welfare, comfort and convenience of the citizens of the city,” a key factor in reviewing a request, Tony Costanzo told the state.