Nice Things: Why We Can’t Have ThemBrian Geiringer
Well well well… Looks like local conservatives are attempting to throw a stick in the spokes of progress yet again.
A few weeks ago, housing advocates in the city celebrated a historic victory. Two landmark affordable housing developments got the green light by city council: one 308-unit rental building on Clark Road and one complex of 46 homes for sale on North Park Street were approved to be built. I wrote about those developments’ Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) and the grassroots Ypsi history behind them here. In short, residents successfully pushed for a law back in 2018 that requires prospective developers to negotiate with city residents for community benefits; these affordable housing agreements are the results of citizen-developer negotiations.
Now it seems as though the Clark Rd. affordable rental development is under attack by conservative forces. Even though the city had approved the CBA itself, there were more aspects of the deal that had to be OK’ed by city council. Specifically, last Tuesday (July 12th), council was supposed to vote to approve low-income housing tax credit financing program called PILOT for the Clark Road development: the deal would give the new development a tax break in order to construct and maintain new affordable housing.
In the end, should it proceed, the Clark Rd. development will contribute $120,821 annually to the city’s budget via two “Emergency Service Agreements.” The estimated cost to the city for having the development (at current police and fire rates) is projected by councilmember (and opponent to the deal) Steve Wilcoxen to be $180,000 a year. So on balance, the city may pay roughly $60k annually for 30 years; after 30 years, when the PILOT expires, the city will receive nearly one million dollars in taxes per year from the development.
So the question on the table is this: Are 308 rental units coming to town worth $60k annually to the city? For comparison, that’s four times less money per year than the city recently allocated for three new police officer positions… a move that put the city into a budget shortfall. It’s equivalent to less than three bucks a year per resident… and the influx of fixed-price affordable housing will likely save most every renter in the city hundreds to thousands of dollars per person in the next decade.
For those who don’t know, there are many many upsides of new affordable housing–especially in a region experiencing alarmingly rapid increases in housing costs like Ypsi. (In June 2022, Ypsilanti home prices were up 12.0% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $280k. Rent in Ypsilanti climbed 13.1% in the past year and Ann Arbor was up 11.1%.) The ability to better afford housing massively increases quality of life, physically and mentally. The new housing would likely make all rentals in the town more affordable through time (or at least would almost certainly decelerate the price increase): this specific development stabilizes rent and would relieve some of the overall housing market in the lower and middle income ranges in Ypsilanti. Creating housing that is affordable to current residents in Ypsi means more people in town have more money to spend at local businesses, and have more time to spend in our community. It can increase local hiring. It can boost local education. The list goes on.
It’s worth it.
I’m going to end this update here, but will add a postscript below to mention how the July 12th council meeting got heated, my friends.
If you have opinions on the matter, I strongly encourage you to reach out to councilmembers and share your opinion–especially those CMs who voted to delay the vote: Mayor Lois Allen-Richardson, and councilmembers Jennifer Symanns, Steve Wilcoxen, and Evan Sweet. The affordable housing PILOT will be back up for discussion on August 9th.
P.S. Regarding the drama of the July 12th city council meeting, which you can watch for yourself here (it should start at the 1h34m mark)… councilmember Symanns said during the meeting that she felt as though she was watching a campaign event. The main drama occurred between councilmember Annie Somerville and mayor Lois Allen-Richardson–both of whom have big primary elections happening on August 2nd.
Councilmember Somerville lambasted the delay in proceedings, arguing that all the necessary information to make the choice had already been shared for weeks. She and thousands of those in favor of affordable housing, like myself, are in agreement that this development needs to happen. Mayor Allen-Richardson sided with councilmember Steve Wilcoxen in postponing the decision, incorrectly stating that the city would only receive $100 a year from the new development, while also questioning the environmental impact of building on this piece of land. Councilmember Somerville responded to this latter point by noting that people need places to live and that that consideration is part of climate justice; councilmember Brian Jones-Chance pointed out that since the development would take place on privately owned land, the city cannot control whether the forest that lives there now is removed at any point by the private land owners.
Although she attempted to prevent the connection to the upcoming election, this update on the Clark Rd. development could alter the voting base for Mayor Allen-Richardson. Her support of the move to postpone the vote for the Clark Rd PILOT is likely to turn off some voters who favor affordable housing, while making her more attractive to conservatives and those who are against affordable housing.