A Win for Affordable Housing

At the last City Council meeting in January, I successfully championed a measure to significantly increase available funds for affordable housing by allocating all net proceeds from the sale of the old Y lot to the affordable housing trust fund. The Ann Arbor Chronicle, as usual, provides excellent coverage.

While many in Ann Arbor are affluent, or at least comfortable, there are also those in our community who are pushed out by our high cost of living. Supporting affordable housing is a vital need in our community.

While in the end the resolution passed unanimously, one of the questions that came up in debate was how much we should be spending on affordable housing compared and how much on cops, firefighters, and roads. Human services is a tiny part of the budget compared to safety services and infrastructure. Here is my plea to fund affordable housing, as transcribed by the Ann Arbor Chronicle:

We say one of our budget priorities is police and fire. That gets $39.5 million dollars in our budget. It’s the biggest chunk of our budget. We say it’s a priority and that’s where we are putting our money – in police and fire. Infrastructure is one of those – roads is $14 million. We say it’s a priority, we are putting most of the money in those areas. But we say affordable housing is a priority – compared to the big ones, it’s minuscule. If this is a priority, let’s fund it. When the Y came down, there were two big losses to the community. One was the hundred units.

But the other loss we heard was the one that Jennifer Hall was telling us about. We lost the site that best served our most needy community members, by providing them a site that had a safe, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week staffed front door – for long-term housing. We don’t have anything else that does that. So for people who are hard to house – fighting addiction, worried about getting abused by people in their lives – they can walk in and they’ve got somebody stopping, watching their back when they get to the door, so they don’t get bullied or re-victimized and hurt. That’s the other thing we lost.

And that is why I was so delighted when I talked to Jennifer all last week, and she said: We have a plan [for converting Miller Manor to a front-door staffed facility] … Compared to what else we’re spending, we’re not putting the same money that we’re putting onto what we’re doing on the other priorities. … It still doesn’t help us move forward in terms of providing beds for those people we heard from who don’t have a warm place to sleep – tonight or when the warming shelter isn’t open. And so I think we need to be looking for other opportunities….

When I voted yes to sell the Y site to Dennis Dahlmann, I wasn’t doing it just to get the debt off the books – that was a good thing. I certainly wasn’t doing it to help him have one more property that wasn’t going to be a hotel to compete with him. I was doing it because I thought it was going to be a path to get money to fund affordable housing. This is our opportunity. We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities like this to put some money aside for affordable housing. We’ve got the needs. The 11 of us will all have a warm place to sleep tonight. We have a responsibility to do what we can to provide that for the rest in our community. Thank you.

Where will the funds go? That has yet to be determined, but I see three top contenders:

  1. Front Desk Services at Miller Manor: One pressing need we have in this community is for housing for people who are chronically homeless. To serve this population well, however, requires a facility with a 24/7 staffed front door to protect these individuals –and their neighbors–from predatory behavior. When the YMCA operated housing, they provided this. There is a plan to retrofit Miller Manor to provide this coverage, and the revenue from this sale could help make that a reality.
  2. Affordable Housing on Platt Road: Washtenaw County has appointed a committee to review options for the old Juvenile center on Platt Road. One of the potential uses for that site is affordable housing, perhaps along the lines of Avalon Housing’s Carrot Way community. If the County decides to pursue affordable housing for that site, these funds could help Ann Arbor be a partner in that endeavor.
  3. Improve Public Housing: Congress has consistently cut Federal Funds for public housing, making it hard for all public housing providers (including Ann Arbor’s Housing Commission) to adequately maintain their public housing stock. The Housing Commission is going through a process that includes improvements to many of these projects, and it’s expensive. These funds may be able to help with that process