Ann Arbor Sours on Affordable Housing

Ann Arbor endorsed a sour deal when it passed Proposition A last November. The Proposition, which passed by the narrow margin of 53 – 47, prevents the sale of a portion of the Ann Arbor Public Library parking lot to a Chicago-based developer known as Core Spaces.  Core Spaces was interested in the parcel to build a multi-use residential and commercial development on the property replete with a hotel, luxury apartments, office space, and a public plaza. The development would have helped drive commercial and residential rents down, offer an alternative to the pricey Graduate Ann Arbor and Bell Tower Hotels. Moreover, a portion of the proceeds from the sale would have been earmarked for affordable housing.  Instead, Proposition A has amended the city’s constitution to prohibit the sale of the parcel of land indefinitely and to require that a public park is built on the land. But there is already a public park on the same block and it is unclear where the funds to build the park are to come from. Mayor Christopher Taylor has indicated that he intends to challenge the validity of the constitutional amendment in court.

City council members Anne Bannister and Sumi Kailasapathy first moved to introduce the Proposition and subsequently formed the Ann Arbor Central Park Ballot Committee to campaign for the amendment.  They also levied a lawsuit that alleged Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor and City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry illegally signed a $10 million contract to sell the future park land to the Core Spaces, but that lawsuit has not seen any sign of resolution.  In response to the proposed amendment, Voters for a Responsible Ann Arbor was formed to campaign against Proposition A. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the debate over Proposition A was highly contested both among students at UM and residents of Ann Arbor.

But there is no question that Ann Arbor needs to do better.  Its rents are approaching those of fast-growing cities many times the size of Ann Arbor, and much of Ann Arbor’s growth comes from the UM students who are among those that stand to lose the most in Ann Arbor’s impractically priced housing market.

Part of the reason Proposition A led to intense debate is its effect on affordable housing: half of the proceeds of the $10 million sale were designated to go to Ann Arbor affordable housing, and Washtenaw Housing Alliance opposed the Proposition in an effort to preserve that funding.  Ann Arbor housing prices are at an all-time high, with the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment well over $1,200 per bed per month. And year after year, UM students struggle to find affordable housing options near the University, as both tuition and university enrollment continue to rise to unprecedented levels.

The passage of Proposition A is a step backward for Ann Arbor, but in the past year, Ann Arbor has seen a number of successful efforts to introduce new residential development.  In response to the “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment that ultimately succeeded in preventing Core Spaces’ project, a number of “yes-in-my-backyard” (YIMBY) groups have formed in Ann Arbor to promote new development.

But there is no question that Ann Arbor needs to do better.  Its rents are approaching those of fast-growing cities many times the size of Ann Arbor, and much of Ann Arbor’s growth comes from the UM students who are among those that stand to lose the most in Ann Arbor’s impractically priced housing market.  Even though permanent residents may see the omnipresence of the university as a nuisance, one can’t help but wonder where Ann Arbor would be today without the university and the growth generated by its nearly 50,000 students.

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  • Patricia Lesko

    Interesting piece, needs a much more accurate headline. Have opinions. Publish them. But don’t make yourselves appear uninformed trolls. Ann Arbor has not “soured” on affordable housing and it’s significant that you omitted the fact that the “workforce” housing associated with the CORE Spaces project pegged rents at 150 percent AMI, or as high as $2,200 per month. That. is. not. affordable. Unless you earn $90K per year. Be provocative, but don’t be ignorant of the facts.