Ann Arbor housing officers already planning how you can use funds raised by new millage

Ten city-owned properties in Ann Arbor could become affordable housing sites over the next 10 years, which would put a sizable dent in the city’s goal of creating 2,800 affordable housing units by 2035.

A property tax approved by 73% of voters in November — effective July 2021, and expected to raise $6.5 million in its first year — would help fund those properties’ development.

Ann Arbor Housing Commission executive director Jennifer Hall says it’s critical to make the planning process as public as possible.

A proposal at one site, 415 West Washington St, incorporates input from community members anxious to protect habitat of the chimney swift, a small foraging bird that likes to nest in dim, narrow spaces.

Business owners around another potential housing site, at 121 Catherine St, were concerned that a new building would take out a parking lot used by customers.

“So one thing that we did based on that feedback is we looked at how could we preserve the most parking possible and still do affordable housing,” Hall said.

In this case, Hall says elevating the building would preserve most of those parking spots depended on by shoppers and diners.

The city held virtual feedback sessions with neighbors around other sites this fall, the results of which Hall says should be available in a report around February.

The ten sites are at various stages of the planning process, but for some, Hall says, the housing commission could start looking for developers sometime next year.

Housing advocates say they’re “thrilled” about the millage passing, and by such an overwhelming margin. But they also say actions at the state level could help communities like Ann Arbor do more to address housing insecurity.

For example, Washtenaw Housing Alliance executive director Amanda Carlisle says there’s no requirement under Michigan law that new housing developments include affordable units.

“It’s gonna be difficult with a Republican legislature to do anything like that, but as more communities become more unaffordable, we feel like that might be a possibility,” she said.

One state-level action comes from Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), who introduced a bill in September (SB 1129) that would allow local governments to set rent control policies, but that hasn’t yet been taken up by committee. 

And then there’s the issue of evictions, which, with a moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set to expire on January 31, could start clogging the courts in the new year.

“This millage isn’t gonna help that crisis,” said Carlisle. “And so, my concern is that the recovery (from the pandemic) is going to be, as it always is, imbalanced, and really affecting more low-income households.”

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