This post was written by Scott Trudeau. Scott is a former Ann Arbor City Planning Commissioner, and a current trustee of the Ann Arbor District Library. The views presented below are his own.
The housing affordability crisis is a complex problem and one that has no single solution. People and households vary across what they need, value, and can afford. To make forward progress, we need a diversity of approaches. The upcoming June 7th, 2021 City Council meeting agenda (the PDF agenda or the full details in Legistar) is chock-full of resolutions to help create housing abundance for a full spectrum of people who live, and want to live, in our city. If you’d like to voice your support for creating homes for more neighbors of all kinds, this is an excellent opportunity to let your City Council reps and the Mayor hear your voice.
This agenda includes:
- two allocations of our recently passed affordable housing millage funds to support developments for low- and extremely low-income households
- rules changes to make it easier for homeowners to build small “accessory” homes on their property (“Accessory Dwelling Units”)
- a rezoning and site plan approval for a townhouse and apartment development (tucked into a corner of the UM Golf Course) which has some important implications for our climate goals
For details of the ways you can contact your City Council representatives, or to speak up in support at the meeting, skip to the end of this post.
Affordable Housing millage dollars for low- & extremely-low income subsidized housing
Listed under CA-26 and CA-29 on the agenda are two allocations of dollars from the recently passed affordable housing millage to support developments by the local housing-first supportive housing non-profit Avalon Housing.
CA-29 allocates ~$400,000 to support the development of the second phase of Avalon’s Hickory Way property on Maple Rd, which will add an additional 84 homes to this property which has a mix of income restricted units, many of which are set aside for extremely low-income residents, and all are capped to be affordable for households earning below 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). (See below for more information on how AMI and affordability works).
CA-26 allocates ~$1.1 million to support Avalon Housing’s portion of the Veridian development on a formerly County-owned property on Platt Rd. The Veridian development is an ambitious project incorporating sustainability features and market rate homes, but also integrated affordable and supportive housing units built and operated by Avalon.
The communities that Avalon serves with developments like these are the most vulnerable and in need of safe and healthy homes. These are excellent projects to begin using our affordable housing dollars to advance options for those who are most in need in our community.
Expanding our Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance
Listed under B-1 (along with a public hearing at PH-1; public hearings explained below) is a resolution to update our Accessory Dwelling Unit (“ADU”) ordinance. ADUs are small secondary homes or apartments built on a property used as a “single family” (i.e., detached) home. They are currently permitted in limited circumstances. This update makes the ordinance more flexible by allowing detached small homes (which the current ordinance mostly prohibits); allowing homeowners who have single-family homes in a zone that technically allows for apartment buildings (but often does not actually permit more than one home on a property) to add an ADU instead; and eliminates the requirement that the property owner live in one of the two units. These updates have been through multiple rounds of public engagement and other processes over the last few years and align well with the AARP’s ADU ordinance recommendations.
By making these small homes more viable for more residents to construct, we can increase the diversity of housing options across the City and create more opportunities for households to adapt their circumstances without being forced to sell and move from a property.
Valhalla: New, Sustainable Market-Rate and Affordable Homes
The final leg of the three-legged housing stool on this agenda are approvals for the Valhalla development planned at the corner of South Main & Ann Arbor-Saline Rd near Scio Church. The proposal includes 454 homes in a mix of apartment buildings and townhomes on approximately 10 acres that currently contains six detached homes tucked into a corner of the UM Golf Course.
While only 15 of the homes will be rent-locked to be affordable for incomes under 60% AMI (see AMI notes below), the rest of the 400+ homes still provide a much needed option for people who would happily live in an apartment or townhouse very close to downtown and campus instead of living much further away. Without dense, centrally-located housing like this, we force people seeking housing to drive up prices in more affordable neighborhoods and accelerate displacement elsewhere. Concentrating new residents who find homes like this desirable, we keep the pressure off for people who prefer other options.
Also, because of the affordable housing millage, this new development will contribute tens of thousands of dollars a year in additional funds to our affordable housing fund, helping support and sustain projects like the Avalon developments presented in this same agenda. Over the life of the millage, this one site will likely contribute well over $1 million in property taxes exclusively for subsidizing affordable housing.
In addition to the housing benefits, this development includes a substantial amount of solar energy generation and will be entirely electric, with no fossil fuel gas connection to provide heat or cooking fuel for any of the units. As we necessarily transition to renewable energy sources, demonstrations of this all-electric technology’s viability and desirability will be an asset in helping us to make this shift and meet our carbon neutrality goals as a city.
Other Housing Highlights
Two other notable housing-related items on the agenda are C-1 and C-3.
C-1 would update an ordinance which prohibits landlords from forcing lease renewal decisions on tenants until after 240 days (~8 months) of a 9 month or longer lease. This term is currently set at 90 days.
C-3 would create a new zoning district to encourage mixed-use redevelopment of properties that currently are strictly commercial (offices, strip malls), to create more housing along our bus corridors in places that are already well-served with shopping and other amenities.
C-1 and C-3 are both in “first reading” which means there will be no public hearing at this meeting. If passed, they will come back to a future meeting for final vote with a public hearing. This agenda is already packed, so hopefully we will revisit these again when they come back around.
How to Contact Council & the Mayor
When items like these come up, it is rare for Council to hear from people who support (or are indifferent to) the changes, while people motivated to try to stop a change are far more likely to voice concerns. Recently, for example, postcards (which are expensive!) were sent to community members urging them to protest the Valhalla development at its final approval.
If you are supportive of these efforts, even a short email (“I support X resolution”) goes a long way to show you are engaged and paying attention, so please do contact your reps in whatever ways you feel most effective.
There are multiple ways to contact the City Council and the Mayor to show your support for these resolutions. The easiest way to email the entire Council and Mayor is to send a message to CityCouncil@a2gov.org. Alternatively, you can find individual Council Member contact information on the Council web page.
Even better is to speak at a public hearing or at public comment time before a meeting. When an item on the agenda has a corresponding public hearing (on this agenda PH-1 is the hearing for the ADU ordinance and PH-2 and PH-3 are for Valhalla), you simply need to call in (or line up for the mic when meetings are back in Council Chambers) when that hearing comes up on the agenda, and you will have three minutes to address the topic under discussion. When items do not have a dedicated public hearing (like the “consent agenda” items for affordable housing millage funds), there is not a dedicated time to speak to these items. However, if you want to try to get a speaking spot for one of these items, you can call the City Clerk’s office at 734.794.6140 at 8am on the day of the meeting to request one of 10 speaking spots before the main part of the meeting begins (the process for this is outlined here).
More About AMI & “Affordability”
When we talk about subsidized affordable housing in Ann Arbor, the most common way policy makers determine “what is affordable and for whom” is using a calculation based on Area Median Income and household size. The percentages around AMI can be hard to understand.
Rather than try to explain the math, the first two tables in this document concretely show the 2020 numbers for Washtenaw County both in terms of what an AMI for a given household size would be for different AMI percentages, and what the housing expense caps are for those groups. For example, a 2-person household at 30% AMI would make less than $25,000/year and could not have housing expenses set higher than $610/month. A 4-person household at 60% AMI would make less than $61,000/year and could not have housing expenses set higher than $1,523/month.