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Posted on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 10:26 a.m.

Affordable housing advocates make case for more funding as Ann Arbor officials put decision on hold

By Ryan J. Stanton

Should the city of Ann Arbor have a policy directing 85 percent of the proceeds from future sales of downtown city-owned properties toward affordable housing?

That's still the multimillion-dollar question.

The Ann Arbor City Council took Council Member Sandi Smith's proposal, which would do just that, and referred it to the council's budget committee Monday night for further review.


Sandi Smith is voluntarily stepping down from the Ann Arbor City Council in November, but before she goes she's putting up one last fight for affordable housing funding. The council delayed making a decision on her proposal Monday night, referring it to the budget commit for closer review.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The council also voted to postpone consideration of a related resolution from Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, that asks for more citizen participation on the issue.

Anglin's resolution, which will come back to council at its next meeting, calls for creating a committee made up of 10 residents — two from each ward — as well as a handful of city officials.

He wants the committee to study the available options for making use of the potentially millions of dollars the city could get from selling surface parking lots it owns downtown.

"I think Council Member Anglin is on the right track that we do need to have a community discussion that is outside of that of the DDA," said Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward. "I don't always agree with the DDA."

The Downtown Development Authority already is evaluating options for redeveloping five city-owned parcels as part of the Connecting William Street planning initiative. The DDA at its last meeting endorsed Smith's idea of channeling future sale proceeds toward affordable housing.

Smith, D-1st Ward, is asking her colleagues to set a policy directing 85 percent of the proceeds toward the city's housing trust fund, with another 10 percent going toward other capital improvement projects and 5 percent going toward public plaza or open space improvements downtown.

She noted that in 2004 the Washtenaw Housing Alliance created a "Blueprint to End Homelessness" with a goal of increasing the number of permanent supportive housing units by 500 by 2014. Since 2004, Smith said, 323 affordable rental units have been added countywide, 100 units have been removed, and 79 have been converted to market rate units, for a net gain of 156 units.

The 100 affordable units that were lost came when the city demolished the old YMCA building and the affordable housing that stood there at the corner of Fifth and William.

Making a case for her resolution, Smith noted the Ann Arbor Housing Commission received more than 17,500 applications for its 1,400 housing choice vouchers in a 48-hour period in August. She said the Ann Arbor Public Housing waitlist has more than 4,000 people on it currently.

She also noted the city manages and maintains 355 low-income housing units in 67 buildings with an identified need for investment of $14.5 million over the next 15 years.

"We need to make a concerted effort to establish a significant fund to build new affordable units, maintain the ones we already own, and provide services to those who need it most," she said.

Ingrid Ault, a member of the city's Housing and Human Services Advisory Board, said her group unanimously supports Smith's resolution.

"It is time to take the stated community goals regarding housing seriously," Ault told council members. "We can no longer turn our back on those in the most need."


Jean Carlberg at a past Planning Commission meeting. She appeared before council in her capacity as a Washtenaw Housing Alliance board member Monday night to lobby in support of Smith's proposal.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Jean Carlberg, who was on council in the late 1990s when past decisions were made about directing funds toward affordable housing, also made an impassioned plea at Monday night's meeting. She spoke in her capacity as a Washtenaw Housing Alliance board member.

Carlberg said hundreds of adult individuals and hundreds of families with children have called a local housing access line in the past year saying they were facing a housing crisis.

"Our goal in the community is to deal with this in the most efficient way, which would be to prevent people from becoming homeless by assisting them with perhaps a month's rent or a security deposit to move to a less-expensive apartment," she said.

"Our second choice is rapid re-housing where somebody has lost their housing and there is the rub," she said. "We do not have anywhere near the housing in this community to re-house people who have lost their housing."

Carlberg said there's a serious lack of housing units in Ann Arbor with rents that are low enough for people in crisis and facing an immediate need.

"So what we are doing is outsourcing the people in our community who are struggling with housing," she said. "The age group that's most affected with this are from 18 to 50. Young women in the 18 to 30 age range and then women and men from 30 to 50, in very large numbers, are suffering as individuals. The same thing in families. Huge numbers in this age range."

Carlberg said many of those in crisis had jobs but lost them or are presently employed but don't make enough to support themselves and their families.

"The cost to this community of not being able to keep them in stable housing is tremendous," she said. "It affects all of those children who cannot stay in the same school district for more than a couple of months because they have to move to another relative or to another friend who will take them in for a short period of time. It's tremendously damaging to their educational foundation."

Carlberg said that damages the entire community, and the same goes for not being able to provide stable housing for adults who have other issues to deal with, such as mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence issues.

Revisiting an old policy

For many years, Smith said, the city appropriated funds to its housing trust fund to support projects that create, retain, rehabilitate or preserve long-term affordable housing.

She recalled that in 1996 the City Council first created a policy to direct a portion of the proceeds from the sale of public land to the housing trust fund. In 1998, the council revised that policy to dedicate all of the proceeds to the housing trust fund, but in 2007 the council repealed that policy.

Kunselman said he was on council in 2007 when the decision was made to repeal the previous directive and it was easy to do — it only took six votes.


Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward

Ryan J. Stanton |

He said it will be just as easy for six future council members to reverse whatever decision the council makes now about where the proceeds from future land sales should go.

Mayor John Hieftje and Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, agreed with Kunselman that any council action taken now would serve as little more than a guideline.

"It really is no more than an advisory for future city councils, because I can guarantee you — without a doubt — that there will be different council members around this table at the time of sale of any land, because it's going to be a ways down the road," Hieftje said.

Hieftje said he's a supporter of putting a significant percentage of the sale proceeds toward affordable housing, but he also recognizes there are other capital needs.

He said he wants to make sure there's a mechanism in place so debt on the Y Lot, for instance, is paid off before any remaining proceeds are directed toward another fund.

"We're ahead of ourselves," Kunselman said at one point during the discussion. "We don't know what properties we're selling. We're not even close to that."

Kunselman added, "We're having a lot of discussion for something that's certainly not going to be taking place anytime soon, so we have lots and lots of time."

Kunselman said he could support Smith's resolution if all of the funding were guaranteed to go to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission because he knows there's need there.

Smith said a robust housing trust fund will allow the city to leverage state and federal dollars, as well as act on opportunities that become available to expand and improve affordable housing options.

She noted the Shelter Association, Avalon Housing, Washtenaw Housing Alliance, Ann Arbor DDA and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners all support her general idea.

Smith said the community's need for affordable housing continues to outpace the ability to provide units, and there is no policy in place to direct funds to the housing trust fund anymore. She noted the city in recent years revised its zoning rules to reduce or eliminate planned unit developments (PUDs), which had been another contributing source to the housing trust fund.

"Historically the city has made contributions to the affordable housing trust fund, which we have not done since 2009," she said. "We've expended nearly all the funds down over the last few years during probably the most devastating economic downturn in any of our lives."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Fri, Sep 21, 2012 : 2:43 a.m.

Perhaps there are those who would prefer I quit my local low-income job, move out of housing and back into the tent I lived in previously.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

Why are we selling off our assets...dumb

Arno B

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 1:58 a.m.

"...Blueprint to Erase Homelessness..."! Wow! I thought that all of this had been solved by Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty"!! What happened?


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

OBAMA happened!!!

Peter Eckstein

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Please, no more "buckets!" And, for that matter, no more Tax Increment Financing Authorites. Too many Michigan cities are failing because they have not alligned their obligations to their retirees with the funding to pay for them. First things first.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

Providing low income earners with housoing is only part of the problem. They also won't be able to pay taxes or purchase goods here, thereby not really contributing to society, just taking the hand out. this is simply nuts by any standard.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:26 a.m.

Just to complicate things, Ypsilanti is proposing that we take over their public housing in a "regional" approach. So how does that pencil out, exactly?

Ellis Sams

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

We should all salute the DDA for being so generous with the public's money.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

I think it would be better to first use any proceeds from ANY sale to retire the YMCA property debt. After that, proceeds should be placed in reserve and appropriated case by case by council as priorities warrant. This would include housing authority, or covering general revenue shortfall or other important expenses. I thing we end up playing too many games with the "money is in this pot" reasoning when other needs try to obtain funds (e.g. public art).


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

Common sense, fiscal responsibility and visionary leadership are qualities missing with our city leaders. All of them. Throw in the school board while we are at it! Hard to believe. Sell city assets to pay for benefit liabilities. Almost criminal. As another commenter said.........what are we? A city in California?

Lou Belcher

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

I very rarely comment on current A2 issues as I had my 11 elected years of comments but there seems to be some questions on the DDA and its mission. As I, and my fellow colleagues on council, wrote the law over 30 years ago , I am in a position to give some intent and purpose to its creation. It has certainly changed missions over the years and it has changed for one reason and one reason only.....MONEY and who controls it. As it began its life, the DDA board was to be made up of "downtown" residents and business owners. The only council participation was ONE NON-VOTING liasion member. It was to be administered from the planning department....we said we did not want to create another bureaucracy outside of city hall and we were determined not let it become another core wasteland like so many other Michigan cities. Please remember the DDA began with no money,no staff,no parking responsibilty and no one paid much attention to its existance. This all changed when this "orphan" started to generate (guesswhat) MONEY. No DDA funds can be spent outside the set bountries of the DDA and the DDA cannot buy or sell real property for the city....only the city council by a 3/4 majority vote can do that. The DDA was never intended to be another government. It has so because of MONEY and the Power MONEY brings. The council has abtacated responsibilities to the DDA because it could not balance its operating budget without the DDA's MONEY. The DDA has become the ATM for the city government. Look at the make up of the DDA's a sub-committee of city council...really....the mayor, council members, former council members, county commissioners....follow the money. The DDA has worked!!! and if left alone to do its original mission it would work even better. ... the government, is only there to support the vitality of the all important core. Affordable housing and projects outside the DDA boundries should not be funded by DDA funds. Citizens....WATCH THE

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 10:46 a.m.

I voted against Mr. Belcher when he was Mayor. But it's refreshing to get a take on this situation and the DDA with someone with memory of the past, even with his political slant. This lack of historic memory is dangerous, whether it's coming from City government (or the local media for that matter but that's kicking a dead horse at this point). The DDA is a shadow government, with a big bucks budget and that was never what was intended. Kudos to the ex-Mayor for pointing this out.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 11:19 p.m.

Mr. Belcher. perhaps should interview you for a future article.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

Thank you Mr. Belcher.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

More buckets. Just what we need.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

Why not save it?

John of Saline

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

That's crazy talk when there's so much art out there to be purchased.

Tony Livingston

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

I would be in favor of the city spending some of this money for housing. Not 85% though and no to own the housing. I don't think it is appropriate for the city to be in the business of competing with landlords who have already commited large sums of money into rental housing. The section 8 program is the best way to use the money.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

73% of the poll responders say they are against this idea, I wonder if Sandi Smith cares at all what the people want. Sandi?


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

"the DDA board member"


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

Are we talking Sandi Smith the city council member or Sandi Smith DDA the board member?

John of Saline

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

It's so nice of her to be generous with other people's money.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

Right when she is leaving council. Create a potential nightmare and leave how to deal with it to future councils. Reminds me of Obamacare.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:58 p.m.

I am perplexed by the rationale of the rush to decide how money will be spent by the city before there is any money to spend. I am unimpressed that the proposal to bind future action comes from a departing Councilmember who will not have a vote when and if there is money to spend.

Tom Whitaker

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

What if City Council decides to lease a City-owned property instead of selling it? Will the lease payments also go to affordable housing? What about the revenue from a "use agreement?"


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Everyone should realize that the five "under-developed" city properties being considered for sale are presently revenue producing and well-integrated into their surroundings. Selling this land to developers will not guarantee that the properties will be tastefully developed to the satisfaction of most Ann Arbor residents nor will development guarantee any economic return to the city. In fact the DDA and City Council have recently facilitated the return of TIF payments to developers as reimbursement for site development so no revenue will come from these sources. All recent developments have been speculative (unlike Costco's development of property at State and Ellsworth). In regards to affordable housing, the properties controlled by the Ann Arbor Public Housing Commission (AAPHC) certainly qualify. Unfortunately, the Schumaker and Company's 2010 report on the operations of the AAPHC identified over $14 million of structural deficiencies of which more than $1 million are urgent repairs recommended for the 355 structures on 18 sites in Ann Arbor which Sandi Smith refers to in the article. Unfortunately, money is unavailable for any improvements at this time but should take priority as risks to life and limb are associated with the deficiencies.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

Enough of this. I have payed enough taxes. Lets take care of a good quality education and safe streets. Anything else is fluff.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 11:55 p.m.

You live in the wrong town, if this is what you want. The city leaders and most of city council follow other directives and issues. Their priorities are different than these needs.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

What will play out is this: you'll hear a lot of equivocation and buck-passing until it's too late to actually do anything one way or the other--thus maintaining the status quo of no new affordable housing. This is predictable because as everyone knows A2 likes to think of itself as compassionate and liberal but in fact most residents (and council) can't bear the thought of living within sight of a poor person.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

In this light, Anglin's call for an extra-council council makes perfect sense. If it isn't council making the policy, it makes it really easy for city council to continually send the proposal back to review, to nitpick here and there, to vote against any affordable housing proposal on the pretext of some minor point they dislike, because hey, they didn't write this proposal, they just approve or reject it. "Concerns" about some misplaced comma and you get to look like you tried your best for the poors without allowing them to come close enough you might have to interact with them.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

"Anglin's resolution, which will come back to council at its next meeting, calls for creating a committee made up of 10 residents — two from each ward — as well as a handful of city officials." Facepalm. If only there were some body--some city wide council, if you will--made up of 2 citizens from each ward duly chosen to study various policies and make decisions on the town's behalf.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

With all of the unfunded 'mandates' this city is already obligated to cover, what in the world is this council member thinking of? Affordable housing in Ann Arbor is an issue that has failed to gain traction (see Near North most recently) because it just isn't very feasible in this town. At the end of the day, Ann Arbor is too expensive even when someone attempts to advance affordable housing.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 2:41 a.m.

Actually affordable housing a la Ann Arbor is quite popular. If you look at the Housing Commission website you will see wait lists are closed. This is a popular program with liberals with a social agenda of providing this non essential service. I think this idea is because of the back up of people trying to get into subsidized housing. What is does is create a huge fiscal liability if the rents collected and various grants the city might get do not cover the expenses. This from a city closing fire departments and cuts in police officers and nasty streets throughout the town.

Alpha Alpha

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

Where are any studies showing affordable housing is associated with improved community outcome?


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

Why is the DDA involved in this AT ALL? What does that have to do with "downtown development"?


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.

The names I've seen on the DDA are politicians and ex-politicians who for the most part have never had a job in the private world (2 that come to mind are Leah Gunn and Robert Guenzel) who are not satisfied with retirement, so they think: Who has lots of money I can spend and not be held accountable. The answer is the DDA. Check out the following link to see the who the DDA members are, and their past job experence. These people are leaches on our public funds.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

The HHSAB is a 16-member board that currently has 4 vacancies. The last published minutes are from May, and the kindest thing to say about them is that they must have been published in draft form by mistake. (They are available on Legistar.) There appeared to be little real business. According to Jennifer Hall, who is the Public Housing administrator, the HHSAB is the body that would administer the AA Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Another possible body to administer this fund would be the Urban County, which replaced our city Community Development department. I discovered that no 2012 meeting calendar has been posted on the County website for the Urban County, and the 2011 meeting calendar was posted, but no minutes have been posted for 2011 or 2012. My understanding of the Public Housing Commission is that they currently would not be empowered to spend these funds. They have a different mission, to maintain the public housing supply that is a remnant of a Federal program that stopped expanding under Ronald Reagan. Before we start dedicating city resources to this purpose, we should examine the functionality of our affordable housing infrastructure. It appears to me that it is in some disarray.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 10:34 p.m.

Making a % of Money for improvments for the housing is in the "law'=Taxes for the landlord too do the work/remodeling.In most case HUD and MSDA are in charge< BUT they ONLY come to inspect the housing every 2 years..and then only to 'CLEAN" housing..they always tell the landlord when itis time for "inspection"NO surprise visit.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

Please keep the money with the City and its myriad needs. It is obvious that the groups that OUTGOING council member Sandi Smith want to get the money are incompetent.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

All studies I have read and participated in: PhD, Community Simulation, surveys and classes, have indicated that creating low income, public, affordable or what-ever you want to call it housing units causes an influx of the needy from other cities and states. It is a magnet that draws more fuel to the flames. The action that best serves the community is to eliminate it. Details indicate that this does not drive lower income familys away, but causes them to step up their game and raise their economic status. I hesitate to bring this up, but investment in cultural 'magnets' (lets call it art) also cause a community to raise it's value because this draws culture-priority citizens into the community (tax payers) who value this surrounding more than the transient employees of businesses. (I.e. you rather live here than move elesewhere to follow a job). They want safe streets, though, so strong police and court subsystems are necessary to make this all work.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

"Smith said a robust housing trust fund will allow the city to leverage state and federal dollars, as well as act on opportunities that become available to expand and improve affordable housing options." This sends up smoke signals that spell out "development possibilities". CM Smith was one of the strong supporters of the Near North project in which Avalon Housing partnered with a private developer in an effort to "leverage" state and Federal programs. The result is a loss of several affordable housing units, a blighted area, and an uncertain financial fallout. When the Ann Arbor Affordable Housing Trust Fund was established, Ann Arbor had a robust affordable housing infrastructure. We had a city Community Development department and two citizen-led committees, including the Housing Policy Board, which made decisions in the open about how affordable housing dollars were to be spent. These meetings were often lively and well-attended. The Housing and Human Services Board supposedly replaced the HPB, but it has met infrequently and minutes are sketchy. There were no meetings in July and August and the regularly scheduled meeting for September was suddenly moved up a week, presumably to endorse this proposal.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 9:52 p.m.

Too often, when the city or the DDA gets involved, things don't work out like planned. Just look at the history of the Y lot, the unbelievable poor management of that fiasco. Also, don't people see or hear about the Ypsilanti Housing Commission? Another fiasco. Let the money for the lots go to the city and then council can make some decisions with ongoing feedback from citizens, not a select few.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

"Making a case for her resolution, Smith noted the Ann Arbor Housing Commission received more than 17,500 applications for its 1,400 housing choice vouchers in a 48-hour period in August." We should not mistake this for a "need" for low-income housing. Rather, it's evidence that thousands of people are interested in getting something on the cheap (or for free). I knew plenty of people in NYC who would go through great lengths to qualify for Section 8 housing, simply because market-rate dwellings eat up a larger proportion of take-home pay. Who wants to be sinking money into their homes ("roofs over their head") when they'd rather have disposable income for all of the other things in life, whatever those things might be? Regardless: This city should focus on *investing* in itself, rather than *redistributing* itself. Proceeds from any sale of city land should go first and foremost to satisfying any outstanding claims against the city (debt, unfunded pensions, etc.) before it goes to any sort of "pet projects" deemed to be "socially important" yet outside of the traditional voting mechanisms.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

Direct any land or building sale proceeds to our significant unfunded pension liabilities. Fulfill our promises to our pensioners! The DDA did not buy these parcels. They are city assets. Remove the DDA from this loop. Unfortunately for us, DDA's best talent is spending money, with little to no return. End the cash burn. End the DDA.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:34 p.m.

That is amazing Bruce! Where did the DDA get the funds for the purchases?

Eco Bruce

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

Actually, the DDA bought the Kline's lot, paid for the demo of the old "Y" lot, and built the whole infrastructure for a new building on top of the Library Lot, so, yeah, they did.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

Sorry Ms. Smith, but there is this little thing called a pension fund that is crying for money. It is underfunded by the current test standards and very underfunded by the new test standards. That is a debt the city owes that needs to be paid first. I am not and never have been a city employee - this does not directly impact my income, but it will end up being a millage issue if it is not fixed.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

Selling assets to pay for benefits is not a good decision. You mean the city leaders offered benefits that the city cannot afford? What are we - a city in California?