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Posted on Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Ann Arbor DDA endorses proposal directing more city funding toward affordable housing

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on Wednesday threw its support behind a proposal to direct proceeds from the sale of city-owned properties toward affordable housing.

Whether that happens will be up to the Ann Arbor City Council, and it's expected to take up the issue on Sept. 17 when Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, brings forward a resolution.

Smith said her resolution isn't yet drafted, but the basic premise is that it will take a yet-to-be-defined percentage of the potentially millions of dollars the city could get if it sells properties it owns and direct that money to the city's affordable housing trust fund.


Sandi Smith

Ryan J. Stanton |

She said that most logically applies to the five city-owned properties the city is planning for redevelopment through the ongoing Connecting William Street initiative, but she doesn't see a reason to limit it to just those properties.

The resolution approved by the DDA on Wednesday encourages the City Council to direct proceeds from the sale of the city-owned surface parking lots downtown to the housing trust fund.

Smith, who also serves on the DDA's governing board, said she's watched the community struggle with the issue of affordable housing during her tenure on council.

She said the most recent failure of the Near North project, which promised to bring 39 affordable housing units to North Main Street, hammers home the need for more funding.

"We have not had a tremendous amount of success in building affordable housing. It is something that I have watched us struggle with," she said. "So the funds need to come from somewhere. We're not delivering what we need to either in the downtown or near downtown."

Jennifer Hall, the city's Housing Commission director, attended Wednesday's meeting and shared her thoughts on the potential influx of money coming to the affordable housing trust fund.

"It's absolutely needed," she said. "Anytime you do an affordable housing development project, you have to leverage outside resources. It'll never be 100 percent local. But even if you leverage federal or state funding, you always have a gap and that gap is expected to be filled locally."

Hall said the money would be a huge help in moving affordable housing projects forward. She said that could include new construction or rehabilitation of existing housing stock.

"The key areas I see that we need are either new construction if you can find a place to do new construction — it's very difficult — or acquisition and rehab to make permanent supportive housing," she said. "The support services for the housing is an area we also need funded."

The city owns 360 affordable housing units at 18 sites overseen by the Housing Commission. City officials said earlier this year the Housing Commission is now operating in the black after staff cutbacks, but the units it oversees are suffering continued deterioration due to a lack of money, with an estimated $14.5 million-plus in deferred capital needs.

Smith said Ann Arbor's aging public and private affordable housing stock is deteriorating at a rate faster than maintenance dollars can keep up with.

She said investments were made in some projects that were built or in the process of being built, but without getting a critical mass of new units.

The DDA's governing board voted 8-0 in favor of the resolution offering its endorsement of Smith's idea with four members absent: Bob Guenzel, Russ Collins, Newcombe Clark and Nader Nassif. Mayor John Hieftje was among the DDA board members who voted in favor of it.

The resolution reaffirms the DDA's commitment to affordable housing and argues there are positive community and financial benefits from providing supportive services to residents who face significant barriers to maintaining stable housing.

"Our investments in housing do not provide enough resources to meet the demand," the resolution states. "And our community needs to make a concerted effort to establish a significant fund to build new affordable units and to maintain existing ones."

In a letter to her council colleagues, Smith said the city's current policies have city officials continuing to try to build units in the downtown on land that is the most expensive in the county.

"We also have a policy in place that directs proceeds from the sale of publicly owned land to the general fund," she wrote. "We used to have a policy that would direct these funds to the housing trust fund. I have come to believe that instead of trying to build the affordable units downtown, we need the downtown to provide the funding for the affordable units."

Smith said her resolution merely would restore a previous policy directing proceeds from the sale of public land into the housing trust fund.

The Near North affordable housing project received a $500,000 commitment from the DDA more than two years ago. With the project cancelled, the DDA is saving that money now.

Hall made a pitch on Wednesday to have the DDA take $260,00 and pitch in to help the Housing Commission complete energy efficient improvements at Baker Commons, 106 Packard.

That includes $246,000 for a steel roof, $6,000 for programmable thermostats, $3,000 for occupant sensors for interior lighting and $5,000 for construction management services.

Hall said the existing asphalt roof has been patched numerous times throughout the last couple of years and water has been leaking and damaging the rafters below, as well as leaking into tenant units. She said the roof has rapidly deteriorated and must be replaced before winter.

DDA Chairwoman Leah Gunn said the DDA would take the issue back to one of its committees and consider whether to grant the Housing Commission's funding request.

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.


Alpha Alpha

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

Are there any studies which show improved community outcome is associated with increased affordable housing availability?


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 5 a.m.

It makes no sense to build affordable housing downtown. Partner with Avalon and Habitai and build it on the periphery. We will certainly get more for the dollars spent.

Linda Peck

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:31 a.m.

Let the housing market determine the cost of housing, not the DDA.


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 10:49 p.m.

Put the funds in the city funds where it belongs. And, close down DDA.

Detached Observer

Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 10:39 p.m.

Gosh, it would be so much more convenient if all those low-income people would just live in Ypsilanti where they belong. Guess what. Low-income people don't have the luxury of limiting their job searches to only 9-5 jobs. Many work nights or weekends. This is a problem because buses don't run at those times, and many people have unreliable cars or none at all. So they need to live near where they work. You want somebody to make your burgers and mop your floors, right? Well, many low-skill low-pay job openings go unfilled because no one CAN AFFORD to work at those jobs. Without low-income housing, employers will have to raise wages and pass the costs on to you.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

So if we spend our money to provide low income housing so they are closer to work then we don't need to spend the our money to expand the bus system.


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

I agree that this is out of the DDA's mandate and does little to improve downtown or relieve the heavy financial burden on the small unique businesses that are struggling to stay open downtown! You should be helping bring business downtown by having free parking events on weekends to promote Main street. Free bus trips to downtown events. City Council needs to approve projects quickly, not stop them as long as possible so builders give up in frustration and lose financing. There are good hearts on the DDA but your personal agendas are NOT what you are supposed to impose on the community


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

Maybe the city could fund its growing unfunded employee PENSION liability with asset sale proceeds. . .


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

The governing bodies of the city should be reading these comments and acting with the majority, not in self interest. They are the employees of the tax payers of this city, nothing more. If we bring in enough low income housing, you will see a migration away from the city. Just look around at other big cities that have nothing left BUT low income housing and with it comes an increase in crime. Just the facts mam!


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 9 p.m.

Looking in the crystal ball, we see: Sandy Smith with a $100k+ city job on some untouchable such as DDA or its spawn. . . It's the next step for favored council folk and other county folks. . . Hieftje being chauffeured around town with his new, untouchable post-mayoral $200k+ AATA job. . . Taxpayers sleeping (majority (waking only for annoying train whistles)) with others wondering, "What just happened?"


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

Smith is pushing it from both the DDA and council sides - the daily double of lame duckdom.


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

I don't agree with this, at all. Well hopefully they will write the thing with very very very defined perimeters

Janet Neary

Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

I agree that this is essentially not the DDA's business, since the decision is one for the City Council, but there's no great harm in the DDA's expressing an opinion. However, I think that it is important for the City Council to maintain its flexibility with respect to the use of city funds. The city should allocate the money intelligently among the city's financial responsibilities. Certainly adequate maintenance of Baker Commons and the other city-owned housing is important. But so are many other city responsibilities (fire and police come to mind). Why choose just one to receive all of this money?


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 8:29 p.m.

Good ol' DDA: blithely supporting a resolution that "isn't yet drafted."


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

And the downtown should provide the funding for the affordable units WHY? But those lots downtown belong to the taxpayers all over Ann Arbor - not just downtown - and so that money should benefit the city at large. It isn't "free money" like somebody essentially tried to say. It is OUR money.

Jack Campbell

Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

This is ridiculous, we don't need more affordable housing. The entire area of SE MI is affordable housing. The DDA is completely out of control and overstepping their bounds. Stop using tax-payers money to turn A2 into a ghetto. Refund the thousands of dollars illegally collected by parking meters and HIRE SOME MORE POLICE!


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 7:20 p.m.

What is the definition of "affordable housing"? Affordable for whom?


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Not for the taxpayers...


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 7:20 p.m.

By Public Act, the DDA is formed to use tax increment financing and other funds to support and develop Public improvements WITHIN the DDA District, period. When did the A2 DDA get any political power outside those parameters????, Especially to advise City Council???? When was the State law changed to allow a DDA to do anything with Public Monies relating to providing residential properties or services????, especially if outside the designated DDA district????


Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

I agree with you G-Man however the money will come from the sale of currently owned city properties not from TIF. All they are doing is saying that some of the money from the sales should be used for affordable housing. Why they should have any say-so is baffling. The city over the years has proven to be the worst landlord in the city. To let the city have anything to do with affordable housing is crazy. The city has never been able to maintain the housing commission public housing units and have spent millions trying. It is a combination of lousy tenants and poor workmanship. Give the money to the private sector or somehow use it to expand the section 8 program but do not let the city do it.