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The Affordable Housing Crisis

The Affordable Housing Crisis image
Parent Issue
Month
April
Year
1986
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

Ann Arbor's homeless shelters are overflowing, families are doubling up in cramped quarters, working people and students are skimping on necessities in order to pay the rent, people on public assistance are searching for housing in a city they simply cannot afford. Ann Arbor faces an affordable housing crisis of enormous proportions. When the Downtown Club at 110 N. Fourth Avenue was converted into luxury offices, forty low-income people lost their homes. The building could have housed 65 if properly rehabilitated. When Braun Court, across from the Farmer's Market, was converted into boutiques and posh restaurants, 30 low-income people were dislocated. In all, Ann Arbor has lost at least 150 units of housing that low-income people could afford to the "redevelopment" boom of the past half decade. Speculators are already eyeing - and buying - as many more units near downtown. Ann Arbor's homeless shelters are overflowing, families are doubling up in cramped quarters, working people and students are skimping on necessities in order to pay the rent, people on public assistance are searching for housing in a city they simply cannot afford. Ann Arbor faces an affordable housing crisis of enormous proportions. According to a report prepared by City Council's Affordable Housing Task Force (which I chaired), moi-e than half of Ann Arbor's renters are "housing poor"- that is, they pay more than 30% of their incomes in rent. Several thousand nonstudent families are housing poor. The Task Force used 1980 Census data to derive these figures; with the rise in rents and the decline in real incomes experienced by working - - - - - - - - - people and people on public assistance since 1980, one can only assume the situation today is worse. What is needed, and what the Task Force recommended, is a comprehensive set of policies to créate more affordable housing in Ann Arbor. The Reagan Administration has washed its hands of any federal committment to low and moderate income housing, so there are almost no resources available from Washington.(The federal tax subsidy to moderate and highincome owner-occupied houses continues.The tax subsidy for mortgage interest in 1984 alone was greater than the total federal expenditures on gil affordable housing programs since those programs were begun fifty years ago!) But there are state and local resources that can be tapped in both the public and private sectors. The state runs a construction subsidy program which assists moderateincome households. With additional City assistance the state program can help low-income households as well. (By "lowincome" I mean 50% of the area median income. A family of four earning $17,000 would be "lowincome" using this definition. Clearly, many families earn less than that, and their housing needs are especially acute.) The City owns several key pareéis of land in the downtown area. Negotiations with a developer are already underway for construction of affordable housing on one such piece of land. The City could develop other sources of revenue, induding municipal bonds, for housing. The private sector must be involved. Developers can be induced to include low-income units in their projects by being allowed to build more densely than current zoning might allow. Private nonprofit organizations are also crucial. A nonprofit development corporation is being formed to purchase and rehabilítate existing units and, eventually, to build new affordable units. Cooperatives can be assisted and tenants can be helped to form cooperatives to ensure that housing becomes or remains more affordable. Cooperatives provide a form of ownership for people who otherwise could not afford it, and offer people a greater stake in their homes. In short, it is possible for Ann Arbor to fight its affordable housing crisis. If the community as a whole - not just City Hall, but tenants, co-op residents, non-profit organizations, and the fïnancial and development sectors- -decided to make affordable housing a goal, we could do it. But to date, all of our efforts have met a stone wall of political resistance. The resistance comes not from developers or bankers but from conservative political activists. When the Affordable Housing Task Force presented its report to City Council last year the right-wingers roundly attacked it. They claimed we were out to convert Ann Arbor into a slum of public housing high rises, bankrupting City government in the process. This was pure fantasy on their part. They claimed there is no shortage of affordable housing in Ann Arbor (teil that to you landlord next time you're having trouble getting the rent together.) Some of them even claimed we were trying to attract poor people into town from all over the place ("from Inkster", one said to me, privately; wonder what kind of folks she was worried about...). None of them acknowledged that the programs we need to implement here have been implemented successfully in many communities across the country. Many cities have tried precisely the kind of public-private, profitnonprofit approach outlined in the Affordable Housing Task Force report. That approach works. Perhaps that is what most bothers the more well-to-do right-wingers. Perhaps they don 't want Ann Arbor to be a city where people of all income levéis can afford to live. But it is precisely that diversity that makes Ann Arbor so attractive to the rest of us. The Affordable Housing Task Force Report is on file with the City Clerk at City Hall . Copies can be purchased.