Affordable Housing and Affordability in Ann Arbor
Affordable housing has turned into a catchphrase in our community and on social media, yet we do not share a common understanding of what it means.
A widely accepted measure of affordable housing is 30 percent of one’s gross income for housing costs – your mortgage or rent payment plus utilities. Based on this definition, who can afford to live in our city? For Ann Arbor, an average one-bedroom apartment rents for about $1,200 a month including utilities – this would require an annual income of $48,000, well over $20 an hour at a full-time job.
As an employer, I believe in a $15 an hour minimum wage and I pay my employees such. However, most of my full-time employees, those making $40,000 a year, can no longer afford to live and work in Ann Arbor.
This is not sustainable, and we have unintentionally marginalized the voices of our community’s working and creative classes as well as those on fixed incomes.
If we want long-term success in meeting our goals of providing subsidized housing, we must begin with a sustainable and recurring revenue stream to the Affordable Housing Fund. I would propose reforming the DDA to provide more of this type of funding. A secure revenue stream will provide increased leverage when combined with state and federal programs and enable Ann Arbor to achieve its subsidized housing goals.
In addition to the cost of housing, we need to address the day-to-day affordability of living in Ann Arbor. City Council does control some of the costs and, more importantly, it controls who bears those costs.
What I hear most often when talking to residents is, “fix the roads”, and it is not just from a safety perspective. The poor conditions of our roads lead to costly repairs that can be financially devastating for residents, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck.
Recently, City Council passed a revenue-neutral, water rate restructuring plan. The plan significantly raises the tiered-rates for single-family homes, creates a new flat rate for multi-family dwellings, and leaves commercial rates virtually unchanged. This rate structure unduly places the financial burden on the working class and families who live in single-family homes. I believe there is a more equitable way to assess the cost to provide water service for our community, but it will take leadership and outside-the-box thinking.
In addition to the rate structure change, and somewhat lost in the details, is the fact that our water rates will continue to increase at a rate of 6 to 7% for the next four years. This increase far out-paces the rate of inflation.
Residents and local business owners now pay for services that the city once provided while, at the same time, the city has raised fees on services that remain the same. With our economic recovery and growing tax base, we must return the services lost a decade ago. Our property taxes have made Ann Arbor a desirable place to live, and we ought to be receiving more services, not less.
Ann Arbor’s Streets and Roads
When I speak with residents, one of their top concerns is the terrible and unsafe condition of our streets and roads. The current City Council believes that a goal of 80% of our roads in good or better condition by 2025 is our “best” solution. This is simply not acceptable. We cannot wait seven years.
The unsafe conditions of our roads present a real danger to anyone who uses them, including our bicyclists and pedestrians. Our city government talks about pedestrian and bicyclist safety but without effective leadership, it does an inadequate job of acting to make our roads safe for all users.
Besides creating serious safety concerns, the crumbling conditions of our roads can also result in costly car repairs – flat tires, bent rims and new alignments. These costs impact those who can least afford it and present additional challenges to be able to afford to live in and commute to work from Ann Arbor.
Whether you personally use a car or not, streets and roads are vital to our residents and businesses. Safe streets are necessary for:
- Delivery of goods and services – what we buy at the grocery store, food that is served in our local restaurants, as well as our mail and packages;
- Emergency service vehicles to assist, and in some cases transport, residents in need;
- AAATA busses to get residents locally from one place to another; and
- Bicyclists and pedestrians to travel throughout our city.
We will always need good, safe roads. Roads existed before cars and I think it’s a safe bet they will exist after cars.
Police Oversight Task Force and Commission
Through the work of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission, a task force comprised of citizens is undertaking the process of setting up a police oversight commission. Social and economic justice are part of my core beliefs and guiding principles. I support efforts to bring this forward in our community and make this commission a reality for Ann Arbor.
I strongly support an oversight commission that is independent of active city officials in order to help ensure trust between the citizens of Ann Arbor and its police force. In my 25 years as a downtown business owner in Ann Arbor, my experience with our police force has been that it is responsive and professional and second to none. I’d like to ensure that all Ann Arbor citizens have the opportunity to be heard so they have the same experience.
I feel it is important – as in all things – that our city be ahead of the curve and pro-actively address citizen-police relations. Ann Arbor has an opportunity to be a leader in an evolving approach to community policing and become a model for other Michigan communities.
I have owned and operated Jerusalem Garden since 1993 and I know first-hand the challenges many small businesses face in Ann Arbor – worker shortages, lack of accessible housing and diminishing city services. We need to foster and promote our local small businesses.
- Create empowerment zones to incubate those small retail businesses that do not serve food or alcohol and have annual revenues of less than half of million dollars. Small businesses that qualify would receive subsidies from our local government to help offset their hefty property tax bills.
- We all read of the recent failures for downtown businesses in getting their garbage picked up. These businesses pay for private trash removal as well as paying the solid waste millage in their property tax bills. Our city is “double-dipping” businesses and providing less services.
- Improve our pedestrians’ experience downtown. Our city expects residents and businesses to maintain community standards, yet do not apply those same standards to their own actions. The DDA should be reinvesting parking revenues into improving the pedestrian experience downtown.
Dollars spent at local businesses create a multiplier effect in our economy. Studies show that for each dollar spent locally, 45 cents is reinvested in the local economy. This compares to 15 cents reinvested locally by large, chain stores.
Local, independent businesses add to more than just our economy. These businesses give back to our community through donations and sponsorships to our local schools and community groups. Owner operators take pride in our city and help maintain our community character through their efforts, whether it is sweeping the street in front of their business or helping a visitor.
Our small local businesses are the heart and soul of our community’s social fabric and economic vitality and they deserve better from our city government.
Development is a topic that has created a lot of confusion and misinformation for most residents. It is time our Council members get past labels and ideologies and elevate the dialogue toward common ground.
Last year, I was labeled as a one-issue anti-development candidate. This year, I am in the “back pocket” of developers and have been challenged not to accept campaign contributions from developers. The truth is, I am an entrepreneur. I would look at each proposed development on its own merits and make decisions based on protecting our public assets and on our zoning and Ann Arbor’s Master Plan.
As an elected official, I believe I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect public land and other assets and ensure that their use brings benefit to the entire community. My guiding principle on council will be to prevent the monetization of our public assets.
As a business owner and an entrepreneur, I believe in private development and I would base my decisions on current zoning and the City’s Master Plan. Variances should be rare and reserved for special circumstances. Too often our Planning Commission and City Council feel the need to “give away” variances to make Ann Arbor a more desirable place in which to invest. I believe the opposite is true.
Through our tax base and millages, we have created a desirable place to live. We should ask more from developers to offset the infrastructure costs paid by our residents. Developers need to add value to our community.
Climate Action and the Environment
As a business owner for 25 years, I have placed a priority on sustainable business practices. My restaurant uses mostly compostable paper products, including compostable cups, straws and bags. I have never used Styrofoam containers.
Our city should lead by example in doing more with city-owned assets. I propose we start acting on climate change:
- Install reflective roofing material on city buildings,
- Install solar panels on city buildings and other properties, and
- Install pervious surfaces on city owned parking lots.
I recognize that city properties account for less than 5% of the greenhouses gases and that the measurable impact would be minimal in reducing overall levels, but I believe that, by working with “green technology” companies, we have an opportunity to help these companies establish a market and help drive down the costs to individual consumers.
As a city, we ought to do all we can to promote solar energy in residential settings by reducing the barriers homeowners face:
- Residents should be allowed to install solar panels in their front yards if they meet certain setback and other restrictions. Our city government should not let aesthetics overrule steps to reduce our carbon footprint.
Ann Arbor no longer leads in recycling and composting and we are far behind where our community believes we should be. Our facilities need to be brought back into working order. We should not be transporting our recyclable materials to other locations for processing.
I propose using the Solid Waste budget to fund year-round composting for residents and small businesses. A pilot program study was conducted in 2016 for downtown businesses to participate in a composting program. Without leadership or additional funding from city government, the program never materialized.
As the owner and operator of a restaurant, I know that 40% of my solid waste is completely compostable food waste. Just think of the impact if even half was diverted from the landfill.
As Ann Arbor faces the future, we must build and develop in ways that take into consideration changes in climate and environmental effects. We must plan strategically and be innovative in addressing climate change and the environment in our developments. We must lead through action.
My neighbors and I have watched with great alarm as the 1,4 dioxane plume has spread underneath our homes and, in some cases, dioxane vapors have seeped into our basements.
As a city, we need to do everything we can and use all available resources to address this public threat. It is a fiduciary failure that our city leaders have not done more to pro-actively protect the health and welfare of the citizens of Ann Arbor.
Along with the efforts already underway by the polluter, I propose that we explore ways to perform a coordinated clean-up. I would propose that the city pay for the clean-up and pursue the polluter for the cost, estimated at $30 – $50 million. This will speed up the clean-up process and help guarantee safe drinking water for Ann Arbor residents.
It’s time we begin to lead through actions. Our citizens deserve nothing less. Access to safe drinking water is a human right.
Ann Arbor cannot leave this to the state government and the MDEQ. Remember Flint.
Washtenaw County Mental Health Millage
We have a mental health-funding crisis in our community and, given the shrinking aid from state and federal governments, we need to find better ways to support our county’s mental health system.
I supported the new countywide tax to help increase funding for mental health services. Many residents, including myself, do not agree with City Council members who voted to commit the rebated tax dollars from this millage to fund affordable housing, pedestrian safety and climate action.
I acknowledge the challenges we face with affordable housing and safety for our pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as our need to address climate change in actionable ways. These are important issues that need to be tackled, but I believe we ought to find different funding sources and not the millage rebate.
I propose that, each year, we look at the millage rebate that the city will receive – roughly $2.5 million a year over 8 years – and determine our greatest need(s) at that time.
I would dedicate 100% of the rebated tax dollars to provide more support for mental health services and public safety in our community because the increase in demand for mental health services has been met with a reduction and even elimination of support from the state and federal governments. We must do more locally.
Currently, I do not support relocation of the train station to the Fuller Park site. I have not read or heard compelling arguments for this relocation. In fact, I’ve heard just the opposite.
The Fuller Park site does not best serve the citizens and taxpayers of Ann Arbor:
- It is parkland, public land, which would essentially be privatized without a real public benefit.
- The University will receive the benefit of the availability of additional parking without partnering in the cost.
- The current price tag of nearly $90 million, along with the growing uncertainty of federal funding, ought to give us all pause.
I support rehabilitating the existing train station at Depot Street and I believe we can meet our current and future needs by partnering with DTE and their plans to re-develop the adjoining property.
This would create a real opportunity for transit-oriented development, while improving our current train station. Many on council have spoken about the value of transit-oriented development, yet those benefits with this project have been ignored.
We still have an opportunity to get this right.
Treeline Urban Trail (Formerly The Allen Creek Greenway)
As an avid cyclist, I would appreciate the trail and enjoy its benefits; I believe it would be an asset to the city and its residents. However, it concerns me that the Allen Creek Greenway has turned into nearly a $60 million aspirational project. I’m not comfortable trying to find funding for this when there are other more pressing needs.
Beyond the question of how we would pay for the project itself, there is the issue of how the city would pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the trail.
We currently struggle to maintain the parks and trees we have. In fact, members of Council have raised the cost of maintenance as a reason to vote against a new park. It just doesn’t add up.
I will continue to support an urban trail that is financially sensible and one that we can maintain so that it truly is an asset for all residents and visitors to enjoy for generations to come.
Deer Management Program
Ann Arbor’s deer management program is an emotional and controversial issue for many residents. When the program began in 2016, it was limited in scope and cost. Over the past three years, the scope and costs of the program have escalated.
I would propose returning the program to its original scope for the final year – conduct a limited cull and stop allowing firearms to be discharged on residential private property.
My decision on whether to extend the cull beyond 2019 would be based, in part, on the results from the MSU study/survey that was conducted earlier this year. The survey was conducted to gauge the residents’ perception of the problem and their awareness and attitudes about Ann Arbor’s Deer Management Program.