In 2007, as a response to the implementing the community’s Blueprint to End Homelessness (2004), the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners created Task Force to, “explore locally viable long-term revenue sources for the creation and sustainability of supportive housing units and related services”. In 2008, the Task Force completed its work and presented a report with recommendations to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, which was approved by County Commissioners.
The report recommended that work groups be established on 1) providing public education; 2) developing a millage strategy that would provide funding for supportive housing for 20-years; and 3) exploring a private endowment that would provide sustained funding once a millage had ended.
A private endowment fund, the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund for Permanent Supportive Housing Services, was established in 2011 by a $1 million gift from St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to create a permanent and sustainable revenue source for Permanent Supportive Housing Services (PSHS).
Once the 2008 recession began, the millage strategy was put on hold indefinitely.
In 2015, the Washtenaw County’s Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) released the County Housing Affordability and Economic Equity – Analysis, a report which provided a snapshot of housing market conditions and corresponding goals to improve affordability across a wide spectrum of households in Washtenaw County’s urban communities. One main finding from the report was that, “Ann Arbor needs to focus its attention on the preservation and production of affordable, non-student rental housing for low and moderate-income workers who are helping to keep so much of the Ann Arbor economy vibrant. Pittsfield also needs to focus its efforts on existing and future demand for affordable non-student rental housing for low and moderate-income workers.”
The report states that, combined, Ann Arbor and Pittsfield need to add 3,139 non-student affordable rentals by 2035. This equates to adding 140 affordable units per year, or 2,797 total by 2035, in Ann Arbor, and 17 affordable units per year, or 342 total by 2035, in Pittsfield.
To-date, the City of Ann Arbor has not been able to achieve these annual goals, and is projected to fall very short in the ability for the City to meet its overall goal by 2035.
Recently, the county has seen a significant loss of about 800 affordable housing units. The loss of units was not anticipated when the 2015 report was created and it is the result of private owners/developers of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects choosing to convert their projects to market-rate housing once their affordability commitments expired.
Some low-moderate impact recommendations to grow the supply of affordable housing, that were identified in the 2015 report, have been pursued by the City of Ann Arbor and other municipalities in the County. However, there is growing concern that the City is facing a growing affordable housing crisis.
A 2018 survey of City residents about budgeting priorities indicated strong public support for increasing resources to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission for low-income households and collaboration with local non-profits to provide support services to residents.
Many of the high-impact recommendations in the 2015 report have not been pursued at all up until this point. One of the high-impact recommendations to grow the supply of affordable housing from the report is to “explore millage, bonds and/or other methods of assembling adequate resources to meet affordable housing unit targets based on history of unit support and projected costs of future developments.”
In 2019, the City conducted a feasibility analysis of affordable housing on eleven underutilized City-owned properties. City Council’s resolution asked staff to consider six goals:
- The City will preferentially maintain ownership of the property (i.e. land lease);
- Potential developers will offer a mix of unit types and rental levels;
- Developers will optimize the number of affordable units for those who make up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI);
- Developers and their successors in ownership will accept Housing Choice Vouchers;
- Developers will provide adequate and appropriate space to accommodate the operations of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission; and,
- Developers will explore options with the City to provide dedicated space for other public uses and/or non-profit space.
The feasibility analysis also considered the following components for each of the 11 properties: land use restrictions; environmental conditions; financial modeling and resources; and other considerations.
A summary presentation of the initial analysis can be found on the City’s public properties community engagement resources webpage. It was determined that nine of the eleven sites that were analyzed would be able to be developed or leveraged for other development of affordable housing, and a significant number of units could be created if this strategy was further pursued. Community engagement sessions have been held since late 2019 on two of the sites – the former Y-Lot at 350 S. Fifth and 415 W. Washington – and it has been recommended that community engagement begin for some of the other sites. Furthermore, in April 2020, City Council approved a process for the former Y-Lot to progress to pre-entitlement phase, whereby parties would pre-entitle the property for development consistent with the desired goals for the City’s feasibility analysis.