July 13, 2020
Ann Arbor, MI – Partners for Affordable Housing, a broad coalition of nonprofits and concerned citizens interested in helping the City achieve its affordable housing goals, together with Michigan-based top rated pollster EPIC MRA, has just completed a survey of City of Ann Arbor voters. The poll, which was paid for by a grant the Washtenaw Housing Alliance received from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, explored voters’ potential support for a proposed millage that would provide dedicated funding for the purpose of building, acquiring, and maintaining permanently affordable housing and related social services for low-income families and individuals earning 0-60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).
The polling results showed 77% of City of Ann Arbor voters expressed support for the proposal and would vote for such a millage in November. Notably, 3 out of 4 respondents from every ward supported such a millage. If approved by the voters, the millage would raise approximately $6.3 million per year for a period of 20 years and support the development of approximately 1500 units of affordable housing, housing up to 3700 people. For every $250,000 in market value and $125,000 in taxable value, the millage proposal would increase taxes for homeowners by $125 per year.
In 2015, the Washtenaw County’s Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) released the County Housing Affordability and Economic Equity – Analysis, which found that Ann Arbor needs to add 2,797 non-student affordable rental units by 2035 to meet need, increase equity, reduce segregation, and positively impact the economy. This equates to the addition of 140 affordable units annually in Ann Arbor. Thus far the City has not been able to achieve the annual development goals established in 2015 and is projected to fall short of its overall affordable housing development goal by 2035. In fact, since the 2015 report was published, the County has seen a net loss of 800 affordable housing units as private owners/developers of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects have converted their projects to market-rate housing once their affordability commitments expired.
As part of an effort to address this housing shortfall, a 2019 feasibility analysis requested by Ann Arbor City Council determined that 1400-1600 new units of affordable housing could be built on nine underutilized City-owned properties. In addition, one of the high-impact recommendations in the 2015 report to grow the supply of affordable housing 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.” The proposed millage would fund the development of these units and related support services for residents. In addition to this feasibility study–and as noted by Council Members in the July 6th, 2020 City Council meeting–the City has taken action on another high-impact recommendation from the 2015 report by working to leverage DDA funds for the development of affordable properties. However, the dearth of affordable housing and the lack of development of more affordable housing continues to be an issue.
When asked – aside from COVID-19 or racial equality – which problem or issue they were most concerned about, “availability of affordable housing” was the top concern (24%), followed by “improving the quality of area schools” (20%) and “protecting the environment in the area” (12%). When asked about the issue of homelessness in Ann Arbor, 90% of respondents indicated that “adopting local programs to provide long-term solutions to provide permanent affordable housing and related support services,” was important to them.
Says Annie Hyrila, Outreach Team Leader with Avalon Housing, “While we’ve made progress as a community, we have hundreds of people on a by-name list right now who are homeless in our community. We’ve also witnessed a recent uptick in the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness who have serious health issues. They are struggling to safely isolate or stay in quarantine during the pandemic. We’re in the process of moving someone into housing, for example, who’s been homeless in our community for over ten years. People shouldn’t have to wait that long for a safe and decent place to call home.”
53% of respondents indicated that providing permanent affordable housing and related support services was “absolutely essential.” Families with children, households earning $55-75,000 annually and voters ages 18-34 were most likely to consider providing affordable housing and related support services “absolutely essential.”
Says Ian Robinson, President of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation (HVALF) and Treasurer of Partners for Affordable Housing, “Citizens and government leaders at both the City and County level have known about the lack of affordable housing in our community for years now. This is a growing problem that is an urgent priority for many working people. This poll demonstrates the community’s willingness to support a millage to provide housing for working people and help those who struggle with homelessness in Ann Arbor. HVALF delegates voted unanimously to endorse this millage campaign and to encourage members of our local unions to ask their City Council members to put it on the ballot so they can vote for it.”
Council Members Chip Smith and Elizabeth Nelson plan to bring forth a resolution to the City Council for a November 2020 ballot proposal that seeks voter approval for the millage.