Ann Arbor residents gathered Tuesday night to discuss developing affordable housing at a meeting hosted by the city and SmithGroup, an architectural design firm. Held in the Downtown Development Ann Arbor Authority building, the meeting served as a follow-up to a series of workshops held in December to garner community feedback about possible affordable housing sites.
Attendees were handed a fact sheet that provided information about affordable housing in the city. In Ann Arbor, the area median income is $101,200. Families with incomes at 60 percent AMI or below qualify for affordable housing developed by the state, with affordable being defined as costing 30 percent or less of the household’s annual income.
The lack of affordable housing in Ann Arbor has been a hot-button issue in recent years. In 2015, the city adopted a plan to create nearly 2,800 new affordable housing units by 2035, though less than 100 have been built since then.
Discussion at the meeting focused on redeveloping 350 South 5th Ave., also known as the former Y-Lot, a site adjacent to the Ann Arbor District Library and Blake Transit Center. There was also a discussion of overhauling 415 West Washington St., which is adjacent to the YMCA and the railroad track.
Michael Johnson, an urban designer at SmithGroup, gave a presentation summarizing the results of surveys and feedback from community workshops regarding both sites. The results showed that respondents rated optimizing the number of affordable units for those with 60 percent AMI as the most important priority in redeveloping city-owned properties.
Johnson summarized the community feedback into a set of assumptions in creating possible designs for new buildings in each lot and presented the preferred options to the audience. As he presented the possible designs, audience members shared criticisms.
Johnson said the purpose of the meeting was to provide a space for the community to discuss and agree on requirements to set before the actual development process begins.
“The hope is that based on what we’ve heard, we can begin a process that with the city’s assistance pre-entitles a series of criteria before even engaging a developer going through the next steps of that process,” Johnson said.
The proposed design for the former Y-Lot site included two buildings reaching a maximum of 200 feet and containing a total of 418 units, 130 of which would be affordable housing. Some audience members shared concerns about the height of the building, while others felt it did not provide a sufficient number of affordable housing units.
The 415 W. Washington proposal, which contained 173 total units with 15-20 percent affordable, raised additional concern from the community because of its location in a floodway and floodplain, which renders it ineligible to federal subsidies.
Some residents brought up concerns with parking and traffic congestion in the residential area. Others said they felt the location was unsafe for housing and advocated alternatives such as creating a park or community center.
Ann Arbor resident Julia Goode expressed frustration with some community members’ unwillingness to consider the 415 W. Washington design proposal.
“It felt like a ‘not in my backyard’ meeting,” Goode said. “People all started out in support of affordable housing, but as soon as it starts to get dense, then people get concerned about how big the building is, how tall — even though it’s not taller than the buildings around it — and that’s the only way you have affordable housing, is to build it denser, and that’s how you get cars off the street, by having a dense community so it becomes walkable.”
City Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, who was in attendance, encouraged attendees to be more open to the proposals brought forth by SmithGroup.
“I think the SmithGroup is listening to the community,” Ramlawi said. “I think we need to approach this with a little bit more optimism and go from there because we’re not really going to go anywhere if we think this is another exercise that goes nowhere.”
Reporter Angelina Little can be reached at email@example.com.