University representatives faced criticism from city councilmembers Tuesday night for what elected officials called its lack of involvement in combating Ann Arbor’s affordable housing shortage.
The City Council meeting began with a presentation of infrastructure improvement plans by University Campus Planner Susan Gott and Director of Community Relations Michael Rein. The University’s newest plans are centered on enhancing campus life with an emphasis on sustainability. A large portion of the presentation focused on renovating University housing, including Mary Markley Hall and the Northwood IV & V apartments.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, asked if the University would consider aiding the crisis by building affordable housing in Ann Arbor.
“Is there any appetite for the University considering building additional housing for staff, students and faculty to take pressure off the housing market in the city?” Hayner said. “Because we know we have an affordability crisis, and a lot of that is demand — just basic demand for housing — and the open market isn’t able to supply it in a quality way that the University can.”
Rein said while the University creates initiatives to bring the Ann Arbor community and University together, the school does not want to compete against the marketplace and, except for student housing, building living spaces are “just not the mission of the University.”
This comment sparked pushback from several members urging that affordable housing should also be a University issue.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said the University should consider a more inclusive mission, as it could be part of the solution to the housing crisis in Ann Arbor.
“You’ve just stated that it’s not part of your mission for your student body, but perhaps it should be for the employees for the University,” Ramlawi said. “To be frank, we have a crisis where people cannot afford to live where they work, and it’s causing a lot of congestion problems on our roadways, as well as other concerns and issues.”
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, who works as a pre-health academic adviser in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, offered her perspective as a University employee.
“Most of the people who are working, serving many of our residents and providing health care, can’t afford to live in the city,” Grand said. “So, I really think it’s time for the University to step up and understand that it has a role to play here. And if you don’t want to build it yourself, you’ve got land — give it to someone; let a private developer build on it; lease it to them cheaply. Let’s actually use the brainpower we have to come up with solutions.”
Hayner said he felt the school failed to work closely enough with the city, but thanked the University for attending the meeting. Rein said the school aimed to foster a discourse with the community.
“Well, I think that’s one of the reasons, Jeff, that we are here tonight, so we could start the dialogue and make sure that the city understood what our long-term plans are,” Rein said.