Thursday, the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor District Library held a forum at the library on race and class equity in Washtenaw County as the final event of its annual sustainability series. Approximately 100 students and community members attended the event.
Teresa Gillotti, Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development director, emphasized the difficulty of the commute for much of the city’s Black population because of their housing locations.
“The African-American population is located primarily on the East side near Ypsilanti, but most of the new jobs being created are on the West side,” Gillotti said. “Say you live on the East side and want to get to some of the new jobs on the East side but don’t own a car — you would need to spend around an hour one way to get there by bus.”
Gillotti then discussed the shortcoming in transportation’s impact in the business sector.
“We’re hearing all the time from businesses in Ann Arbor that they can’t find enough workers,” Gillotti said. “We know that there is a divide and that we can’t get the talent where it needs to be.”
Additionally, Gillotti touched on the declining number of affordable housing units in the Ann Arbor area. Since 2015, Gillotti said 50 affordable housing units have been added in Ann Arbor, but zero have been added in Pittsfield through non-profit housing developers. Through private developers, 70 affordable housing units have been added since 2000, Gillotti said.
However, Gillioti contrasted these additions by sharing that 800 affordable housing units have been lost in the last 18 months across the county.
LSA sophomore Carolyn Wu said she appreciated the wide diversity of audience experiences at the event.
“I really liked the event,” Wu said. “I’m currently working at the Ecology Center and I think that it’s really cool to see the conversation that we talk about in the classrooms be applied to a more community setting with a larger variety of ages and backgrounds.”
Reflecting on the challenges facing the Black community in regards to commuting, Wu said there is a need for better public transportation.
“I think (the challenges) really show the importance of having a public transportation system that is efficient and on time,” Wu said. “Additionally, it’s a really important that we also build public transport between Washtenaw County and Wayne County.”
Rackham student Amanda Farthing, who studies sustainability and the environment, said she enjoyed looking at the event’s main discussion points through an intersectional lens.
“I think it’s really awesome that they post these events that anyone in the community can come to and make all these connections between these really important topics that all tie into sustainability,” Farthing said. “I think these issues of race, housing, energy justice and transportation are all topics that people talk about separately really often, but having them tied together in this educational forum is really valuable.”
Farthing said maps at the event outlining where Black residents in Washtenaw County live and where the jobs are resonated with her.
“I’m new to Ann Arbor, so it was nice to see the maps that they put up for the income distributions and think about that in relation to people’s daily commutes to work,” Farthing said. “That was very impactful and a very real day-to-day representation of some of the topics that they talk about. That some people, due to where housing is and where jobs are located, are unable to access higher paying jobs.”