About 20 Ann Arbor residents attended an affordable housing workshop in the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority building on Thursday night. As the first of a five-step series of workshops, the city of Ann Arbor and SmithGroup, an urban design firm, gauged the interest of Ann Arbor residents in a new affordable housing plan the group is developing. 

Affordable housing is defined as costing 30 percent or less of a household’s gross annual income. 

To spread the word about workshops, representatives of SmithGroup visited various University of Michigan classes on real estate. The city of Ann Arbor wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to participate.

Michael Johnson, leader of the urban design practice at SmithGroup, has taken the lead on this project and hopes to complete the program with the help of the Ann Arbor community.

“Our firm is architects, engineers, landscape architects and urban designers, and we get to work all over the country,” Johnson said. “Both doing design exercises and running public engagement exercises and working with neighborhoods, communities and cities to re-envision what our cities might be in the future.”

The workshop consisted of three different stations in which members used virtual reality to visualize what the buildings would look like in different locations. The location options were the former Y-lot and 415 West Washington. At another station, participants used Legos to build potential options for affordable housing locations.

Taubman graduate student Jiawen Qiao is taking a class on real estate development. She chose to attend this event to give her a real-life example of what she’s trying to accomplish in class. 

“We are actually bringing about some apartments,” Qiao said. “And we’re also thinking about adding some affordable units into it. So, our professor suggested we come to some of the committee meetings about affordable housing to learn more.”

Members of the Ann Arbor community also attended the event. Ann Arbor resident and U-M Dearborn alum Elizabeth Cobb took this event as an opportunity to learn more about affordable housing for a social psychologist she is working with and to become more involved in her Ann Arbor community.

“I went to University Michigan-Dearborn, and when I was an undergrad, I worked with a social psychology professor there,” Cobb said. “And she does research about income inequality in the social class and that includes housing affordability. I’m also going into that field. And so I’m here to take notes and learn more about what’s going on. Also, I just moved to Ann Arbor, so I’m mostly interested for that reason.”

Over the next four days and four workshops, Ann Arbor and SmithGroup are working to inform residents about the new affordable housing plan. They also want to gather information on the community’s preferences on where this housing will be located.

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