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Bundled up in hats and gloves and with coffees in hand, dozens of Ann Arbor community members braved the brisk, cold Saturday morning to increase awareness and advocate for unhoused individuals in Washtenaw County. 

In honor of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County organized the “Hustle for Housing and Walk to End Homelessness,” which included a two-mile walk around downtown Ann Arbor. The group first gathered at Liberty Plaza at the corner of East Liberty St. and South Division St. 

Adam, a former unhoused client at the Delonis Shelter, recently received housing assistance in Ann Arbor. After being unhoused for a long time, Adam told the crowd housing is a necessity for all people and urged county leaders to provide the funding and resources to support other unhoused individuals in the county.

“We are people, we are human beings, we deserve housing,” Adam said. “We need other people to look at us as we are people. We are human just like you. If we are left out on the streets, there’s a possibility we might end up in the hospital, dead or anything else. It’s unsafe.”

Amanda Carlisle, executive director of the Washtenaw County Housing Alliance, also spoke to the community, advocating for the need to increase resources to support more permanent affordable housing options.

“We want to make sure that we share with everybody that there are people experiencing housing insecurity here, there are people who are homeless right here in Washtenaw County, and we know what we can do to help them,” Carlisle said. “We can provide them with permanent housing. We can provide them with services. We can provide them with rapid rehousing, get them out of the streets, out of shelters. We know what we can do. We just need the resources to do it.”

Some local organizations have already contributed to the effort. Avalon Housing, a non-profit organization providing permanent affordable housing for more than 800 people in Washtenaw County, recently opened 36 affordable apartment units on Maple Road. The project was funded in part by the city of Ann Arbor’s 20-year affordable housing millage.  

“We used a ton of federal dollars to build (the Avalon) housing but the services that are being provided at Avalon Hickory Way projects are being funded through the millage, so this really matters,” Carlisle said. “What you can do now is make sure to pay attention to what’s happening at the city and county level and also at the federal level.”

The Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Bill, which was passed in the House of Representatives on Friday, includes efforts to build more than one million new rental and single-family homes. The bill also contains rental and down payment assistance using an expanded voucher program. If passed in the Senate, the $150 billion bill would be the single most largest investment in affordable housing in history.

Dan Kelly, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, also encouraged the Ann Arbor City Council to allocate more American Rescue Plan Act funds towards affordable housing. The Biden Administration passed the ARPA in March to help local governments, municipalities and citizens recover from the pandemic. Washtenaw County was awarded more than $71 million to be granted in two equal allotments: first in May 2021 and then in May 2022. 

“We want to see as much of (the funding) go towards affordable housing and supports like the shelter as possible,” Kelly said. “That way we can have more incredible stories, more housing right down there, over there, over there, all over downtown and throughout the county of course. Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming out showing your support. Let’s just keep this mission going and end homelessness here in Washtenaw County.”

The group then began marching down South Division St., chanting “Housing is human right” and “Affordable housing for all.” As the group made their way through the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and into nearby neighborhoods, a few cars drove by honked in support. The Ann Arbor Police Department also followed along, blocking the streets from oncoming traffic. 

Rackham student Matt Dargay, a Masters student in the University of Michigan Social Work program, told The Michigan Daily he hopes the city prioritizes affordable housing and gets rid of exclusive zoning restrictions, which place limitations on the types of homes that can be built in a particular neighborhood. 

“We’re here today because we want to show support for housing policies and the funding of affordable housing in the area because it’s getting more and more expensive to live here,” Dargay said. “If we’re going to sustain housing for essential workers and working-class people, then we need to provide more affordable housing. So we’re here to show our support for that.”

Ann Arbor resident Shirley Wolfe, who has been living in the city since she graduated from the University in the 1950s, came to the protest with fellow Ann Arbor resident Phil Carroll. Despite the cold, Wolfe said she came out to rally for the people in the city who have to deal with this weather day in and day out.

“We’re both of an age — I’m in my 90th year, and (Carroll is) almost in his 80th,” Wolfe said. “(But) anything to promote more concern to let people know that we have a huge number of homeless in Ann Arbor right now, and we have a lot of people your age and even families living in cars. It’s really cold.”

Carroll said he hopes the City considers implementing a rent control ordinance to curb affordable housing issues. A similar proposal was brought to Ann Arbor in the 1980s, but the state of Michigan enacted legislation that prohibited this proposal.

“We will never have affordable housing in Ann Arbor as long as we let the developers dominate our City Council,” Carroll said. “We need a rent control ordinance, and people should be aware that there’s a lot of sentiment that would favor that.”

Some members of Ann Arbor City Council were also in attendance, including council members Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, and Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4. Griswold said she is in preliminary discussions with the University to implement additional housing for individuals in the workforce who might not be able to afford living in the city and must commute everyday to work. 

“We have a critical shortage of housing throughout the country, especially in Ann Arbor,” Griswold said. “One of the issues that I’m focusing on is the University of Michigan … What I’d like to see, and I talked to a number of people, including the president of the University, is a commitment for 2,000 units of workforce housing on North Campus.”

As the rally reached the Delonis Center, the attendees held signs in front of passing cars while enjoying coffee and refreshments at the end of the walk. The atmosphere was spirited, and a sense of purpose and camaraderie drifted throughout the crowd. 

“Recently, I was given housing after a long time. It’s so much of a blessing. It helps us a lot,” Adam said. “I don’t have to struggle anymore. But there are a lot of people out there still struggling. We need you guys. We need you to open up more housing. Give us more housing. Fund us. Give us your helping hand.”

Daily News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu