Housing is an ongoing issue that continues to affect stakeholders in the Ann Arbor community. For students, it means pressure to sign leases in early fall, perhaps without a full understanding of their responsibilities as a tenant. The steady growth of student enrollment, an average 2.21 percent in the past two years, exacerbates the issue.

Individuals such as Peter Allen, professor at the Ross School of Business and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, believe that students are an integral part to building a solution. In Allen’s business class, Real Estate Essentials, students are given the opportunity to do so. And together with the students from his class, in August Allen proposed the creation of a student-led development accelerator to address the housing crisis.  

Real Estate Essentials has always included a hands-on component. But recently, he has built a proposal to include the University, local non-profits and public agencies in a development accelerator group. In a presentation to the Business School Dean Scott DeRue and Taubman Dean Jonathan Massey in late August, Allen presented the development accelerator as a joint effort and highlighted the role of his accomplished students as potential advisory team members. He identified four critical issues in Ann Arbor housing: sustainability, affordability, mobility and better neighborhoods. 

Allen believes that these issues can be addressed by transitioning publicly owned surface parking lots in the downtown area to become minimal public underground parking, introduce mixed-use developments with integrated affordable housing and encouraging public landowners not to sell but to become long-term partners in development. 

Allen and other stakeholders are expecting a response from the deans in the coming weeks. 

Housing pressures aren’t only affecting students or Ann Arbor residents. Last November, about 4,300 residents in the broader Washtenaw County area applied for 600 spots on the Ann Arbor Housing Commission’s housing choice voucher waitlist, which opened for five days for the first time since 2012. The voucher programs, run under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow for rental subsidies paid directly to private landlords and facilitates affordable housing choices for low-income families, the elderly, veterans and other disadvantaged groups to find safe housing. 

According to AAHC statistics reported on MLive, demographics of the applicants were 39.1 percent homeless, 35.6 percent disabled and have an average annual income of $10,948. 71.8 percent were Black, 19.6 percent white, 7.3 percent multiracial, 3.2 percent Hispanic and 1.1 percent identified as other races. Groundcover News, a publication that provides a voice for low-income people and is taking action to end homelessness and poverty, reported on Allen’s development project, exhibiting a community-wide interest from those most affected by rising prices.

In Allen’s Real Estate Essentials class, students are taught to consider a variety of factors in housing development and investment. In addition to real estate fundamentals and development, the class tackles issues such as gentrification and mobility. 

“The problem with Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan are their enormous success and growth,” Allen said. “The ‘U’ is so successful with new research, tech transfer and job growth and the Ann Arbor has such quality of life, public schools, neighborhoods and exciting downtown. But like many other growing and exciting cities to live in, we are not providing adequate new supply of housing, perhaps providing 10 percent of the demand.”

According to Allen, the increasing level of people who commute to work also offsets plans from the City of Ann Arbor and the University to reduce carbon emissions. 

“83,000 mostly single person commuters drive into Ann Arbor every day and another 20,000 commute out to jobs out of the area.” Allen said. “With every one driving, we have two monster parking decks under construction on Maiden Lane near the hospital and another one about to start on top of the already huge Ann Ashley deck. We are so wedded to driving alone in a car everywhere. Crazy and unsustainable. We need mass transit options as well as housing options.”

Allen’s course depends on the input from students studying in all departments at the University. He has taught students from LSA, Engineering, Ford, Ross and Taubman, all in one classroom.

“You don’t do real estate development without breaking down the silos and having disciplines representing law, design, engineering, political science, art, culture,” Allen said. “I mean, you really can’t build mixed-use development in Ann Arbor, or any great city, without a variety of expertise all at the table.” 

Students in the course are given real Ann Arbor sites with the potential for redevelopment and are expected to craft proposals for how to use them. According to Allen, the Y Lot downtown, the Ann & Main St. Lot, an empty lot next to Huron High School and the top level of the Liberty Square parking structure have potential for redevelopment. 

Taubman alum Kazi Najeeb Hasan, a former Real Estate Essentials student, worked on a consultancy team with Allen other University faculty and the city of Ann Arbor. Hasan’s work included analyzing and developing design possibilities for publicly owned city sites to head toward future development possibilities. He created an online rendering of the lot between Ann Street and Main Street, which Allen is continuing to use in his course. 

“Upon graduating, I decided to carry these skills forward for a while to the accelerator initiative, with added roles of analyzing the financial, as well as the design, feasibility of publicly owned city sites ripe for affordable housing developments,” Hasan said. “My personal career values strongly align with the values the accelerator initiative stands for, which attracted me to it.”

According to Hasan, the University has a large role in encouraging student collaboration in solving real-world issues. 

“For the Architecture and Business school, I believe one of the most urgent areas where their combined knowledge can be applied ‘hands on’ is with the challenge with developing a strong urban community, with the appropriate density, aimed towards increasing the supply of affordable and workforce housing, and encouraging a transit oriented mixed-use development,” Hasan said. 

Taubman alum Katrina Chaves took Allen’s Real Estate Fundamentals class and was later hired as a summer student to work on the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program. Chaves and Allen worked together to form the 12 core elements of lively downtowns, which Allen used in his accelerator proposal. 

“I was interested in inner city revitalization and sustainable, equitable redevelopment, and I recognized real estate could be a key mechanism for promoting these outcomes,” Chaves wrote in an email interview to The Daily. “Both urban planning policies and development can be huge drivers of growth and as a consequence, displacement, so I wanted to learn how to preserve housing affordability, which is necessary in offsetting the negative impacts of this redevelopment, especially in inner city areas.”

The 12 elements — including safety, multi-modal transit, character architecture, active streetscapes, public multi-use destinations, year-round events and programming — are a core aspect of Allen’s continued proposal for Ann Arbor. Chaves said she believes that the University maintains an integral role in upholding these elements. 

“I think the University’s role is through teaching the academic content and providing the resources for students to engage further, through campus groups and extracurricular activities,” Chaves said. “Ensuring their campus design is integrated and complements Ann Arbor’s downtown is important in maintaining the vibrancy and health of Ann Arbor’s main streets.”

Ann Arbor City Council members criticized the University during their Sept. 3 meeting, saying the University should be more proactive in creating affordable housing options for students, faculty and staff. Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, also works as a pre-medical advisor in LSA, and said the University should utilize land it owns towards housing development.

“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 during the meeting. “So, I really think it’s time for the University to step up and understand that it has a role to play here.”

In Allen’s opinion, tackling the issue using multiple methods, funding from stakeholders and projects is the key to finding sustainable solutions. And within the University, there is no shortage of new ideas. 

“It’s a great way to learn,” Allen said. “A great way for students to have a job. He (Skinner) took all his real estate skills and got a job with it.”

Allen has lived in Ann Arbor since 1971, and has raised children and now grandchildren here. He is optimistic about the future of Ann Arbor, believing in University and city-wide mobilization to build a sustainable future.

“The University’s mission is teaching, research and service,” Allen said. “I’ve found that the University supports using the class for the students to grapple with these problems, they’re great teaching experiences, great ways to learn things that are valuable for your job, career and city life.” Allen said. 

According to Allen, on Thursday the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County volunteered real sites, such as the Former YMCA and the site at Ann and Main, to use for accelerator analysis. Allen hopes the University will volunteer land around the old University hospital disposal site, where the University Commons is located. A living community on this land, according to Allen, has set a precedent for its usability.

“The private sector alone will not solve nor address our serious public policy options.” Allen said. “The University must also be at the table with their excess land.”

Correction: An incorrect version of this story was uploaded Sunday night. The story has now been updated. 

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