Council passes ordinance for affordable housing initiatives and resolution to achieve carbon neutrality by year 2030

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 12:15am

Mayor Christopher Taylor listens in to public comments during a City Council meeting in Larcom City Hall Monday evening.

Mayor Christopher Taylor listens in to public comments during a City Council meeting in Larcom City Hall Monday evening. Buy this photo
Olivia Cell/Daily

City Council passed an affordable housing ordinance Monday evening that provided incentives for private developers to include affordable housing units and also passed a resolution for Ann Arbor to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030. More than 50 Ann Arbor residents packed the seats of Larcom City Hall for the first City Council meeting of the month.

The Roosevelt Institute, a University of Michigan student progressive public policy think tank, collaborated with the Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, to draft an ordinance incentivizing affordable housing. Ackerman noted that other policies to foster affordable housing, such as rent control and inclusionary zoning, are illegal in Michigan. This leaves incentives as the only viable form of policy the city can use to create affordable housing. 

Previously, the city has provided market incentives for developers to invest in residential housing. The goal of these market incentives was to ensure that Ann Arbor’s new developments were more than 40 percent residential, but most developments in Ann Arbor are currently 90 percent residential. Ackerman questioned why the city continuously incentivizes projects that developers are interested in financing.

“As of now we highly incentivize market rate housing,” Ackerman said. “And market rate premium is so lucrative that we see it used in every downtown development and rarely see other premiums used, premiums that would incentivize affordable housing and energy efficiency."

Ackerman, a proponent of affordable housing during his previous tenure as Ann Arbor’s Planning Commissioner, promoted the ordinance as necessary legislation due to the stark shift in rezoning laws and large hikes rent prices.

“We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis,” Ackerman said. “Our neighbors are getting priced out of our community, and getting priced out of our community faster every year. Our zoning code, the laws that govern what gets built where serves to worsen this crisis… Many of these changes have been good… but most of this new construction has been expensive, expensive to build and expensive to rent. Now 10 years later, rent is rising 16 percent year over year. We need to take action to address rents downtown.”

The newly introduced ordinance would incentivize developers to build affordable housing, prioritizing renters who make less than 60 percent of the city’s median income. The ordinance would appeal to developers by trading their height limits zoning requirements and slashing excess parking requirements for increased affordable housing inclusion. The first two developments to sign on would only need to allot 9 to 12 percent of the units as affordable housing, while the following developments would need to designate 15 to 30 percent of their units as affordable housing.

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said adding 15 to 30 percent of affordable housing units in order to address the housing crisis is a small price to pay for the growing classism in Ann Arbor. 

“I am highly concerned with the economic segregation that we have in our downtown area,” Ramlawi said. “It’s classism and economic segregation whether it’s on purpose or not, it’s just the reality. So this will will help provide more housing opportunities for those on the lower end of the economic income spectrum. Again it’s not a silver bullet, it’s not going to take care of the issues by itself but I think it would be irresponsible not to support this in light of concerns that our community has on affordable housing.”

The council also addressed a resolution for Ann Arbor to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. The resolution was approved unanimously and met with applause from the crowd. The council also voted unanimously to push the deadline to achieve carbon neutrality up from 2035 to 2030. 

Initially, some members were reluctant to pass the resolution due to it’s highly ambitious nature. 

Ramlawi said while he was in support of the resolution, he wanted to urge the council to consider how making false promises could be detrimental to their credibility as elected officials.

“We can pass these ambitious resolutions and these goals, and I do support them. But I also like to throw some caution in the wind. There is issues that we currently have, and all you’ve got is your word in this life,” Ramlawi said. “And we’re never going to hit these targets the way we are moving on these other issues.”

On a similar note, Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, cautioned that the price of such an expedited climate plan would be felt fiscally among Ann Arbor residents.

“I’ll be supporting this tonight but with the concern of where this may be headed in terms of the resources required and the related impacts on other priorities,” Lumm said. “I don’t think we should try to solve global warming on the backs of our Ann Arbor tax payers.”

Other councilmembers remained positive about the carbon neutrality resolution. Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, said she felt reinvigorated by the passing of the resolution and urged residents to use social media to share their suggestions with the council.

“I am really optimistic about this,” Griswold said. “But also want to compare this more to putting a man on the moon. And one of the things we didn’t have back then was social media. And we need to realize that… if we’re going to be successful we’ve got to come together and we’ve got to tell the people out there ‘use social media to share your ideas with us so we can be successful.”