Six of the eight candidates up for election to the Ann Arbor City Council are undecided on Mayor John Hieftje’s proposed ordinance designed to push back the annual student housing rush.
The mayor released a draft of the ordinance to the Michigan Student Assembly at its last meeting on Tuesday night. It proposes to prevent landlords from showing students’ housing or leasing the properties until one-fourth of the current lease period is complete.
Only two candidates – Stephen Rapundalo (D-Ward 2) and unopposed incumbent Robert Johnson (D-Ward 1) – answered the moderator’s question about Hieftje’s proposal with a simple “yes” or “I’m in favor” at last night’s debate at the Michigan League.
The others said the ordinance is good in theory and worth considering. But they expressed concern over the wording of the proposal and over some of its technical aspects.
“There are some good ideas, but we need to talk to the city’s general counsel to tighten up the wording,” said Wendy Woods (D-Ward 5), an unopposed incumbent.
Only Rich Birkett (Independent-Ward 3), who is running against Democrat Leigh Greden, appeared to have serious reservations about the ordinance. He said he is opposed to prohibiting the signing of leases and showing of housing before the one-fourth point. But he said he would consider giving tenants the option to stop landlords from showing their properties until the one-fourth mark.
Incumbent Marcia Higgins (D-Ward 4) and candidate Thomas Bourque (R-Ward 2) said landlords need to be brought into the discussion to make sure their interests are also represented.
“I’m not opposed, but we should get landlords involved,” Higgins said, adding that the ordinance would not only benefit students but other residents as well.
Candidate Jim Hood (R-Ward 4) was skeptical about the legislation.
“Any time you mess with the free market, there are unintended consequences,” he said.
Part of the ordinance’s purpose is to allow students more time to decide whom they want to live with and whether they want to live in the residence halls or off-campus – a choice that many say freshmen are ill-prepared to make just a month or two into their University careers, when many of them sign their leases for the next year.
But Hood said it would create a stampede effect in early December on the day when students could first sign leases or view the living spaces.
“It’s going to create this herd mentality,” he said.
Woods disagreed. “We already have a herd mentality,” she said. “It just takes place in September.”
The candidates spoke on a number of other issues involving student-City Council relations, including the prospect of redrawing ward lines so students would have better representation when voting for Council members. Currently, the wards are drawn in five pie-shaped slices that meet near the center of campus, dividing students’ votes among the wards and diluting their collective voting power.
Proponents of redrawing the wards have suggested a new ward in the center of the city that would encompass University residence halls and most student housing. Opponents of the idea say it would leave wards with nondiverse populations, such as all single-family houses or all students. The city charter requires the wards to be rough cross-sections of the city.
Five of the candidates – Hood, Higgins, Birkett, Bourque and Rapundalo – said they think redrawing the wards is worth considering, while the other three – Greden, Johnson and Woods – said it should not be a possibility.
Bourque jokingly suggested that there should be a Republican ward.
“Where would that be?” joked debate moderator Matt Lassiter, a University history professor, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Currently nine of the 10 Council members are Democrats. There is a possibility that all 10 could be Democrats after next Tuesday’s elections if Higgins, Greden and Rapundalo win their races.