Forget the high prices of Zaragon Place and 4 Eleven. A developer has figured out a way to build a multi-story, affordable housing complex near downtown Ann Arbor. Avalon Housing, a non-profit organization, partnered with developer Three Oaks a few years ago, and the project is finally about to break ground. This development will be an asset to the community, and developers should try to create other affordable housing options near campus and in the Ann Arbor area.

The Near North Apartments Planned Unit Development was approved by the Ann Arbor City Council in Sept. 2009 and will create affordable, environmentally friendly housing for households earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. There will be 39 residential units — 24 apartments allocated to low-income households and 15 supportive apartments with rent subsidies. Near North will also offer 2,714 square feet of retail space and 1,553 square feet of office space.

In a city notorious for over-priced housing, projects like Near North are a change for the better. More availability of affordable housing will benefit students and low-income Ann Arbor residents. Especially in this economy, people need affordable housing more than ever.

The greatest benefit from the development is that Near North will be located within a quarter-mile radius of the downtown district — an economically thriving area, as opposed to many affordable housing projects that are built in areas with strained economies. As a result, many tenants will have easy access to employment and shopping in the downtown area.

The environmentally friendly project has been given financial incentives to keep the housing as green as possible. The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Near North a grant that requires the units to be certified as Energy Star-qualified housing and achieve LEED certification. In addition, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has committed an extra $50,000 if the project receives silver LEED certification and $100,000 if the project receives gold LEED certification.

While most low-income housing projects are constructed in the cheapest way possible, Near North — with the help of the U.S. government — is being socially responsible by encouraging the creation of environmentally friendly housing. It is commendable that developers are seeking to create an affordable housing complex that will also be energy efficient, which will ultimately cut down on expenses for its residents.

Local union representatives are pushing the DDA to come to an agreement with the development team to employ local workers for the project. Though DDA officials are not sure if they could dictate such terms, it would be beneficial to hire local union labor and stimulate the Ann Arbor job market. Union representatives made it clear that their contractors are lacking jobs, and a project like this could provide a much-needed boost.

Near North will benefit many people throughout the Ann Arbor community and is an important development for students and residents who are facing financial struggles. Federal funds should continue to support similar projects and help low-income Americans find safe, affordable housing in thriving communities.

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