While less fortunate citizens of Ann Arbor are probably better off than residents of other Michigan cities, Ann Arbor is still in need of more economical living. Truly affordable housing is greatly needed for certain residents and students in the city, which is why it’s a shame some developers are having such a hard time constructing it. Over the last few weeks, Ann Arbor City Council has stalled on approving City Place, a new student housing project. A reconfigured plan for the project was finally approved last Monday, but the approved version is greatly reduced from what the developer initially intended. City Council’s leadership on this issue has been lacking, and moving forward, the council should treat the need for housing more seriously.
Developer Alex de Parry originally proposed the construction of City Place, a low-income apartment complex along Fifth Avenue downtown, in early 2008. He aimed the project at residents whose income falls 80-90 percent below the city’s median income. De Parry originally sought to create three separate apartment buildings containing 90 housing units for a total of 164 bedrooms. The buildings would also have been equipped with 96 underground parking spaces.
But this vision failed to pass City Council. Instead, the version finally approved — which City Council continued to delay its vote on until de Parry threatened a lawsuit — will create two smaller buildings with a parking lot between the two. There will be 24 units with 6 bedrooms within each unit. And instead of underground parking with 96 spaces, there will be a ground-level parking lot with only 36 spaces.
The blame for City Place’s diminished size rests squarely with City Council. Despite Ann Arbor’s need for lower-income housing, City Council consistently failed to make progress on the plan, instead succumbing to the demands of some whose vision for the city does not provide adequate housing for all. Instead of stalling the project for nearly two years, City Council should have worked with de Parry to build a housing complex that will meet the needs of Ann Arbor’s less fortunate residents.
There are many Ann Arbor residents in need of affordable housing, and City Place could have been an answer to their problems. Affordable housing close to downtown would offer living space for low-income residents who work in the city. Without this housing, low-income families are forced to move toward the outskirts of the city, which worsens the city’s socioeconomic divide. Additionally, this places the burden of commuting on the residents who are least able to afford it.
Residents do have some concerns that are worth consideration. The construction of City Place requires the destruction of several older houses that provide some historic value to the city. But if City Council is going to prioritize the preservation of these houses, it should have found an alternate location for de Parry to build. Such concerns shouldn’t be placed above the needs of low-income citizens.
The city needs to work harder to provide housing for all types of residents, including low-income families and students. City Council should keep everyone’s housing needs in mind to avoid botching proposals for affordable housing in the future.