Forget struggling with classes or trying to balance extracurricular activities, one of the most intimidating aspects of college is trying to find reasonably priced housing within walking distance of Central Campus. Across the city, exorbitant rent has left students and permanent residents in a tough financial spot. For residents, however, that problem could be alleviated if a new proposal to convert three downtown city parking lots into low-income housing is executed. More low-income housing for Ann Arbor residents is definitely a good thing, but the city shouldn’t forget about its students. Initiatives to provide students with the same kind of affordable housing should also be in the works.
Community development officials from the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County recently proposed conversion of three parking lots to create between 60 and 100 low-income units. These units would be targeted at people who make 10 to 15 percent of the area’s median income of $51,232. That would include many of the permanent city residents unable to afford the rising rent across the city. Though expected to cost between $6.3 and $14.7 million, federal tax credits would cover approximately 80 percent of building expenses – and the city has students to thank for that.
The city is eligible for much of its federal funding due to the fact that students are included in the federal census. The presence of students makes the average city income appear lower than it actually is because many students are dependent on their parents and, on paper, have no income. This lowers the city’s average income and the city can receive more federal dollars. So if the city is going to profit from the presence of students in Ann Arbor, students should be benefiting as well.
Though rising rent is the result of students’ willingness to pay up, what students really need is affordable housing close to campus. And recent developments like 601 Forest have done little to ease the pressure on students’ bank accounts or demonstrate that the city is ready to get serious about affordable housing. It’s time for the city to step in and give students the same options it wants to give residents — after all, the students are partly the cause of these federal dollars.
Ann Arbor residents and students all need and deserve more low-income housing. Close, affordable housing has benefits of all sorts. In cities like Ann Arbor, limited mass transit options necessitate living close to the city. Low-income families can’t afford to move further out to find lower rent when they still have to commute to the city. Plus, if financially disadvantaged people are forced to live further and further away from campus it segregates Ann Arbor by income. Local, affordable housing also has other advantages, like decreasing the need for car traffic, clearing busy streets and helping the environment.
The proposal could provide some residents with the housing they need. But that only solves part of the problem — students make up an important part of the city and their needs have to be considered. The city government should spend some of those federal dollars on helping us out, too.