The crowd at Monday night’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting measured in the hundreds — a stark difference to the usually meager attendance.

The majority of those in attendance came to speak out against proposed cuts to the Downtown Development Authority’s funding. Most of the protestors speaking out against the ordinance were from Dawn Farm, a transitional housing center for recovering substance addicts, which receives some funding from the DDA. Others came to speak out about similar concerns over the possibility of decreased funding for low-income and homeless housing. As of 2:20 a.m. Tuesday, the ordinance was still being debated.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilmembers Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) and Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), would mandate that a recent growth in tax increment funding — the increase in taxes from property development — should be reallocated to the city and other taxing, public entities rather than the DDA. Under the current law, the DDA receives a significant amount of the TIF funds, expected to grow to $4.8 million over the next two years.

While the proposal contains other changes, the reallocation of funding is the most significant — and controversial — change. The proposal states that surplus funds not used in compliance with the TIF plan must be refunded to individual taxing entities. Under the plan, cuts to the DDA would be very likely, if not inevitable, and many citizens are worried the cuts would directly affect the homeless through cuts to affordable and alternative housing like Dawn Farm.

Mayor John Hieftje said he believes the proposal is politically motivated, and he made it clear that he does not support the ordinance.

“This was bad legislation from the day it was proposed,” Hieftje said. “It’s almost like we’re trying to punish the DDA for creating one of the finest downtowns in the Midwest.”

Charles Coleman, transitional housing coordinator for Dawn Farm, told council members that out of the 150 people in the Dawn Farm program at 13 sites, roughly 120 were in the audience to support their cause on Monday. Many of them addressed council at the podium in a public hearing that lasted hours.

Coleman said he believes Kunselman and Kailasapathy harbor misconceptions about the DDA.

“I think the misconception that a couple of our council members have is that the DDA just deals with parking and infrastructure,” Coleman said. “They’re more than that: (They handle) affordable housing, funding for the arts, maintaining streets. They do a lot of wonderful things.”

Coleman added that he thinks the council delayed the vote scheduled for Monday due to the overwhelming disapproval of the ordinance voiced at the meeting.

“I thought it was kind of a strategic move that they postponed this vote tonight, knowing that they would have this huge turnout,” Coleman said. “They couldn’t vote with a conscience tonight knowing they have this much community support for this entity. … I hope (at the next meeting) they will vote with their consciences and with their hearts.”

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, noted that there are two to three times more homeless people in Ann Arbor now than there were over a decade ago. She said she doesn’t understand how affordable housing will be funded if the DDA’s funding is cut.

“The DDA has been the biggest financial supporter of affordable housing in this town over the past 20 years,” Steiner said. “The argument is that you’re going to take the money away from the DDA and put it back in the city budget … then what — in terms of affordable housing?”

While the DDA doesn’t fund all affordable housing in Ann Arbor, it does help subsidize affordable housing projects, helping them maintain lower rates than if the funding wasn’t available.

Many advocates from Camp Take Notice, a program not funded by the DDA that previously provided a campsite with tents to the homeless in Ann Arbor, came to voice their disapproval of the ordinance. While the program isn’t currently active, Caleb Poirier, founder of Camp Take Notice, said they hope to have a campsite in the city this summer that is near the Ann Arbor Transit Authority’s bus lines.

Poirier said the homeless are often not visible to the average citizen.

“Sometimes during the daytime, we get cleaned up and don’t want to be recognized as such, so that’s why the homeless population isn’t necessarily visible to the middle class,” Poirier said. “The middle class … doesn’t realize when they are zipping by a bridge that people are living under it.”

In response to the barrage of public comments, Kunselman steadfastly defended his proposed ordinance. His main argument is that these funds can be better allocated by the city and individual entities rather than the DDA, and that the proposed increase of roughly $1 million in funds to the DDA in fiscal year 2015 is completely unnecessary.

Kunselman added that while he understands the place the DDA holds in the city, he questions whether it’s the appropriate vehicle for allocating many of these funds.

“It’s a great reflection of what we all do believe, and that is that the DDA is a great institution for the city of Ann Arbor,” Kunselman said. “That being said, the issues that we are discussing have to do with future tax dollars that should be directed to the city and the taxing authorities that also need them.”

Councilmember Jane Lumm (I-Ward 2) said she believes the rhetoric has risen to a highly “uncivil level,” and she said she believes Mayor Hieftje is off-base in suggesting that Kunselman’s motives for this legislation are purely political.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor (D-Ward 3) said while the ordinance would not be the “death nail” to the DDA, he believes the legislation, as is, would be harmful.

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