The bus sped away into the night, leaving its passengers stranded in its dust. Huddled in the frigid air, the six forsaken men glanced around at the place they would come to know as the Delonis Center. In front of them stood the center, full of other transplanted homeless people; behind them was their rights and dignity. With no other option, they made their way inside. Once in, they were met by scores of others in their exact situation: loaded into cars, taxis and buses, and deserted at the center.

This isn’t an isolated scenario in some distant city; this is the reality of winter nights here in Ann Arbor.

Whether or not we’d like to admit it, Ann Arbor has a homelessness problem. However, unlike most cities, Ann Arbor’s situation isn’t a result of the misfortune of its own residents. In fact, the number of homeless Washtenaw County residents decreased by 24 percent between 2013 and 2015, and Washtenaw County aims to eliminate veteran homelessness by next year through cataloging the county’s homeless citizens and matching them with housing options.

So where are Ann Arbor’s homeless coming from?

Unfortunately, many communities in Southeast Michigan bus their homeless residents to Ann Arbor’s homeless and warming centers in a practice known as “Greyhound therapy.” Ann Arbor’s shelters, while adequately funded and well staffed, just do not have the bottomless pockets needed to continue accommodating these newcomers.

Once homeless people arrive in Tree Town, a daunting environment greets them, due mainly to the fact that Ann Arbor is one of the most expensive cities in the state. Necessities — food, water and clothing — are undoubtedly more costly than where they came from.

In a similar vein, housing in the city is famously known to be costly. According to Zillow.com — an online service that provides users with information on housing information such as market price and past sales — the average home in Ann Arbor costs more than $300,000. Rent is similarly pricey, making it nearly impossible for a displaced homeless person to establish a foothold in the city.

So what can be done to tackle this issue?

It turns out that the state of Michigan makes it very hard for local governments to easily offer affordable housing. For example, the Leasing of Private Residential Property Act of 1988, which is still an active Michigan law, states that local municipalities do not have the right to “enact, maintain, or enforce an ordinance or resolution that would have the effect of controlling the amount of rent charged.”

In effect, Michigan cities cannot force developers to follow rent-controlled policies. This prohibits the city from keeping rents at the level it deems appropriate and instead allows people’s lives to be dictated by the hand of the market.

This total ban of rent control is relatively common and isn’t inherently bad. Rent-controlled units offer little incentive for landlords to do renovations, and decrease property tax-revenues. Therefore, housing shortages can arise as the demand for low-priced housing outpaces the supply. However, when a complete ban on rent control is coupled with the fact that the state also bans mandatory inclusionary zoning, we arrive at Ann Arbor’s current affordable housing crisis.

Mandatory inclusionary zoning means that city governments can mandate that housing developers designate a percentage of their units for low-income residents. While not the foolproof solution to the city’s housing crisis, this effort is a practical way to begin the process. Yet when bills in support of mandatory inclusionary zoning reach the floor, they don’t make it out of committee — perhaps because they’re seen as creating an unfavorable climate for business as developers have no choice but to accept the lost revenue from not being able to rent their unit at market price.

A more popular alternative to mandating inclusionary zones is building government housing for low-income residents, commonly known as Section 8 housing. However, it’s been shown that when applying to jobs, residents of such low-income neighborhoods are discriminated against due to what’s commonly referred to as postcode discrimination.

Unlike government housing, inclusionary zones force developers to integrate units for low-income residents into the properties that house people who aren’t homeless, allowing people to free themselves of the discrimination that comes with living in neighborhoods exclusively designated to homeless populations. Additionally, the prohibition of inclusionary zoning often leads to economic segregation, a small tax base, underfunded schools and, consequently, few opportunities to improve and break this cycle.

Furthermore, many of the United States’ lowest income earners are minorities. Inclusionary zoning allows for not only more economically diverse neighborhoods, but also for ones that are more ethnically diverse.

With the existing property laws in place, Ann Arbor — like all municipalities in Michigan — is left with the option to implement what’s known as voluntary inclusionary zoning, a policy that allows the city to offer incentives to developers who build low-income units. While this is better than nothing, it isn’t enough. Legislative action must be taken to allow for cities to implement mandatory inclusionary zoning and rent control, but this requires a concerted effort to show Lansing that people are in support of the change.

It’s our job as residents of Ann Arbor to protect the city’s less fortunate, to end the bussing of homeless people and to stand up for affordable housing. This can be achieved by a myriad of methods — from voting for candidates who champion affordable housing measures to contacting our representatives to taking to the streets yourself.

We must push for change because we are the voice for the voiceless.

Jason Rowland is an LSA freshman.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.