Wednesday, September 20, 2017

March to protest racist flyers and graffiti tonight at U of M

Since September 1st there have been three major racist incidents at U of M. On September 1st incoming Latinx students painted The Rock cultural expressions of pride and community. Within 24 hours someone had painted "fuck Latinos" over it. On September 16th someone posted flyers that said "free Dylan Roof. On September 17th racist graffiti was found on the doors of three black students in West Quad. In response to these incidents there will be a march tonight from the steps of the Union to the President's House. The march will start at 7:30 pm and attendees are asked to arrive punctually.

Get critical with Nerd Nite tomorrow

Nerd Nite 48 is tomorrow at LIVE. Jessica Letaw will be speaking on architecture. Lindsay Blackwell will give a presentation on harassment in online communities. And Sara Wedell is going to connect our 21st President, Chester A. Arthur, to the Arthurian Legend. Sounds like a great evening.

Doors are at 6:30 and presentations start at 7. There is no cover thanks to the AADL.

Ypsilanti City Council votes to enter purchase agreement with International Village for Water Street

At 12:58 AM after 30 public comments as well as 29 comments at a public hearing Ypsilanti City Council voted 4 to 1 to 2 enter into a purchase agreement with International Village for the Water Street Property. Council members Beshert, and Vogt, as well as Mayor Pro Tem Brown, and Mayor Edmonds voted for the purchase agreement. Council member Richardson voted against the motion and council members Robb, and Murdock voted to abstain.

This means that the City of Ypsilanti and International Village are going to enter into a purchase agreement to ratify a development agreement with the city by December 31st. We will have more on this story as it develops.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Water Street Update

HRC Commissioner Amber Fellows addresses the audience at the Freight House last night

Note: tonight's Ypsilanti City Council Meeting will be held in the Ypsilanti Freighthouse in anticipation of a large crowd.

Last night about 160 people attended Ypsilanti City Council's meeting to discuss the International Village Development and Affordable Housing. The meeting was held at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse to accommodate the large crowd. At the meeting there was a presentation from 3 members of the Human Relations Commission (HRC), Kyle Hunter, KaRon Gaines, and Amber Fellows. The commissioners outlined their objections to the International Village Development and their feelings like the citizens of Ypsilanti have not been included enough in the decision making process. Commissioner Fellow's brought forward some particularly good statistics: Ypsilantians are young (median age 25) and predominantly renters (67%). Based on last night's meeting many of those young renters don't feel like their voices have been heard by the City. They don't feel like the proposed Water Street development will benefit them. Worse, they worry it will do them harm by drawing wealthier people in from outside the community and driving up the cost of goods and services.

The presentation from the HRC Commissioners was fallowed by a public commentary period in which 44 people spoke. This number includes 6 people who spoke both during the main public hearing and at the public commentary at the end of the meeting. By my estimate between 2/3 and 3/4 of those who spoke were opposed to the current proposal and 1/4 to 1/3 were in support. People who spoke against the proposal sighted the fact that they felt the process had been moving too quickly. They also are worried that the development is not for the current residents of Ypsilanti and that it will lead to the eventual displacement of vulnerable residents. People who spoke in favor of the current proposed development sighted the fact that the developer is willing to cover the estimated $8 million to $10 million in remediation costs. They also argued the current proposal would help improve the city's financial stability. The people who spoke in favor of the development also expressed that they felt it was the best opportunity the city had to begin to put the Water Street debacle in the past.

Last night during the meeting I tweeted Murph to ask him what he thought of induced demand for high end housing as a mechanism for gentrification. In other words, the idea that building a new development targeting wealthy outsiders would lead to gentrification. Here is his response from the email he sent me:

Ypsilanti is facing a lot of demand pressure against a static housing stock. Absent new housing units, prices will go -- are going -- up.

I expect International Village to *increase* affordability in a couple of ways, starting within a year after construction:

First, it would eliminate the Water Street debt retirement millage (by covering the payments through its own tax revenue) and likely significantly reduce the police/fire pension millage as well as the infrastructure surcharge on water bills, reducing total housing costs on residents (and businesses) citywide. This is obviously significant for homeowners, who see those tax bills directly, but renters pay the taxes as well -- my estimate is about 1/3 of rent checks go to covering the taxes.

Second, while some of the IV’s residents, especially in rental housing, would be new to Ypsilanti, others would be existing residents moving from other rental options, or would be incoming students who chose to live there over other Ypsi options. This introduction of a huge amount of supply would drive up vacancies and reduce rents in other housing around the city. (This happened in 2005, when Peninsular Place Apartments opened, and IV would apparently be several times as large.)

Now, I think what you're calling induced demand is a longer-term phenomenon: turning that site from a vacant brownfield to a new neighborhood of a couple thousand residents means downtown business can be supported; retail on site (a grocery store especially!) makes it appealing to live nearby; new revenues to the city, AAATA, the library allows service increases, and all of this supports increased investment.

Of course, most of this is in no way unique to International Village -- it would apply to any significant development on Water Street. But from what I've seen in the news and council packets, the IV proposal brings a much greater ratio of financial benefit: since the developers propose doing remediation and infrastructure themselves, rather than through a TIF, IV would bring greater affordability benefits to citywide residents than a proposal which did use those tools.

Ypsilanti City Council has a big decision to make tonight. Do they enter into a purchase agreement for the International Village Development and risk alienating a large group of citizens? Or, do they decline the purchase offer and wait for who knows how long to find another buyer.

Come Celebrate Ypsilanti Fall River Day this Sunday at Riverside Park

Gentle reader, are you looking for a great way to ring in the fall? Look no further than Ypsilanti Fall River Day this Sunday. This event has everything: kayak rentals, birds of prey, nature walks, fishing, cider, and donuts. It'll be a great time. On a personal note, I was appointed to the Ypsilanti Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this year, so if you do come to this event, it will make me very, very happy.

Ypsilanti Fall River Day is this Sunday, September 24th from noon to 3 pm in Riverside Park.

Monday, September 18, 2017

#a2council preview

Gentle readers, today is a great day for public meetings. Not only is there a special meeting to discuss the International Village Development and affordable housing tonight in Ypsi, but there is also a regular meeting of the Ann Arbor City Council.

One thing that pops out on tonight's #a2council agenda is B-2/Public Hearing-2 on An Ordinance to Amend Section 9:70 of Chapter 108 (Disorderly Conduct) of Title IX of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Ordinance No. ORD-17-16). This ordinance would amend the portion of the Disorderly Conduct statute that deals with solicitation and it specifically looks aimed at curtailing some forms of panhandling. Specifically this would ban solicitation in the following areas, in addition to placing other restrictions on solicitation:

At the Blake Transit Center;
In any public parking structure & within 12 feet the entrance/exit to any public parking structure;
In any public alley & within 12 feet of any entrance/exit to any public alley;
Within 12 feet of a bank or automated teller machine;
By moving to within 2 feet of the person solicited, unless that person has indicated that he/she wishes to be solicited;
By knowingly making a false or misleading representation in the course of a solicitation;
Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Nickels Arcade;
Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Galleria;
Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Pratt Building;
Within 12 feet of the entrance to or exit from the Ann Arbor District Library;
Any of these restrictions is likely a reasonable time, place, manner restriction on free speech (panhandling). Though when they are all combined, I wonder how much of downtown will be open to panhandling if this ordinance passes.

Gentle readers, have you had a chance to look at tonight's #a2council agenda? What are items are you most interested in?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Two meetings on Water Street's International Village project this week in Ypsi

There are two public meeting this week to discuss the proposed International Village project on the Water Street property in Ypsilanti. The first meeting is to discuss the development and affordable housing, it will be at the Freight House tomorrow (Monday the 18th) starting at 7. The process that lead to Monday's meeting was somewhat contentious. For more on that, read Nathanel Romero's article. On Tuesday the 19th, during Ypsilanti City Council's regularly scheduled meeting there will be a presentation from International Village and a resolution to enter into a purchase agreement with them for the Water Street Property. You can read about it in the meeting package here.

In Ypsi, a debate has emerged between some affordable housing advocates who are worried the proposed International Village Development will lead to the displacement of low-income renters. Average rents are increasing faster than wages in Ypsilanti. The affordable housing advocates fear the International Village development will do nothing to revers these trends. Worse, they worry that the development may drive rents up by drawing in wealthy new residents.

For the city, the International Village Development represents a real opportunity to increase the tax base and to finally have something built on the Water Street Property. State law makes it so that property taxes on existing properties cannot go up more than the rate of inflation. So, municipal income is largely flat year to year. Unfortunately, healthcare costs and pension costs, two major components of municipal expenses, tend to increase at rates higher than that of inflation. Thus, if a city wants to do more than tread water, or slowly sink into debt, it needs new construction which allows property taxes to increase to market rates.

At these upcoming meetings, it will be interesting to see if these two sides can reach some meaningful accord in terms of affordable housing and development of the Water Street Property. What Ypsilanti needs now is a little creativity and compassion to figure out how the city can grow and welcome new residents without displacing the folks who already live here.

A crime caper on Ann Arbor Stories

Gentle readers, you will have to forgive my tardiness in posting this. This week's Ann Arbor Stories tells the tale of William Douglas Street. In his day, Street was a scholar, baseball player, football player, TIME writer, doctor, lawyer, doctor again, marathon runner, and part-time defense contractor. He was also a conman who specialized in adopting new personas. Street's shenanigans earned him the nickname "The Chameleon" and a federal prison sentence.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How a resolution to hold a hearing on affordable housing at Water Street became a flashpoint for controversy

A rendering of a potential site-plan for the International Village project. From the Water Street 120 Day Update.
Editor's note: This article is by guest contributor Nathanael Romero. Nathanael is an Ypsilanti resident and a member of Defend Affordable Ypsilanti, a group which advocates for housing affordability in the city.
This is the story of how a recommendation from the City of Ypsilanti Human Relations Commission forced City Council members to articulate divergent views on how to address affordable housing in Ypsilanti.

For a while now, many in Ypsi have felt a growing sense of tension around the issues of gentrification and affordability, especially in the wake of a string of new businesses opening during the winter and spring of this year and sparking fears of Ann Arbor spillover. While these controversies have played out most notably on social media, they have also has also taken shape within local government, particularly in the wake of the proposed International Village development at Water Street. On May 23rd, City Council accepted a letter of intent for the development of a mixed-use community on the remaining 26 undeveloped acres of the Water Street property. That letter of intent set in motion a 120-day due diligence period. As we come to the close of the that period, a controversy has been brewing about whether the development could potentially help or harm housing affordability in Ypsilanti.

On August 28th, the Ypsilanti Human Relations Commission (HRC) passed a recommendation that “City Council hold a public meeting specific to the International Village Development and affordable housing upon completion of the due diligence period and prior to the approval of a purchase agreement.” This recommendation was passed unanimously by the HRC and it went up to vote by City Council at its most recent public meeting on September 5. The resolution passed in City Council by a vote of 4 to 3, but not without controversy and heated discussion among council members (audio of that discussion can be found here). Mayor Amanda Edmonds and Ward 2 council members Beth Bashert and Dan Vogt expressed support for a public hearing concerning International Village, but they were averse to holding the meeting with a specific discussion of affordable housing. They ultimately were the three who voted against the resolution.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

White Supremacists recruiting on Eastern's Campus

Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group, has been active in Ypsilanti recently. Last week they were posting about the Civil War Memorial in Ypsilanti's Highland Cemetery. (Interestingly, that Civil War Memorial was intentionally placed over the graves of both black and white Civil War vets.) Today, it looks like members of Identity Evropa have been engaging in a stickering campaign on Eastern's Campus.

We know that white supremacist groups are trying to recruit on campuses this fall. It's important that we as a community band together to support vulnerable members and groups in the face of racism.

Photo via: Ta'Te Hinds.