Additional Thoughts (Sept 19, 2020) – Update: Meeting with UM About Housing

Sep 19, 2020 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Sept 19, 2020 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section


I look forward to introducing agenda item DC-4 on this week’s agenda.

DC-4 (20-1417) Resolution to Partner with The University of Michigan to Provide Emergency Shelter in Ann Arbor

Last week I wrote about it on my website:

In the last week, I have done more research about how other communities have made use of university housing to provide shelter to people in need. I’ve had conversations with staff from Sonoma State University (California) and the director of the Public Health Department in Boston, both of whom helped facilitate the public use of university campus housing in their respective communities. I’ve also gotten suggestions from local leaders about where and how such a program would be most useful, reassurances about plans already in place.

The original draft of this resolution lists several reasons why housing might be needed (e.g. the end of the moratorium on evictions, coming in December) but emphasizes capacity for shelter this winter. I plan to edit the resolution slightly to more strongly emphasize planning for a resurgence of the virus. I am told that under the current state of COVID risk, local resources are in place to provide shelter this winter that is safe, in spaces that are uncrowded. If conditions remain as they are now (i.e. there is no resurgence of the virus), our local support systems are prepared. We are ready for a winter season. For the purpose of providing non-congregant shelter, university housing would be less useful if it was only available on a short-term basis for the winter.

My resolution contemplates more than just the short season of winter— we face the possibility of a local outbreak serious enough that university housing would be vacated for an extended period of time. Under those circumstances – an outbreak that prompts the University to end in-person instruction – the need for housing would be significantly higher than now. In that case, university housing would be empty (and potentially available) for months, not weeks.

Suffolk University and Sonoma State University agreed to precisely such long-term arrangements with their respective communities this past spring, when it was clear that students would not be returning to campus for the remainder of the year. The Universities worked with local entities to repurpose empty campus housing for over four months; they arranged for the use of a dorms to provide housing for people in need from April to August (before students returned for the fall term).

My resolution proposes only that the City meet with the University of Michigan to discuss possibilities, options for “what if.” I’m optimistic that my colleagues will support the idea of a meeting. City staff report that it might take two or three months (or longer) to plan such an endeavor – if that’s true, there is even more reason to start talking sooner rather than later. I believe we should be more prepared (just in case) than we were in March.