This week, I am sponsoring a resolution that would put an affordable housing millage on the ballot in November 2020. The language of the resolution was confirmed and sent to staff (with direction to put on our agenda “ASAP”) on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, it was not added to our agenda until Thursday afternoon. I was disappointed by this late timing – members of Council read about this millage in local media before it was added to our agenda for review. This resolution could (and should) have been added to our agenda in time for my colleagues to submit written questions about it. Discussion and debate of this millage at our meeting will inevitably be longer because my colleagues received it so late.
The full text of the resolution can be found here:
Ann Arbor should see an extremely high turnout of voters in the November election, so a ballot question about an affordable housing millage (DC-6) will be answered by many. I believe this is the best time to accurately measure support for the idea. I cosponsored this resolution because I also see an opportunity for meaningful community conversation between now and November. Given the current economic crisis, this may be the best time for serious debate of the issue.
I appreciate that our local taxes and fees negatively impact many residents and this may be true now more than ever. City Council is well aware of this problem: in light of the recent economic downturn, Council recently approved a policy to allow late payment of property taxes without penalty. I realize, also, that an additional millage to support “affordability” will have the opposite effect for some. Council has already asked staff to evaluate how we can increase access to our poverty exemptions – I am hopeful that in the next few months we can develop policies to protect residents who legitimately struggle to pay taxes and fees.
A local housing advocate presented this millage idea to me with explanation about how past efforts have failed. We have not come close to meeting affordable housing goals set in 2015 because we have mostly relied on the market for solutions. Expansion and growth in market rate housing supply does not (and will not) create housing for anyone at lower incomes. Market-rate developments that offer affordable units/revenue (i.e. individual projects pitched by developers) mostly provide limited short-term benefits with long-term trade-offs.
Market-rate developments that include affordable units (or contributions) are typically not the most intentional or sensitive to local needs. Often, the units/contributions are an afterthought: limited affordable housing benefits are a way of leveraging generalized support for a plan that has serious problems or meets significant local opposition. In balancing short term benefits and long term trade-offs, affordable housing has become a political football. City Council saw this most recently when we were asked to approve dense senior housing (Lockwood) on top of monitoring wells for the Gelman Plume. A bad idea for development does not become a good idea just because some affordable housing is added to the equation.
This millage is a statement: we cannot continue to rely on the market to provide affordable housing in our community. Revenue from this millage will help Ann Arbor plan and fund solutions that are intentional and sensitive to local needs.
City Council is currently planning to develop a number of City owned properties for affordable housing – our Housing Commission has analyzed each property, identifying which are most suitable for development. Recommendations from our Housing Commission and feedback from the community will help us balance ongoing benefits and trade-offs. Revenue from this millage will support our efforts moving forward: pursuing affordable housing goals thoughtfully and strategically.
The proposed language to be placed on the ballot:
Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a new tax up to 1.000 mills for construction, maintenance, and acquisition of new affordable housing units for low-income individuals and families making less than 60% Ann Arbor Area Median Income, and for providing social services for the residents of such housing for 2021 through 2041, which will raise in the first year of levy the estimated revenue of $6,550,505. In accordance with State law, a portion of the millage may be subject to capture by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
As written, the millage would fund the development of housing for people earning up to 60% AMI, which describes a household where adults are working full-time jobs: 60% AMI is $42,540 for a one-person household and $48,600 for a two-person household. The original draft of the millage (written by community advocates) did not include any reference to “social services” – the phrase “and for providing social services for the residents of such housing” was added this week.
It is important to me that the primary intent and purpose of this millage is clear to everyone who sees it on the ballot: developing and acquiring additional units of affordable housing. The money we dedicate to that purpose will leverage more funding – every dollar spent on development/acquisition will count as “local contribution” which helps us access significant federal subsidies. Funding for social services is not as likely to leverage more funding, especially at income levels as high as 60% AMI.
I feel strongly about clarifying intended use of this millage revenue, putting clear language on the ballot for voters to see. A previous Council made the mistake of relying on a non-binding resolution of intent as adequate “notice” to voters. I do not want to repeat that mistake. I know, also, how much these issues have been weaponized, to prevent meaningful debate. It is necessary to have ballot language that is clear and specific about use of the funds, i.e. how much will be spent on construction, maintenance, and acquisition as compared to spending on social services. I have asked staff about setting a ‘cap’ on millage revenue dedicated to social services funding and I am told that such an idea is not unreasonable.
I expect to hear a range of opinions from my colleagues this week, as we consider the idea of putting this millage on the ballot in November. I have heard community members suggest that this idea is being floated suddenly, without warning and without much public input. I don’t disagree, particularly insofar as the whole of City Council received it very late. However, I do believe that a ballot question like this is the definition of public input. We have three months to discuss, as a community, the value and the consequences of approving this millage. I encourage anyone wishing to express support (or concerns) to reach out to your Council Member before Monday night.