People Over Profits

Jul 10, 2022 | City Council

I published this in my “A2Council Update” newsletter on July 9, 2022

At this week’s Council meeting, advocates for municipal public power reminded us: the best public policy should counteract (rather than reinforce) the already powerful influence of corporate and profit interests. I was pleased to see agenda item MC-1 – a Mayoral appointment of a DTE employee to the City’s Energy Commission – removed from our agenda.

The DTE company already has quite a loud voice in our local policymaking. In the A2ZERO Carbon Neutrality plan, DTE is listed fifteen times under “Collaborators/Project Co-designers”; however, the City’s relationship with DTE is also adversarial. The City has spent thousands on litigation, working to extract public benefits from DTE through the Michigan Public Service Commission. I believe that our Energy Commission is where we should elevate the voices of community members with expertise, rather than DTE. The priorities of DTE do not align with our City’s priorities.

On Thursday night, I attended the first meeting of the new Renter’s Commission, where we discussed aspects of our rental market that hurt tenants. Among the topics raised at that meeting:

  • A Right to Renew (or Just Cause for Eviction) ordinance
  • Inspections
  • Deposits and waiting lists
  • Violations of the Fair Housing Act
  • Inappropriate fees
  • Classification and exemptions applied to “owner-occupied” units
  • Green Rental Housing task force
  • Eviction statistics

In this area of policy, also, we must acknowledge where financial and corporate interests do not align with the public interest.

Last month, a local landlord sent me a scan of a postcard he had received from Oxford Companies. I have since confirmed that other landlords received it as well:

Oxford Properties Ann Arbor postcard offering landlords help to increase rents July 2022

This is an invitation to all local landlords to use Oxford for property management of rental units, with explanation that they already “manage more than 900 beds on campus”.

One part of this postcard was alarming to me and also shocked the person who sent it to me:

VALUE: We help clients increase rents, reduce expenses, and drive the values of their properties.

In the last two years, we have all seen how property values and rent have skyrocketed in Ann Arbor — I haven’t met anyone who sees this as a public value in the public interest. This postcard highlights and underlines: the goals and priorities of financial and corporate interests are often in direct conflict with the goals and priorities of the broader community.

When elected leaders talk about affordability and strategies for addressing it, there is a clear divide between people who seek to expand and empower market forces and those of us who advocate for stronger, government-led interventions. I pushed for regulation and restrictions on short-term-rentals (Airbnb) because this business model drives up the value of residential properties and displaces year-round tenants. Similarly, I cosponsored the Affordable Housing Millage because it is a direct intervention that will build below-market-rate rental housing on City-owned properties.

In the last week, several residents have reached out to tell me about displays of political yard signs they now see at Oxford-owned properties on Eisenhower, South Main, and on Industrial (in front of the CTN studios that broadcast our City meetings). These signs regularly appear during our local election cycles, but this year, those signs have more significance.

Oxford Properties Ann Arbor with campaign signs for Christopher Taylor, Dharma Akmon, Cynthia Harrison July 2022

If you care about affordability in Ann Arbor and wonder who is most likely to promote policy in support of affordability, I urge you to notice who Oxford Companies supports in our local elections. A large company that offers to help raise rents is publicly promoting my opponent.

Below is a video that my son made, illustrating this issue.