Ypsilanti housing forum presents startling data and possible solutions on affordability

The city of Ypsilanti's current master plan says that "Anyone of any age or income can find a place to live in Ypsilanti."


"That didn't seem radical at the time, but today, it's something that's very much in threat of not being true," said Heidi Jugenitz, a member of the city's Affordability and Accessibility Committee, during a housing forum the committee hosted May 2 at Riverside Arts Center's Off Center.


The committee shared data collected from a recent study it conducted on housing in the Ypsi area. The committee surveyed about 600 residents, focusing on city residents but also including residents of Ypsilanti Township and Superior Township. The committee also interviewed local landlords.


Committee member Desirae Simmons noted that the survey was not scientific, and that certain groups are under- or over-represented in the data. For instance, about 26% of Ypsi residents are between the ages of 18 and 24, but only about 15% of respondents were in that age bracket. Similarly, about 30% of city residents are black, but only about 14% of respondents were black.


The survey found that about half of all households surveyed, including both homeowners and renters, are "cost-burdened," meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing-related costs, including insurance and utilities. About 27% of owner-occupied households are cost-burdened, while 59% of renter-occupied households are cost-burdened.


Accessibility is another increasingly important issue since Washtenaw County's senior population is expected to grow over the next 20 years.


Committee members noted that 90% of housing stock was built pre-1990, which is the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was established.


When asked which of a series of accessibility features their home has, with options ranging from ramps to wider doors and floor-level tub and shower entry, 62% responded with "none of the above."


Committee members talked briefly about affordability strategies and solutions that have been explored in other communities. Those included regulatory and legal changes, advising renters of their rights, and establishing a community land trust.


The forum ended with questions and feedback from about 40 community members who attended the housing forum. Questions ranged from how historic district regulations interact with accessibility issues to how caught up the city is on rental unit inspections.


One audience member suggested that Ypsi look into an intergenerational housing model used in some places in Europe. Instead of segregating students in one area and seniors in another, for instance, the intergenerational model would have seniors and college students living side by side, sharing skills and talents.


Committee members said the slideshow used at the housing forum and the collected survey data will be made public within the week on the committee's webpage.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Image courtesy of the Ypsilanti Affordability and Accessibility Committee.
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