The affordable housing crisis has been a growing source of concern for for several years in Washtenaw County, and a new group has formed to organize community efforts and find solutions.
The group held its first meeting on Dec.1, advertised as a gathering for the "Washtenaw Housing Coalition," although the group has yet to formally agree on a name. The meeting was intended to bring together local residents and groups that are active in housing work in order to maximize and synthesize community efforts. Hosted by the Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America (HVDSA), the meeting was attended by members of roughly 30 organizations and constituencies such as MISSION, Ann Arbor YIMBY, Ypsi Gathering Space, and the Washtenaw County Democratic Party.
Central to this mobilization was Greg Pratt, a HVDSA member and recently appointed chair of the Ann Arbor Housing and Human Services Advisory Board. He and other members of the group’s planning committee determined it was important that they reach out to all community members invested in housing issues.
"There are other stakeholders in the community and we need the help of everyone working on this issue to identify what the problems are and what steps we need to take to address the issues we identify as a group," Pratt says. "Federal dollars are not increasing, but shrinking, and we’re just not getting ahead of the problem. So we need to bring more people in and put as many eyes on the issue as possible."
There were at least 70 sets of eyes at the meeting – twice as many as were initially expected. The meeting’s agenda involved four discussion stations with groups of 15-18 people from all sides of the affordable housing issue, openly discussing what can be done at different levels of government.
"It was especially satisfying and significant to see people from competing political factions sitting across from each other and talking things through, because the problems are so complex and multi-faceted," Pratt says.
The meeting’s notes will be available soon. From what Pratt has reviewed so far, there was a wide range of opinions on topics such as what to do about housing development and how to actually build and fund affordable housing with a comprehensive plan. Renters' rights also came up frequently.
Attendees knew they weren’t going to solve anything in a couple of hours.
"The coalition is early in the dialogue phase," says Pratt. "We didn’t come away with any specific plans or course of action. We are at the stage of deep listening without judgment and debate."
That said, the group definitely plans to work together in solidarity.
"The feeling in the room was that as we start identifying different projects or areas of actions that need to be addressed, different groups can show up at each others’ events to support each other in the future," says Pratt. "People across the spectrum agreed to work together to bring change, and I left the meeting with a renewed faith in our ability as a community to come together on the issue of housing.”
For more information about upcoming meetings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy of Greg Pratt.