Committee to present recommendations for improving housing affordability and accessibility in Ypsi

The city of Ypsilanti's Affordability and Accessibility Committee will make 11 recommendations, based on over two years of research and community feedback, to the city's planning commission tonight at 7 p.m. during a virtual meeting.


The Affordability and Accessibility Committee was formed in early 2018 during the process of revising the city's master plan. The committee spent about two and a half years researching and seeking community feedback. The group distributed one survey asking about 600 residents and landlords about housing costs, and another survey on strategies and solutions to address the city's affordable housing crisis.


Committee member Desirae Simmons says the 11 recommendations being brought to the planning commission include "a variety of things city council could do on its own right away" as well as some that would "take some time and support from council and might take more community advocacy, and advocacy at the state level."


During a housing committee forum in May 2019, the group shared data that showed 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.


Committee member Heidi Jugenitz says the group doesn't have updated numbers from 2020, but based on national surveys of similar data, "housing costs are going to continue to creep up."


Past reports from the committee show that 90% of Ypsi's housing stock was built pre-1990, which is the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was established. Two-thirds of survey respondents reported that their homes have no accessibility features, and many respondents reported that this had affected their quality of life.


"It's a natural pairing, because many people with disabilities also face economic discrimnation and are not in a position to pay a lot for housing," Jugenitz says. "It makes sense to pursue these issues together."


Committee members asked the community to comment on 26 proposed strategies for affordable and accessible housing, and they narrowed the suggestions down to 11. The final recommendations were grouped into three main areas: renters' rights, sustainable development, and need-based assistance.


In the area of renters' rights, the housing committee will recommend the planning commission adopt an ordinance around tenant right of first refusal, meaning tenants have the opportunity to buy the property they inhabit from an owner who wishes to sell it. The committee will also recommend a "just cause" ordinance so that tenants can't be evicted or denied the chance to renew a lease unless the landlord can provide a legal reason for doing so.


In the area of sustainable development, the committee will recommend creation of an affordability and accessibility ordinance that defines parameters for affordability and accessibility based on Ypsi's median income, rather than Washtenaw County's median income. The committee also wants that ordinance to require new housing developments that receive public funding to set aside money for the city's Housing Trust Fund. Another recommendation is that a homeless shelter be built in the city, since there is no homeless shelter for adults on the east side of Washtenaw County.


The committee also will suggest that the city establish a community land trust to help with sustainable development. Community land trusts are community-based nonprofits meant to promote community stewardship of land. They can be used for many types of development but are typically used to promote housing affordability.


In the area of needs-based assistance, the committee will suggest the planning commission look into assisting low-income residents with homebuying by offering credit improvement or mortgage assistance. The committee also recommends the city adopt a program to provide assistance with home repairs like roof replacement and electrical upgrades for eligible low-income or disabled residents, along with remediation for lead and mold.


The committee also recommends that zoning ordinances relax limits on unrelated adults who can live in the same dwelling to allow up to two unrelated persons per bedroom to live in the same dwelling. The current limit is three unrelated adults per dwelling.


On the advocacy, lobbying, and partnership front, the committee would like to lobby state lawmakers to repeal the prohibition on municipal rent control. Its members would also like to see Eastern Michigan University invest in affordable housing.


"We're asking the university to invest in an Ypsilanti Housing Trust Fund, since they have a role in driving up [housing] costs," Simmons says, adding that such a partnership would also benefit faculty and students living in Ypsi.


Jugenitz says it was helpful to have the 2013 master plan to ground the committee's work.


"That master plan stated clearly that one of the core values of the city was that no matter the age or income level, anybody can find a place to live in Ypsilanti," Jugenitz says. "Housing affordability is relative to a local population, and that's an important idea to integrate into these conversations."


The agenda and information packet for tonight's planning commission meeting are available here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.