Three affordable housing developments set to open soon in Ypsi

As housing and rent costs continue to soar across the country, developers in Ypsilanti are working to address a shortage of affordable new units – and, in one case, open the door to home ownership for residents.
As housing and rent costs continue to soar across the country, developers in Ypsilanti are working to address a shortage of affordable new units – and, in one case, open the door to home ownership for residents. Three affordable developments are slated to open soon in the city, and city officials are working to ensure that developers not only have sufficient funding, but that their projects meet Ypsi residents’ needs.

Huron Vista and the Residences at Huron

California-based affordable housing developer Lincoln Avenue Communities is bringing its mission of "developing quality, affordable homes while delivering social, environmental, and financial returns" to Ypsilanti through Huron Vista and the Residences at Huron. The two complexes will include over 300 apartments between 845 and 945 W. Clark Rd., which will begin to welcome residents this month. Lincoln Avenue Communities Vice President Kyle Brasser explains that the units at Huron Vista will be marketed toward families, while the Residences at Huron will be reserved for tenants 55 and older.

"The overall occupancy rate in Ypsi and broadly throughout Washtenaw County for apartments is very high. There aren’t a lot of additional options for renters," Brasser says. "We are providing a housing option that is designated as affordable and the rents are restricted, versus a market-rate development where people can charge whatever the market is willing to pay."

Although Lincoln Avenue Communities works to provide affordable housing across the country, Brasser says Ypsilanti's Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO) was a unique part of the development approval process here.
Doug CoombeHuron Vista and The Residences at Huron under construction on W. Clark Rd. in Ypsilanti.
"We always engage with the community on projects, but we went through the Community Benefits Ordinance process, which helped shape our plans from an early point," he says. "The level of public engagement that took place on these developments was greater than what I often see."

The CBO process Brasser mentions was adopted in 2018 after being brought to Ypsilanti City Council by local citizen-led coalition Rising for Economic Democracy in Ypsi (REDY). It allows for all residents living within 1,000 feet of a proposed development to communicate directly with the city and developer to ensure the development benefits the surrounding area. The CBO considers whether a development will provide benefits such as access to recreational activities and spaces, sustainable energy usage, and employment opportunities. Former REDY organizer and current Ypsilanti City Council member Desirae Simmons explains that a major focus in the process is whether or not the development will be affordable to residents.

"We wanted a formal process that would require community voice to determine whether or not the development was good for Ypsi," Simmons says. "A lot of us in REDY saw and named affordability as a big part of the benefits we wanted to see, given our population."
Doug CoombeYpsilanti City Council member Desirae Simmons.
Simmons explains that she is working to update Ypsi’s CBO, following passage of a city council resolution that requires the process to take place whenever a new development is proposed. She says developers who have gone through the CBO process have found it to be "very helpful," and that it ultimately led to positive outcomes for the developers and Ypsi residents.

"A lot of the things we recommended were addressed – things like more housing for seniors, more affordable housing options, more supportive housing," Simmons says. "We care about Ypsi being a community that people want to live in, and we need to not push out people because of the fact they have low income."

206 Washington Street

Ann Arbor nonprofit Avalon Housing has also stepped up to offer more affordable options in Ypsi, expanding its reach into the city and township. City officials chose Avalon to determine the best next steps for 206 Washington Street, which will involve the demolition of the structurally unsound building currently on the property and replacing it with a three-story apartment building with 22 new units. Eight of those units will be "set aside as permanent supportive housing for those exiting homelessness," according to Avalon Senior Developer Michael Appel.

"Avalon has been around for just over 30 years, and the bulk of our work is in Ann Arbor, but it’s clear that the affordability challenges in Washtenaw extend beyond that," Appel says. "We’ve done projects in Chelsea and Dexter, and we’re really excited to work with the Ypsi community to provide affordable housing east of Ann Arbor just as we’ve provided it to the west."
courtesy Avalon HousingA rendering of future apartments at 206 Washington Street in Ypsilanti.
Avalon Real Estate Development Director Wendy Carty-Saxon explains that the development at 206 Washington is not Avalon’s first time working with Ypsi residents. Avalon currently helps Ypsi residents obtain private market housing vouchers on a regular basis. She, like Appel, is excited to offer physical space in Ypsilanti alongside the work the nonprofit already does with Ypsi residents.

"When we go into a community we haven’t had a physical presence in, it’s nice to have worked with the community and feel the interest there," Carty-Saxon says, referring to the city choosing Avalon as the affordable housing developer for 206 Washington. "That mutual interest in our coming here was a great opportunity to coordinate with the community and build relationships, which we want to continue with the building’s future residents."

Dorsey Estates

In Ypsi as in much of the rest of the country, high rents are accompanied by high home prices. Competitive pricing not only drives residents out of the cities where they grew up or work, but also makes it difficult for renters to begin the process of building wealth that can be passed down to their families. Ypsilanti-based developer Renovare Developments is working to address that challenge with its forthcoming Dorsey Estates project at 223 N. Park St. in Ypsi., set to open to residents in early fall.

Renovare Development Managing Partner Shannon Morgan says Dorsey Estates will offer 46 new units marketed to "a very diverse mix of incomes." Half of the offered cottages, townhomes, and condos will be "set aside to serve the 40-80% area median income," with the rest being sold "well under the cost of construction." Morgan says Renovare has done similar affordable housing projects in Benton Harbor, Harper Woods, and Marquette with the goal of making home ownership more accessible to long-time renters and first-time buyers.
Doug CoombeDorsey Estates at 223 N. Park St. in Ypsilanti under construction.
"When you look at national studies right now, especially when we talk about minorities that have been set aside, the biggest entryway to generational wealth-building is home ownership, and that’s not available to most people right now," Morgan says. "Home ownership may not be for everyone, but many people can’t even consider it right now because it’s not accessible."

In addition to participating in the CBO process, Morgan says Renovare will also be working with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to host a series of educational sessions on  topics such as down payment assistance, mortgage readiness, and finding housing vouchers when applicable throughout the community. She hopes programs like this will show attendees that home ownership is well within their reach, and make the process of purchasing one’s first home less confusing.

"What we’re really hoping is to reach deep into the community and offer new opportunities for folks looking for this pathway to own a home," Morgan says. "We want to provide education for those who do want to look into home ownership opportunities, but also to provide financial literacy."
Doug CoombeRenovare Development Managing Partner Shannon Morgan.
Simmons hopes that these projects will positively affect affordability, homelessness, and housing accessibility, and that more similar projects will follow in their wake.

"We need to understand that for the city to be stable you need people to feel stable. You need community members to feel stable in the community and care about what’s happening, and it’s hard to do that when people feel so housing insecure," Simmons says. "We need to have a way for people to transition from the different kinds of housing that we have in order to stay in this place and invest their time and energy into making this a strong community."

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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