November updates: Creating new housing opportunities
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Since my last newsletter, we wrapped up work under the previous council, and we held our first meeting with five new council members. Ann Arbor now has the most diverse City Council in our city’s history, and I’m proud to serve alongside my new colleagues, each of whom bring new skills, talents and perspectives to the work we do.
Preparing for new housing and economic development
The city’s Economic Development Corporation recently expanded its mission to move beyond simply issuing revenue bonds to becoming an advisory body to Council. I was appointed to the EDC earlier this year, and I brought forth the idea of conducting a sweeping review of our building and development processes in the city.
As we create opportunities for new housing to be built in the city through efforts like TC1 zoning, we must identify and rectify the ways in which our processes increase time and cost to build, thereby adding to the lack of affordability. I am also motivated by a desire to open up building opportunities to people who haven’t traditionally been “in the game” here.
Currently, building in Ann Arbor tends to be dominated by a handful of very large developers who have access to the kind of capital it takes to get through a long and costly development process. If we can bring the time and cost down, we can open up development opportunities to people who haven’t traditionally had access to large amounts of wealth and capital – smaller-scale developers, people of color and women. That’s my goal.
I’m pleased that the EDC recently voted to take this on as our first advisory task. Deputy City Administrator John Fournier is taking a lead role on this work, as part of a subcommittee that includes former City Council Member Sally Hart Petersen, Bank of Ann Arbor CEO Tim Marshall, Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Paul Krutko, and myself.
For this task, we will be interviewing residents, developers, people in the building trades, real estate agents, architects and others to find out where the pain points are in our development process and how we can improve. At the end, we will produce a series of recommendations for the City Administrator and Council. If you’d like to give input on the city’s development process, please let me know!
Creating new housing opportunities on the Stadium corridor
On Nov. 10, Council approved a rezoning of 190 properties to create opportunity for high-density, downtown-style development on Ann Arbor’s west side. This change has been a long time coming, as the transit zoning concept has been written into seven of our Comprehensive Planning documents over the past decade, all of which were based on extensive public participation. When I campaigned in 2020, and again when I knocked doors for candidates this year, I heard strong support for this concept among residents. We have a housing shortage caused by decades of restrictive zoning practices, and we must take bold steps like this to address it.
Protesting Blue Cross Blue Shield
In October, several council colleagues and I protested with the Defend Black Voters coalition against Blue Cross Blue Shield, Delta Dental and other corporations for funding state legislators and candidates who are working to suppress voter rights. Blue Cross Blue Shield is the top corporate contributor to right-wing, extremist lawmakers using the Big Lie as an excuse to pass restrictions that, by design, make it harder for Black and low-income Michiganders to vote.
While the city does currently have contracts with BCBS and Delta Dental, Council also recently voted to direct the city administrator to look into whether we can take a company’s political activity into consideration before approving future contracts. Specifically, we want to know if the city’s procurement policies could be updated to include an evaluation of whether a potential contractor’s political activities align with the company’s self-professed values.
It’s critical that our local tax dollars don’t fund efforts to undermine voter access or increase racial disparities. These aren’t mere partisan differences of opinion. The future of our democracy is at stake.
Rethinking the Seventh and Greenview reconstruction project
Recently I worked with residents in the Lawton neighborhood who were dissatisfied with a proposed plan to reconstruct S. Seventh Street from Scio Church to Delaware. This situation easily could have devolved into a struggle between residents who support bike lanes and residents who support on-street parking. However, by meeting with residents, we were able to find common ground and create a positive path forward. You can read the details in this story if interested, but the larger message is that I strongly believe in using data to inform decisions and ensuring that we’re following the best possible process – even if that means delaying a project for a bit so we can get it right.
Improving trust in government
The 2022 National Community Survey results are out, and I’m encouraged that in the two years since my progressive colleagues and I were elected to Council, the perception of city government has markedly improved.
A few data points from a recent article:
62% of residents surveyed offered positive ratings in terms of overall confidence in city government, up from 57% two years ago.
Positive feelings about the overall direction the city is taking have gone up from 58% to 66% since 2020.
Residents also view city hall as more trustworthy, with positive ratings for “being honest” rising from 60% to 64% and for transparency increasing from 53% to 61%.
About 63% of respondents also think the city is doing a good or excellent job of acting in the best interest of the community, up from 56% two years ago.
Expanding public comment
Council voted Nov. 10 to expand public comment at the beginning of our meetings, in order to make it more accessible to more residents.
We expanded the number of speakers from 10 to 15, up to a total of 45 minutes. Those who don’t get to speak before the 45-minute cutoff will be called on at the end of the meeting as long as they signed up through the city clerk’s office before 5 p.m. that day.
We also removed the restriction that speakers must address an item on the agenda. Now, if you have a general issue to bring to Council, you likely won’t have to wait until the end of the meeting as before.
Another change is that residents now have until 5 p.m. the day of the meeting to sign up to speak. Finally, we are continuing to allow residents to call in via Zoom, as that makes it much easier for people to engage with us and share their thoughts.
More Council resources
It's an honor to serve our city on Council. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out!