Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

A 'Perfect Storm' Brewing?

17. June 2005 • Rob Goodspeed
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Let’s see:

  • There’s a new neighborhood association for students and renters.

  • Plenty of policy wonks with good ideas that are going ignored.

  • And now, a viable political candidate who shares their values.
  • Sounds like a recipe for change to me.

    > Read my complete analysis here.

    1. I just love the phrase ‘viable political candidate’... If I had a penny for all of the people who’ve ever said to me or about a Green: “I’d vote for you/them, but you/they can’t win”, I’d probably be a Republican…
         —Marc R.    Jun. 17 '05 - 03:34PM    #
    2. I didn’t mean anything against greens. By viable, I actually meant a student candidate a bit better than Rick Lax.
         —Rob    Jun. 17 '05 - 03:52PM    #
    3. The Republicans started out most “unviably” too.

      In the early 1850’s, certain “unviable” people were frustrated that no big party was fighting slavery.

      So they created the Republicans.

      Now nobody remembers that big “viable” party they replaced.

      (It was the Whigs.)

      The only big “viable” party in Italy was the Christian Democrats.

      Almost overnight, they sank under their own corruption.

      If you stand for the right thing, you’ll survive.

      If you wonder why I talk about Palestine so much, it’s because I know that big “viable” racists (like Israel, like Apartheid South Africa) really do get defeated.

      They have no long-term basis to command the loyalty of humanity.

      They may have 100% support in Congress, but they have no real friends, and they deserve none.

      One day, politicians will run from their past support for Israel.

      They’ll pretend that they supported Palestinian rights all along.

      Like Reagan and Bush (and Carter) pretending that they supported Civil Rights all along.

      Young would-be officeholders should remember that, when they’re asked to bad-talk Palestine, or to ignore its cries for help.

      It pays to stand up for what’s right.
         —Blaine (Palestine)    Jun. 17 '05 - 08:40PM    #
    4. “It pays to stand up for what’s right.”

      Wow, Blaine, then you stand to reap a huge windfall one day. You’ll be richer than Shylock!
         —DFM    Jun. 17 '05 - 08:54PM    #
    5. The Republicans started out most “unviably” too.

      Haven’t you noticed—the Republicans are unviable in Ann Arbor. Looks to me that when Mike Reid is gone, there simply is not going to be another Republican council member for years or decades. The people who used to run as Republicans have all figured out they might as well run as Democrats. Even when a council member manages to get elected as a Republican, they have no impact.

      So what we’re getting now, in effect, are primary elections that function as non-partisan elections followed by an all-but-pointless general election. Not a great form of democracy, but I suppose it beats all the council members being selected by the Democratic party hierarchy (which, at this point, is really the only other alternative).

      But a student running in the 2nd ward on a platform that includes re-opening the accessory apartment issue? Doesn’t sound like a winning formula to me…
         —mw    Jun. 18 '05 - 12:51PM    #
    6. Oh, and I imagine this kind of rhetoric will go over well with 2nd ward homeowners:

      Will [Ann Arbor] continue to be a diverse, multi-cultural community where arts and ideas flourish? Or will it be transformed into a commodified playground for wealthy bored people? ... Is urban apartheid part of our “Cool Cities” vision for Ann Arbor?

      Yep, turn out and vote for a candidate who thinks of you the way the Jacobins thought of members of the ancien regime or the way the ANC regarded the Afrikaners…
         —mw    Jun. 18 '05 - 01:08PM    #
    7. mw: Because, of course, June Gin (whom you’re quoting) and Eugene Kang (the 2nd Ward candidate) are the same person just because Rob mentioned them in the same post.

      (Okay, so maybe he should have had a paragraph break between the two topics. . . )
         —Murph.    Jun. 18 '05 - 01:59PM    #
    8. Because, of course, June Gin (whom you’re quoting) and Eugene Kang (the 2nd Ward candidate) are the same person just because Rob mentioned them in the same post.

      Oh, c’mon. They didn’t just ‘happen’ to be mentioned in the same post—he’s talking about them being part of the same ‘perfect storm’ of a new political movement:

      If they set their minds to it, students like Dale Winling, Eugene Kang, and June Gin and their supporters could begin to make this vision a reality.
         —mw    Jun. 18 '05 - 02:40PM    #
    9. You don’t recognize that there are always many voices within a group? I think the “perfect storm” metaphor is apt—several different systems of thought coming together to create a larger system?

      And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a 2nd Ward person bringing up ADUs. It’s a better, more honest strategy than its counterpart—promoting NIMBYism and high property values. First, it reintroduces the topic to the larger political conversation. That gives ADU supporters an opportunity to demonstrate the progress that has been made in implementing such measures in places like Santa Cruz and working from that knowledge base.

      ADUs will happen. It’s just a matter of who has the gumption to start the process.
         —Dale    Jun. 18 '05 - 03:23PM    #
    10. mw, you misrepresent what I said. I said, “Mentioned together does not equal same person.” You say I said, “Mentioned together does not mean any relationship in Rob’s mind.” Obviously, had I said what you want me to have said, I’d be wrong. Had I said what I actually said, I’d be correct. Ergo, I am correct. QED.

      I don’t mean to be too cranky. I just want to keep us on track here. Person X != Person Y.
         —Murph    Jun. 18 '05 - 05:51PM    #
    11. murph loses 10 points for using “ergo” and “QED” within three words of each other…

      mw still has something to prove…

      ari p.
         —Ari P.    Jun. 18 '05 - 06:22PM    #
    12. I don’t really like June Gin’s “Critical Moment”-style rhetoric being associated with Dale and Eugene either. Not to mention that she seems to think that “traffic, noise and crowding” are major problems associated with density.
         —ann arbor is overrated    Jun. 18 '05 - 09:49PM    #
    13. My point was just that June was a graduate student with quite a bit of expertise who could play a role in shaking up local politics. Maybe I was unclear in my post, a version of which will appear in the summer Daily next week. Let’s get busy campaigning for Eugene!
         —Rob    Jun. 18 '05 - 10:14PM    #
    14. I’ll second a version of AAiO’s comment. I don’t necessarily think June was right with a lot of that essay, but I’m glad to have hosted it here. (And six months or so before Critical Moment had it!)
         —Murph.    Jun. 19 '05 - 02:41AM    #
    15. I’ve been invited to give a talk about affordable housing at the First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor—1437 Washtenaw at Hill St, Sunday, July 17 at 11 am. I’ve been given an hour, so anyone who would like to join me on a panel is welcome. I’m not currently active in any “movements”, so anyone wanting to campaign would be welcome to come and drum up support.

      I actually have never met this political candidate guy, so the idea that we could be the “same person” is kind of interesting!

      As to my “rhetoric”, I’m just saying that there’s a lot of “upzoning” going on around town that makes development possible. My issue is not “density, traffic, noise, etc.”, but rather that developers make money from us allowing them to build higher density, regardless of the allegedly “NIMBY” opposition. If you read John Logan and Harvey Molotch’s Urban Fortunes (1987), they issue a good critique of this capitalist model, and say that NIMBYism is actually a tool that we can use to obtain concessions from developers.
      Inevitably, the 93 condos they are building will create environmental and other impacts, and even more so that because the residents will be affluent yuppies who own cars. Our only way of making development more equitable is to use our zoning laws as leverage to pressure them to make at least some of these units more affordable, to provide services for low-wage workers, etc.
         —June Gin    Jun. 30 '05 - 02:59PM    #
    16. “Our only way of making development more equitable is to use our zoning laws as leverage to pressure them to make at least some of these units more affordable, to provide services for low-wage workers, etc.”

      This is a well-worn idea. The problem with this tactic is that Ann Arbor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. What happens (and is, in point of fact, happening) is that the developement dollars go elsewhere, or not at all. Dexter, Saline, etc.. And, of course, if you look at the AANews article today, you’ll find that Ann Arbor hasn’t grown in population in the last five years. Congrats…your side is winning.

      The problem that comes with your side winning, June, is that we now have local developers (puny, wimpy, no-capital holding pansies like Martin or Spears) who simply sit on their plots of land until things like the three site plan get approved….if they ever do get approved.

      Currently, if you want to build in Ann Arbor, you can’t build higher than a few stories, you can’t build anywhere near existing neighborhoods, locals want you to build underground parking, and if you want to have a multi-tiered parking garage for your residents to use, a very, very vocal group will explain to you that you are trying to pave over the whole of the earth. So what do we get for housing? Insanely expensive $300K condos. The real pisser of it all is that these guys were begging council to let them build up for the last decade so that they could hold the cost per unit down. Nope. Tall building cause things like wind and shadows, apparently. No sale.

      Now while all this endless blather is going on, guys like Rock Financial or Toll Bros. are building massive developments in the Ann Arbor surrounds (we’ve now heard of planning units totaling over 8,000 housing units in just the last 4 months). These guys have real capital, and lawyers with big knarly fangs that lick their chops waiting for puny townships to try and stop them….and, of course, these guys are thrilled that they don’t have any real competition for their customer’s housing dollar in Ann Arbor proper. Although if you believe some, the demand for these units is endless, so why fight it?

      But June, if you are saying we should remove restrictions on the building heights on new downtown construction so that developers have a fighting chance of pushing the cost per unit down back to earth, and you can get citizens to see that the new unit owners need a parking garage for their ride…..sign me up.

      Otherwise, your tactics have the (hopefully) unintended effect of making Ann Arbor less affordable that it is today. Thanks, but no thanks.
         —todd l.    Jun. 30 '05 - 05:36PM    #
    17. Congrats…your side is winning.

      Now, now. I think we’re on the same side in terms of desired ends; there’s just a tactical disagreement in the way.

      While I’m thrilled to have Logan & Molotch quoted at, and more skillfully than Mumford – and second the recommendation of L&M; you can borrow my copy – I’ve also spent some time looking at construction costs &c. on the developers’ side of the equation. I agree with Todd’s assessment; it’s not the developers in downtown Ann Arbor who are getting away with highway robbery (many of whom are small, local companies, whose livelihoods are connected directly to Ann Arbor’s, and who care about it as a home); it’s the mega-corps like Toll, for whom Ann-Arbor-meaning-the-Twps is just another place on the map waiting to be strip-mined.

      Now, currently, we only have any sort of affordable housing requirement for PUD developments, and not for anything else. A PUD is exactly what June describes – the City and the developer set aside the existing zoning and work to come to an agreement that follows certain rules (like 15% of units affordable or else money to the fund). One problem is that the developer has no idea what the PUD will come up with beforehand, and has to work reasonably blind at the beginning of the process. It’s a lot of hassle, high uncertainty, and it encourages developers to say, “Oh, never mind. I’ll just go build another strip mall, since that’s easy and clear.” There are other such tools that make trade-offs: particular “public benefit” items are rewarded with extra height, etc. With all of them, the problems are unexpected consequences, vagueness, or else just plain bad ideas in the code. No really good solution exists, to my knowledge.

      Secondly, there’s the problem that it’s just plain hard to build affordable units. New construction is expensive, and there’s only so much affordability a developer can build in. Byeond a certain point, all you’re doing is moving cost from some units in the development to others. By taking a project with all mid-range units and demanding some affordability, you make the rest more expensive. This is especially a reason why we can’t rely on PUD to serve all our affordability needs; it concentrates too much of the burden on a few projects. We need to spread it out across all new construction and find way to improve affordability beyond just extracting it from developers. There has to be money coming from elsewhere. “If we as a community value affordable housing, we’re going to have to help pay for it,” is something I’ve heard Jean Carlberg say more than once, Jennifer Santi Hall (not even the Jennifer Hall who’s in housing!) say, and Peter Allen say. (It the last case, it sparked a lovely discussion between the MBA half of Peter’s class and the Urban Planning/SNRE half…) I know the DDA has spent $1m+ on affordable housing in the last decade, and plans to spend a few million in the next decade (they will probably help the City pay for the Y redev affordability subsidy, and, assuming they’re allowed to eventually, will be dumping money into 1st/Washington). The City and County both also have affordable housing funds, albeit small, and, in general, there’s been some work done.

      Really, I don’t know if I have anything to conclude out of this – I’m just pontificating on the topic at hand. June, I agree with your goals, and understand your suggestion, and think that working to improve affordability in new development is important – especially finding a way to encourage affordability in new development that means it actually happens, rather than just preventing the development. Not, as Todd says, a basket to put all our eggs into, though. We need to think of more.

      I’ll be on vacation on the 17th, unfortunately; otherwise I’d be happy to help with (or just attend!) your talk. Let us know how it goes.
         —Murph.    Jun. 30 '05 - 07:42PM    #
    18. “Now, now. I think we’re on the same side in terms of desired ends; there’s just a tactical disagreement in the way.”

      OK, maybe that came across as a little testy…’s just that I keep hearing this same knee-jerk reaction of “make the developers pay for it”, and it seems to be tied to the notion that guys like Beal or Allen are rich anyways, so screw ‘em.

      Let me go on record again as saying that I want to make these local developers, who actually care about the town that they live in, as wealthy as possible. Filthy-stinky rich.

      Why? Better them that the damn Toll Bros., and despite what some seem to think, demand for suburban tract housing isn’t endless, and a healthy chunk of this demand can be moved inside the city if we work at it…...
         —todd l.    Jul. 1 '05 - 02:10PM    #
    19. The City’s affordable housing and community development plan and materials. Check ‘em out.
         —Dale    Jul. 1 '05 - 02:13PM    #
    20. (Housing’s) Jennifer Hall was saying something the other day about how the City/County haven’t used all of their allotted funds the past few years, because they haven’t had enough people (developers) ask for them. That’s interesting. It’s apparently a “use it or lose it” sort of funding (like transit funding for Michigan!); maybe one of the things we need to work on is making that money more accessible to developers.
         —Murph.    Jul. 1 '05 - 03:36PM    #
    21. There are always residuals coming back as part of the next year’s annual budgets, but maybe that’s not rollover money.

      I just heard from the manager of ICC that the city has not been funding any new developers (just the usual suspects) with HUD money and that they won’t fund ICC because it’s too student-specific. That CRAZY pisses me off, particularly if the city is losing affordable housing money rather than giving it to the coops. (As I have noted, the city is not planning on supporting even a single unit of unrelated renter (ie student) low income housing in the next five years.)

      Leigh Greden was on the city’s housing policy board. I sure would like to hear him weigh in on this.
         —Dale    Jul. 1 '05 - 03:59PM    #
    22. I cannot answer for the City, but the County has a group called the Urban County Executive, and they have spent every penny of CDBG and HOME money allocated to them. This group, however, cannot spend anything inside the City of Ann Arbor. The City has its own program. It consists only of several jurisdictions outside the city. The County also has a Housing Contingency Fund which is used for low income housing projects all over the county, and the county collaborates with many non-profit organizations.
         —Leah    Jul. 1 '05 - 04:04PM    #
    23. Slightly off-topic

      As to the pool that Murph started that guessed when other downtown citizens, prompted by the Friends requests, would start asking for new parks in their neighborhoods:

      WE HAVE A WINNER!!!!

      July 1, 2004.
         —todd l.    Jul. 1 '05 - 04:30PM    #
    24. Well, I think Lazaro’s the only one who has submitted a guess to me, so it’s not exactly a close competition…

      But the OFW doesn’t count! I was including them as the second data point in the trend when I opened the pool , and was looking for Oxbridge and NoBuPa (based on Residential Parking Program applications).
         —Murph.    Jul. 1 '05 - 05:02PM    #