Poor people, get out of Ann Arbor

Sep 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

We read an interesting post on our old buddy Mark Maynard's blog this week. It concerns an article in the Ann Arbor news about policy provisions that are making it harder and harder to come by affordable housing in that city.

It's an interesting report. Turns out that the way Section 8 works, it offers credit to developers, which developers can then sell to investors, helping them raise the money to get into the rental business. Then, after a period of 15 years, a developer has a choice to go market rate. And when you have a concentration of for-profit developers owning property in a red-hot market like Ann Arbor, the incentives to keep the tenants who've paid their way during that 15-year period are low. Like, really low. Low enough to raise the rent to where they'd be forced to move.

So far, so good. But Maynard, as an astute reader of stories and the commentary they engender, noticed this comment below the article.

The comment prompted Maynard to remark, "That’s right. Just price them out of the market … move your 'undeserving' citizens to Ypsilanti. Just be done with them, and make your city all the more beautiful in the process."

It's a good post, one that inspired a lot of people to join in with comments of their own. The general tone is one of despair at what Ann Arbor has become, how it has fallen from its days as a scrappy campus town with a good mix of incomes. After reading them, we come away agreeing that without lots of different kinds of people of different classes with different perspectives, a city is a less interesting place. As for subsidies, one needn't not have a job to not receive subsidies. The fact is, everybody in the United States gets some sort of subsidy, not just the odd person who makes it their life's work to avoid earning a living.

Further, there's a level of irony here, that anybody living in Ann Arbor would fly into a rage about "taxpayer dependence." Why is it that Ann Arbor has done so well over the years? Could it be that there's a public university there? Could it be that the prestigious university allows a city to weather recessions better than other cities? Could it be that the public investment in the university caused successful alumni to offer it endowments? In short, would Ann Arbor look the way it does without more than a century of subsidy from the taxpayers of the state of Michigan? Or from taxpayers all across the United States in the form of student aid and the G.I. Bill? 

As usual, Maynard reads the news, but gets us weighing the deeper questions.