"Affordable housing" for Water Street, and Ypsilanti's dreams of gentrification


I was asked for my thoughts on this proposal for Ypsilanti's Water Street property, which would put a 76 apartment development on a 3 acre chunk (pdf) at the rear of the site. The piece of ground in question is fill, and requires extra work to build on -- I'd be pretty surprised to NOT see it linger vacant as the last piece of land left vacant -- and the development would also construct several blocks worth of new city streets, water, and sewer to serve itself. Following is my (lightly edited) response to that ask:

Family Dollar on E. Michigan Ave?


Ypsi has had a lot of discussion lately about whether it would be appropriate to sell an acre of city-owned land on East Michigan to a developer to build a standalone "Family Dollar" dollar store. Much of the conversation has involved turning up noses about a dollar store "not setting the tone we want" or "not being the kind of development we want" or the like.

In that context, I was tickled yesterday to step out of a meeting and notice the street in front of me.

What's this RTA thing I'm suddenly hearing about, and what does it mean for Washtenaw?

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Edited to add, Jan 7, 2013: The original framing of this post was inflammatory -- unnecessarily so -- towards the Ann Arbor City Council. I saw them on the brink of taking an action that I perceived to be itself pretty inflammatory towards some of our regional partners, potentially hurting our (Washtenaw County transit supporters') interests, whether the action had its intended effect or not. City Council, to their great credit, did modify their stance to more clearly focus on their actual interest and ask, and I specifically thank Mayor Hieftje and Councilman Warpehoski for their leadership here.

In turn, I'd like to turn off my flamethrower, and acknowledge that we are all in fact on the same side here: we're champions of our transit system, AATA, and want to see it continue to grow its ability to serve our residents; we want to see better connections into the rest of metro Detroit, especially in the form of the proposed commuter rail connecting Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to Dearborn, DTW, and Detroit; and we want to make sure that the transit system meeting our train on the far end is adequate to get our riders to their ultimate destinations.

We have had some differences on the best ways to reach those goals, but I'm looking forward to finding agreement on our shared interests that we can work together on. Specifically, I have been named as one of Washtenaw County's appointees to the RTA Board since I originally wrote this post, and am committed to using my background and knowledge of the situation to ensure the RTA is advancing, rather than hindering, our interests. I've struck-through the original, hostile framing text below, but leave it readable for the historical record.

This past week, the Michigan legislature passed bills to create a Regional Transit Authority for metro Detroit—Oakland, Wayne, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties. This long-overdue legislation has been under discussion and in the news for over a year, and received statewide, bipartisan support. While it’s not perfect, it will address many of the thorny issues that have held back transit in metro Detroit for years and years—and the remaining issues are generally best addressed by the communities sitting down at the table together, not mandated from Lansing.

As somebody who’s been working on this legislation for the past year and talking to all of the players involved, I’m hoping I can answer a few questions:

W(h)ither the electoral college?

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All this is available elsewhere, but as a trusted source, I'll oblige an election night party request for a math-with-murph explaining the electoral college, the short form is that the EC exists because the Constitution says so--Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Ypsi area home prices, 2006-2012

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Just realized it's been a year since I posted a compilation and chart of Ypsi-area home sales prices from the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors monthly reports. Here's the updated chart, with the latest year's data added:

Clearly, I have a tendency to get excited and want to share whenever the data hits peaks -- it looks like my post a year ago happened at a local maximum, with the 3-month average price peeking over $100k for just a single month. This time, it's the 6-month average price up over $100k for the first time since 2008 (just barely as of August, more solidly by September). Again, the 3-month average peaked even higher, at $117k in June, but summer prices didn't fall off nearly as quickly this time, allowing the 6-month average to move $12,000 higher than its peak from a year ago.

Full data link at the bottom of the post, and also includes moving averages of sales volume and days on market. (6-month average sales volume is also at its highest in 2 years.)

Economic development benefits of street trees

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Over on MarkMaynard.com, there's an interview with Ypsilanti City Planner Teresa on all things street tree: the trees added to West Cross as part of the recent streetscaping project, the city's tree inventory and urban forestry plan, and the public tree nursery project underway.

Mark asked whether street trees have economic development benefits, on top of the obvious quality of life benefits, and Teresa pointed to a round-up by the Arbor Day Foundation; I decided to go a little further and dig up some primary sources. Copied over here for my own future reference, plus just a little bit of math based on the first source:

$50k median taxable value in Ypsilanti * 3% increase from street trees * 33.67 mills for all local property taxes = $50.51 / year tax revenue increase due to each street tree added to an Ypsilanti home that doesn't have one.

Houseone history: the Schellinger family, 1940

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Records from the 1940 Census were released earlier this month, 72 years after the Census was taken, and you can find full, house-by-house data online via the National Archives, in the form of scanned record sheets filled out by the census takers. Simply fill in your state/county/city/street, et voila! ...you have 50 pages of scanned, 70-year-old, handwritten pages to read through to find your house. (That last step is the time-consuming part.)

Our house was inhabited by one Theodor Schellinger and his family, who apparently relocated from Flint to Ypsilanti sometime between 1935 and 1940, and paid $35/month in rent for our house.

Ypsilanti: consider cash bounties for vacant/foreclosed home rehab

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I'm going to make a suggestion that sounds absurd on its face, in Ypsilanti's current heated battle over cutting costs vs. raising taxes: the city should hand out $10,000 cash grants to people who purchase, fix up, and occupy vacant and foreclosed homes. Why? Because it's a net fiscal gain for the city. (Obviously, this should be treated as a starting point for discussion, rather than a fine-tuned proposal.)

As a timely case study, let's look at the properties owned by local landlord David Kircher, whose entire portfolio was recently put on the market by the trustee appointed in his bankruptcy proceedings. I understand most (perhaps all?) of these properties to also be subject to tax foreclosure by the county for unpaid property taxes.

Ypsi (city) foreclosure rate curving downwards

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A few posts ago, I suggested that sale prices of houses in Ypsilanti are starting to swing up over the last few months. How about the other popular metric of the housing market--the foreclosures?

Foreclosure activity, as we expect, is a downward force on home values, because the bank-owned homes dumped on the market soak up buyers. Over the last few years, from city assessing records, we can see that bank sales in the city go for half or a third the price of private sales:

With average MLS sale prices bumping along at $80,000 during that entire two year period, we can see that it was the bank sales dragging down the price. Fewer foreclosures means fewer bank-owned homes glutting the market, meaning prices can start recovering. Fortunately, Ypsi (the city, at least) is on the right side of that curve.

Link dump on municipal consolidations underway in Michigan

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Several communities around the state are having conversations about mergers between municipalities, ranging from Onekama Village and Township (total population < 1,000) to Grand Rapids & Kent County, which, as a single municipality of 606,000 people, would be the 24th largest city in the United States, right between Seattle and Washington, DC. No time to process right now, but some assorted links...

One Kent: