Water Street Flats… What are your thoughts?

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At tomorrow night’s Ypsi City Council meeting, our elected officials will be considering a proposal concerning the development of 3.14 acres at the intersection of South and River streets, on the 38-acre downtown parcel commonly referred to as Water Street. The proposal, which you can download on the City’s website, outlines the intention of Indiana-based developer Herman Kittle Properties (HKP) to construct a 76-unit, multi-floor affordable housing complex on the banks of the Huron River. The project isn’t exciting in any aesthetic sense (see image above), and it’s a long way from the higher-end single-family housing our elected officials had been aiming for 14 years ago, when first setting down the path toward remediation and redevelopment, but it’s hard to imagine any scenario where our City Council would say no. We’ve just got too much debt to hold out any longer, waiting for the truly transformative project that would help turn the City around and bring good jobs in the process.

wsflatsHere, with the specifics as to what we currently owe on the property, which we went so far into debt to acquire in 1999, is a clip from today’s Ann Arbor News.

…The city still owes around $24 million on the Water Street debt, a decrease from 2006 when the city owed close to $30 million. The principal amount owed on the property was $15.7 million, but due to interest, the costs ballooned.

In 2014, the city will have to pay $1,340,727.50. The interest rate will rise to 5.75 percent in 2014 and continue to increase unless the city is able to refinance the debt, which it plans to around 2016.

The land has lost $1,995,335 in value within the past year, but the city has successfully committed $4.6 million in fund balance for the next five years to pay for the annual debt payments resulting from the sale of bonds to finance acquisition and demolition on the site…

Assuming we go forward with the HKP proposal, they would give us $157,000 upfront, for the 3.14 acres, and invest another $1.7 million in bringing roads, sewers and other infrastructure elements to the site, which would ostensibly make it easier for the City to then sell the adjacent properties. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s estimated that the building owners would pay approximately $73,000 a year in taxes, based on a taxable value of $2 million. Also worth noting, it sounds like they want to get moving on the project as soon as possible, which means that those tax revenues would likely start rolling in by the end of 2015. (HKP wants to have a signed purchase agreement with the City by April, break ground in October 2014, and begin leasing units in August of 2015, according to the Ann Arbor News report.)

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 10.11.21 PMThe entire project is estimated to cost $12.1 million, much of which would be financed by way of Rental Housing Tax Credits and tax-exempt bonds from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. And, as that’s the case, rents, in accordance with the terms of these programs, will be set at a level deemed affordable by the State. According to HKP, that means rents would range from “$597 for a one-bedroom (unit) to $1,125 for a four-bedroom (one).” (The current plan calls for 13 one-bedrooms (738 square feet), 21 two-bedrooms, and 21 three-bedrooms (1502 square feet).)

A few years ago, I think I would have had quite a bit to say about this. Now, though, in the wake of the Family Dollar announcement, I think I’ve come to accept the fact that Water Street isn’t going to become what I’d wanted it to be. For a while – and I think this was true for a lot of us – Water Street was a beautiful blank canvass that we could project our dreams for the future of our community on. We all, of course, had different visions for what should ultimately be there. We all had our own ideas as to what would right the ship and get Ypsilanti heading in a more sustainable direction. And we were all passionate on the subject. Personally, I’d envisioned a co-housing development, a year-round farmers’ market, an expanded food co-op, a thriving public arts park, and space along Michigan Avenue for locally-owned businesses. There were a million ideas, and they all shared a common attribute… They were hopeful… The unpleasant truth, however, is that those with money aren’t from our community, and the way they see Ypsilanti isn’t the way that we see it. And, as a result, we’re not talking about indoor farmers’ markets, but dollar stores, fast food franchises and more Peninsular Place-like apartment complexes. To those outside our community, we just represent money that can be siphoned off. They don’t, in short, see our potential. They don’t care about our long term viability as a community, only what they can get from us today. And that’s sad. Sadder still, though, is the fact that I’ve come to accept it.

Here’s the thing, though… Regardless of what happens on Water Street, life will continue and people will still keep fighting to make Ypsi great. It just won’t all happen on that 38 acres of downtown real estate. And maybe that’s OK.

What are your thoughts? I’d like to know.

update: I didn’t intend for this post to sound fatalistic. I haven’t “given up” on anything positive ever taking root on Water Street. I just meant to say that I’ve come to terms with the fact that Water Street isn’t going to be the thing that gets Ypsilanti moving in the right direction. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not altogether down on the idea of this housing project. Density is a good thing, as is affordable housing. I’d like to know more about the company, though, and how they manage their other properties.

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  1. josh
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Big money doesn’t really do development. They build luxury high rises in already gentrified Ann Arbor. Build Family Dollars in lower income neighborhoods. They sit on crumbling train depots in the middle of Depot Town “waiting for the economy to improve” (go fuck yourself Dahlmann). Anything on the Water Street scale needs big money and so it was going to fit the lowest common denominator. They don’t see local community or potential, they see local demographics.

    After another decade of hard work by our artists, organizers, and entrepreneurs I think the higher end developers will figure out how great Ypsi has become. Right around the time we stop wanting them.

  2. Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    My thoughts on my own page. Somewhat different focus, as I was asked for comment on the scare word “affordability”.

    tl;dr: A lot of what you and I love about Ypsi relies on having a decent supply of housing that is affordable to somebody who wants to dedicate themselves to their art, or their music, or starting a business, rather than to a corporate job that allows them to afford an approved amount of house. Much as it might seem like we have plenty, it’s not something we can take for granted.

  3. Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    (Admittedly, saying we need to preserve housing affordability “because artists”, rather than discussing social justice and the problem of economic segregation, is a lot like saying we need transit “because Millennials”. I don’t find talking about real, unsexy poverty to get much traction in Ypsi policy discussions, unfortunately.)

  4. anonymous
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Can someone verify that there’s a present need for “affordable” housing in Ypsilanti? Are one-bedroom apartments for $597 impossible to come by? My sense has always been that Ypsi was a destination for people in part because of its affordable housing.

  5. anonymous
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Water Street Flats, or Meridien Flats?


  6. Eel
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    That’s hilarious, anonymous. They didn’t even take the property into consideration when drafting their plans. They just dropped in a building that they’d already developed for California. Why invest the effort? It’s just cheap housing in a community that doesn’t matter, right? What take into account the river or the landscape? “Just give Ypsi plan #2,” I can hear them say.

  7. Dan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    @murph “A lot of what you and I love about Ypsi relies on having a decent supply of housing that is affordable to somebody who wants to dedicate themselves to their art, or their music, or starting a business”

    Is that what the residents of Peninsular Place are doing? This is a housing project. Call it what it is, not the politically correct terms being thrown around here.

  8. Mr. X
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Water Street was a once in a lifetime opportunity to redefine our city. It was our big chance to come out swinging and make a statement as to what we wanted to be. Sadly, it didn’t work. A green developer didn’t step in to build a utopian urban live-work environment that would draw people from around the country. Instead we got a dollar store. I think we deserve credit for having tried, but it just didn’t work. The best we can hope for now is to get out from under the debt before the state assigns an emergency manager to sell our assets.

  9. Ben
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    This could be really good, housing on Water Street. Density near downtown and Depot Town. Mark, don’t give up hope yet. Hope is a good thing, perhaps the best of things. I hear there is still an option to put public art along the river. That could be really cool! I’m not excited about the dollar store but the dense housing and the fitness center could be really great! And maybe there will still be space for the commons right at the front and center like there is now!

  10. Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    @anonymous: Can someone verify that there’s a present need for “affordable” housing in Ypsilanti? Are one-bedroom apartments for $597 impossible to come by?

    On the anecdotal side, in teh MLives, Councilman Ricky Jefferson (1st Ward) expresses a concern that the target rents may still be too high for many who need good housing in the community: “The pricing of the housing, of the apartments, are kind of out of the range that I hoped it would be,” he said. That’s because the median is based on Washtenaw County and not the city’s.”

    On the data side, a typical benchmark for housing affordability (whether or not your household’s housing costs are reasonable) is that your total housing costs should be no more than 30% of your income. (Some history (pdf)) From the most current Census data available for the city (American Community Survey 2008-2012), over 60% of rental households and 36% of homeowner households are paying unaffordable housing costs relative to their income.

  11. Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This comes as no surprise, I agree. I also agree that Water St. could have launched Ypsi into national, or at lease statewide attention if the money and vision of the 22nd century city could have materialized. But that opportunity still awaits, no matter how many Dollar Stores or cheap (as opposed to affordable) housing units pop up in the meantime.

    The vision forward must be met with Washtenaw money, and it’s not as if there isn’t any. We need local investors to put their money, often frozen, into circulation by supporting and developing the New Economy. What is the New Economy? Local, non-polluting, job’s creating, and problem solving solutions from within the city, for the city.

    We need money to circulate towards worker-owned businesses that can actually provide better more nutritious food to our citizens (see Restoration Agriculture), cheaper and cleaner fuel sources (biogass from perennial plants), and local currency initiatives (Ypsi Bucks, time banks, etc.).

    Then Washtenaw money cycles within the county for a perpetual period of time.

    A linked, no waste, beyond ‘green’, business and culture district is imaginable at Water St. and elsewhere. This actionable vision would be regenerating to the local economy, and no more expensive then the 20 million dollar’s spent on a not really needed development. But it must come from citizens, wealthy and otherwise. Where for art thou local investors thinking in the long-term?

  12. josh
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Looking at the site plans, this development also utilizes property previously thought to be unusable. The article says they’ve had engineers out performing test borings to figure out if they can build what they want to build so it’s not like it’s completely a half-assed copy/paste job. Architectural renderings are always useless so no big surprise they reused an old one. Compared to the site plan, the shape of the building in the rendering doesn’t even fit.

  13. Gillian
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    re: affordability, $595 for a one-bedroom is reasonable but not “big scary housing project” low. That was the going rate for one bedrooms in Ann Arbor 7-10 years ago, but at this point you would be lucky to get a basement for that A2. I think there are going to be a lot of people who will be making just that comparison and will choose to live next to the river within walking distance of downtown.

    Compared to Ypsi, the rents and unit sizes are pretty comparable to the rental stock we have now, but those market rents are on their way up. Assuming the landlord is responsible and doesn’t pull the rent-by-the-room and other crap that Penn Place does, this could be a good thing for the city long term.

  14. Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink


  15. Megan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I keep trying to win the lottery!!!! I have dreams of doing that and kicking Family Dollar, and the non-tax-paying community gym whatever out and building something fun like a dedicated farmer’s market and some mixed retail. Trying again tonight!

  16. Rustbelt Revival
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I personally would prefer the area to stay as greenspace since this proposal puts part of the building on top of the Water Street Trail and Ypsilanti City Tree Nursery. But, I know that is just not realistic since the city needs to get investors on the site to stay afloat financially. I’m also not thrilled that the Family Dollar is going in there either but I think the Rec Center is a good plan that is more in line with what we all wanted.

    The most important thing for me now on the property is ensuring that the Water Street Trail will be permanent.

  17. Elf
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    When P Place was built, the idea was that it would pull student renters from downtown houses, making them once again available to single families. Did that actually happen? It seems to me that the city is still full of rental houses.

  18. P. Larson
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I’ve never heard of housing.

  19. MandM
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I’m intrigued enough to not fret about it as they sign their ‘letter of intent’ and hopefully people will review this company’s current apartments and delve into the company history in the meantime. Maybe even ask the residents that live in the nearby small neighborhood as well. However, with all this wordplay, my concern comes in a few years down the road if the land where the old Boys & Girls Club is now is purchased for ‘public housing’ as well.

  20. Dan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink


    The base rents listed may not seem too low, but these housing projects are eligible for HUD subsidies for low income renters. Its likely that very few people that can afford the base rent will choose to live there. That’s what happens with these places.

  21. anonymous
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    CEO Jeffrey Kittle gave some cash to “Rick Santorum for President,” so you can bet these f*cking clowns are dedicated to raping–pardon me–serving Americans of modest means.

  22. anony
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I guess I get to be the voice of crabby but I have zero enthusiasm for this development. I don’t for a minute think artists will come to that tacky complex. I think we’re going to get more transient, low income, high service need, renters and we’ll be lucky to get back in taxes what we will spend in long-term service delivery costs. That and more downward pressure on our schools (and property values). I think this is a sad non-choice. Gotta do it to get the development started. *sigh*

    Ypsilanti, where a few own property and everyone else rents from them…oh yeah – thats social justice.

  23. K2
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    We deserve better, but we aren’t making the decisions. These decisions aren’t even being made in Michigan. We’re numbers on a spreadsheet. We’re cattle to be milked.

  24. BrianB
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    the water street water park was my lottery dream.

  25. Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    “I think we’re going to get more transient, low income, high service need, renters and we’ll be lucky to get back in taxes what we will spend in long-term service delivery costs. That and more downward pressure on our schools (and property values). I think this is a sad non-choice. Gotta do it to get the development started. *sigh*
    Ypsilanti, where a few own property and everyone else rents from them…oh yeah – thats social justice.”

    Wow. I’m sensing a secret code here or maybe my hearing isn’t tuned in the right frequency.

  26. M
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    When people came out against the dollar store, Councilman Robb said to the press that he detected a subtext of racism. I have no reason to think he wouldn’t play the same card here.

  27. AMEdmonds
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    As an FYI, grocery store development/recruitment– as was a priority from the community during the master planning process– is something we are very much still working on. And, year-round farmers market or similar space– also something that came from community voice in the mater plan– are also still under careful consideration and planning. Both take relationships and time and money, and some of us are working on them.

  28. Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    It would seem that the subtext is pretty clear in the comment above.

  29. Dan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Enlighten us Peter

  30. anon
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I find AME’s comment haughty and oblique.

  31. Tango Uniform
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    This is a future tenement/slum.

  32. Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Even though I’ve lived in Ypsilanti for almost 15 years now (in Normal Park), I haven’t really been following the Water Street space that closely, other than reading an occasional post here and seeing an article or what have you in mLive, etc. So my apologies if this is a sentiment that’s already been expressed, if this offends, etc.

    First off, the city needs to get rid of this property, full stop. It is costing too much money. So if it’s going to be a Dollar Store and a new (albeit not at all fancy) apartment complex, I think that makes a lot of sense. It’s not the dream that a lot of people expressed before, but if it generates tax revenue and it gets the property out of the city’s hands, it’s a good opportunity.

    Second, the “dream” that Mark and others are describing here seems pretty unrealistic to me. Now, maybe that’s my own snobbishness and my own ignorance, and maybe it’s the clarity of hindsight. But if I’m a young professional/young artist with enough money who wants to live someplace with all of the cool amenities that Mark talks about here– arts parks, farmers’ markets, co-ops, co-housing, etc., etc.,– I’d live in Ann Arbor. I certainly wouldn’t be keen on living in an apartment that’s off a part of Michigan Avenue with a car dealership and fast food places.

    That’s not to dismiss the value of the dream, just the location of the dream. And it’s not to say there aren’t lots of cool places to live and work in Ypsilanti. I live in a great neighborhood; I think Cross street and Washtenaw Ave east of town is cleaning itself up a bit; Depot Town has always been great; etc., etc. It’s just that I think that Ricky Jefferson’s comment (reported in the mLive article– here’s a link to that— is about right.

  33. anon
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    “First off, the city needs to get rid of this property, full stop.”

    Translation: let the free market solve this problem.

    “Now, maybe that’s my own snobbishness and my own ignorance …”

    It’s the latter.

    “… if I’m a young professional/young artist with enough money who wants to live someplace with all of the cool amenities that Mark talks about here– arts parks, farmers’ markets, co-ops, co-housing, etc., etc.,– I’d live in Ann Arbor …”

    Except that you’d be the kind of … person who wants to live in Ann Arbor (pop. 7% African American, and increasingly affluent)

  34. Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I’m interested in the obvious class issues at play here and saddened that a supposedly liberal readership would knowingly participate in the systematic exclusion of economic undesirables.

    Perhaps pointing at race is a bit myopic (despite the very real issues of race in issues of the poor in Southeastern Michigan). However, if Water Street (and Ypsi as a whole) is to be an “inclusive” community, it has to accept that a model which targets only young, white artists will be inherently exclusive.

    I’m interested to see that otherwise socially conscious individuals would so actively support a model based on gentrification, a model which certainly has mixed results, but has been repeatedly implicated in the displacement of the poor.

    Granted, this likely can’t be avoided, and Ypsi, having few other options might look to artists as its salvation. It must be pointed out that this model hasn’t worked in other contexts, even for better positioned Ann Arbor.

    Can a cute and fuzzy artist colony provide jobs which pay a living wage and benefits?

    Just some thoughts.

  35. Meta
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    From the Ann Arbor News coverage of last night’s City Council meeting.

    Despite some concern, the letter of intent was approved 5-1, with Council Member Daniel Vogt voting against it. Council Member Susan Moeller was absent. The development would be called the Water Street Flats.

    The letter is non-binding for both parties.

    Vogt said he’s worried the project could lower the city’s tax base and negatively impact the surrounding area.

    “I’m concerned that we are just going to create a lower tax base for the whole section,” Vogt said. “We’ve heard people talk about how Ann Arbor rates are skyrocketing and we know the economy is gradually getting better. Why do we need to do this when we have an opportunity to wait and get a higher cash value? I’m not putting down anyone, but that’s just the fact of what our city needs. We’re looking at a beyond 50 year decision. … I’m very concerned about this whole subject matter.”

    The Water Street Flats would have the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8, that provides “tenant-based” rental assistance, allowing a tenant to move the voucher from one location to another.

    Ypsilanti downtown business owner Dave Heikkinen said he, along with other business owners, agree with Vogt.

    “There was a lot of concern,” he said. “To hear the word Section 8, there’s a lot of fear and we’re not happy. I would suspect you’re going to hear a lot about that in the coming time. We’re just not happy. We don’t want Section 8. We don’t want affordable housing. This is horrible marketing of our prime property… .We can do better. Why do we have to put up with this kind of stuff when Ann Arbor is building skyscrapers? We’re a better location. Why can’t we draw those businesses Ann Arbor is drawing?”

    Read more:

  36. anonymous
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “Can a cute and fuzzy artist colony provide jobs which pay a living wage and benefits?”

    Are you suggesting, Peter, that the Dollar Store will be paying a living wage and providing benefits?

  37. Voice of Raison
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I think it’s possible to live in Ypsi and be racist. For the most part, though, I think that people who live here are not. If they were, I suspect that they’d live in communities that are less diverse, of which there are several in the area. As for the newly announced plan for Section 8 housing, it sounds like some of you are of the opinion that the only reason one would be against it is that they hate poor black people. I think that’s wrong. I would argue that there are other reasons one could be against it. First and foremost, people may think that Ypsilanti has sufficient affordable housing. Secondly, one could feel as though having a dollar store and Section 8 housing on the property could have a chilling effect on future development. You’ll have to remember that, for 14 years, we’ve been told that this was being done to improve our tax base and bring good jobs to the area. The dollar store will hire a handful of people and pay them minimum wage. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that this will offset our debt in the long run, as it’s likely that the taxable value of surrounding properties will drop. I don’t care about the value of my home, I love the diversity of my neighborhood, and I’m not looking to live in Ann Arbor East. With that said, though, this is a bad deal for the future of Ypsilanti. What we need are good jobs and a tax base that can support public services. This does neither.

  38. Tim
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    From the A2.com comments:

    1 Hour Ago
    If I have the facts straight, Water Street Flats is being proposed by an out-of-state developer with minimal out of pocket expense on their part in order to funnel maximum profits from government monies out of a community that they have no ties or commitment to. The fact that they seemingly plan on $10k per year on safety tells me they have little or no concern for their residents or the surrounding community. Does $10k even cover a security guard drive-thru once a week? It’s obvious they spent very little on architecture and design, it looks like a truncated version of Cabrini-Green. The last thing Ypsi needs is a low-rise tenement. An affordable housing complex in that area should probably be a mix of townhouse type residences, duplexes, and other lower density housing. Meanwhile, a block east of this location there is a private developer rehabing and upgrading an apartment complex that has been a problem for years. No, it’s not going to be affordable housing but hopefully the development there will spur more positive growth in the area. Water Street Flats is not that kind of growth or redevelopment.

  39. Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    “Are you suggesting, Peter, that the Dollar Store will be paying a living wage and providing benefits?

    No, not at all.

  40. j.j.
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Chill out, everyone. AMEdmonds has this under control.

  41. Posted January 22, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    anon, those are lovely sentiments, but I live in the real world. As Peter Larson has already pointed out, the issues of race and class here are very complex and I frankly think it cuts both ways. But I’m simply trying to make two observations that are based pretty much on the reality of the way these things work:

    * Building a complex of “higher end” housing/shopping/amenities in the Water Street area is not going to attract people who want/can afford that experience. It’s the same thing in any other neighborhood, frankly. If in a neighborhood where the going rate for a house is $150K and someone builds and tries to sell a $500K McMansion, that someone is going to lose their investment.

    * A Dollar Store and an affordable apartment complex will pay more taxes to the city than are being paid right now.

  42. Dan
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    At least they are acknowledging this is a Section 8 project, and not “affordable housing to attract artists and entrepreneurs.”

  43. WS
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Peter, are you of the opinion that everyone against this project is against it because they hate black people? Yes or no?

  44. anonymous
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    What I hear commenter Krause advocating is that parcels at Water Street be sold to anyone who will buy them. In this regard, a Santorum fundraiser is the same as a local farms advocate. Just bring whatever slop to Water Street and pigs of all races will feed. Que sera, sera. May I point out, however, that this manner of complacency releases residents like Mr. Krause from having to take part in the difficult work of community transformation.

  45. Posted January 22, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    “Peter, are you of the opinion that everyone against this project is against it because they hate black people? Yes or no?”


  46. Posted January 22, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Voice of Raison: For the most part, though, I think that people who live here are not [racist]

    I agree completely. However, it is possible to be not-at-all-racist, and to have very good and reasonable intentions, while at the same time inadvertently reinforcing structural racialization. (<– no, I'm not a PhD. But I can fake it well, right?) Yes, there are absolutely poor white people, in Ypsilanti as elsewhere, but the impacts of poverty disproportionately impact black families, and adopting policies saying, "We need less housing for poor people and renters in town, and we also need fewer poor people and renters," therefore has racial impacts regardless of the speaker's intentions.

    VoR: First and foremost, people may think that Ypsilanti has sufficient affordable housing.

    They sure can feel that way, but they’re probably middle-class-or-better homeowners whose neighbors also mostly fit that description. The numbers don’t support the idea that Ypsi’s housing is affordable enough for its population. (Some of which I provided above.)

    And, yes, absolutely, it would be great and wonderful if we addressed that mismatch by providing $50k / yr jobs to every family in Ypsi. I’m not going to tell people they’re not allowed to have good housing options while they wait for Ford to reopen the plant on Factory Street, though.

    VoR: Secondly, one could feel as though having a dollar store and Section 8 housing on the property could have a chilling effect on future development.

    Of course, that might be a concern for developers. However, from my conversations with developers, it’s definitely a concern to have nothing else on the site — the local/regional firms especially want to see other things breaking ground before they commit, in order to reduce the risk that they’ll be hanging out there by themselves. Aggregate buying power is also a concern, and more households means more dollars.

    Sure, sure, you can assume low-income households means zero spending. But, again, we can look at data: from Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012 Consumer Expenditure survey, look at a household of $30k-$39k annual income (somewhat lower than the income targets for this development): On average, such a household spends $4,962 on groceries, which means this development will put $377,000 in annual grocery demand on the site, helping a food store which might want to locate there. Each household spends on average $1,163 on clothing annually, or a total of $88k in annual clothing spending. You can do the math on other categories, but you get the picture.

    And, yes, we can probably expect a fair number of these apartments to be occupied by people who already live in town, so that consumer demand isn’t all “new”. On the other hand, the numbers I offered previously show a lot of households in Ypsi paying “too much” for housing, relative to their income — if new affordability-restricted housing helps bring Household X’s housing costs in line with their income, then it does increase their spending ability on other categories.

    Third, developers want to know where the water, sewer, roads are going to go, and when they’re going to be built. This proposal includes the developer providing $750k in public infrastructure, which is just about as good as cash in hand for the city (because the city then does not have to spend that money), and also provides utility access to a big part of the site that doesn’t have it now, removing obstacles for future developers, epsecially smaller local operations that just want to worry about their own project, and not about building streets for the city.

    VoR: Furthermore, it’s unlikely that this will offset our debt in the long run, as it’s likely that the taxable value of surrounding properties will drop.

    Well, most of the surrounding area currently has a taxable value of zero — the bulk of Water Street, Waterworks Park, Riverside Park, Hollow Creek housing on South Grove, City Hall, Chidester Place (not quite zero, but PILOT, so taxes are not based on taxable value), Gilbert Residence (I think is tax-exempt non-profit?), New Beginnings charter school, etc. I don’t really see the taxable value of Taco Bell or the BP gas station or so forth being driven down, do you? That neighborhood on South Grove was hit really hard by the housing crash, with a lot of mortgage and tax foreclosures, (the County Treasurer had houses for sale on South Street this fall that didn’t sell, even at $12,000 each) so even in the worst case there’s not much room for values there to be driven down further.

    VoR: What we need are good jobs and a tax base that can support public services. This does neither.

    I agree completely: Ypsilanti needs those things. I also think Ypsilanti needs quality housing that is within reach of our population, including that part of our population with lower incomes (and, no, I don’t think we have “enough” of that that we don’t need to worry about it).

    Further, I disagree with you that this development will squelch our ability to advance those other priorities as well. For all the reasons already discussed — putting taxable value on the hardest-to-build piece of Water Street, taking $750k in public infrastructure costs off the city’s plate, adding “rooftops” to a future retail developer’s calculations, and providing momentum toward further vertical construction — I think the proposal has a lot of benefits for Water Street and the city.

  47. Dan
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink


    This isn’t a regular old parcel, to fill a potential need for housing for very low income renter. This is river front property, the last of Ypsi’s undeveloped land that has some appeal (hypothetically). This is the tenderloin. You don’t grind up the tenderloin and add a bunch of bread crumbs and filler and make meat loaf out of it to stretch it out. You sell it for a premium. You market it as prime.

    Turning this property into a Section 8 project is nothing less than a complete and utter failure by everyone involved. It’s actually worse than my prime meat analogy, because it will linger for decades. Over the past few months, probably the #1 issue in Ypsi has been the rampant crime around Pen Place and the like. The city just voted to add another Pen Place.

    And is there *really* going to be any tax revenue from this property? How much has it cost to add additional police presence to the Pen Place area? How much will this lower the surrounding property tax revenue. Already, nearby business owners are freaking out. What happens when they leave?

  48. Packer
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    @Murph: what is your assessment of Herman Kittle?

  49. 734
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think people are adverse to affordable housing, even in the form of highrises. The problem is the location. We don’t need section-8 housing right at the heart of downtown in an area where we’re trying to lure businesses. It makes very little sense.

  50. anonymous
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    But we need tony lofts a couple blocks west of Water St?

  51. Paul
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    That Meridian Flats project is in Carmel *Indiana*, players. A sight less glamorous than its California namesake…

  52. Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    A comment was made about Peninsula place renting ‘by the room’ ~ there was a lot of positive excitement about Peninsula place before it went in…… it has a nearby captive market – one wonders why they would resort to a strategy of ‘by the room’.

    My guess is that they found it necessary, given their target market, (also its unusual to rent fully furnished and with a bathroom for every person) and so opted to approach this adapting to the perceived needs of students/parents ~ the way one does a dorm room – you go off to college and have no idea often who your roommate is…. and its a furnished room.

    That kind of model wouldn’t likely be possible or doable with a non-student rental ‘clientele’.

  53. Anne
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    There is still a hope that they don’t receive the Low Income Housing Tax Credits though from their website it looks like they’ve been pretty successful at getting LIHTCs in other states. I haven’t been directly involved in the LIHTC process in Michigan, but I’ve heard that it is a lot more competitive here and it looks like this will be their first development in Michigan utilizing LIHTCs. There has been a movement from HUD and State Housing Authorities to try to encourage more creative low income housing projects that involve greener elements and also encourage mixed rate developments (most studies show that creating concentrated areas of poverty isn’t a good strategy). However the LIHTC scoring rubric hasn’t really gone far enough to encourage more forward thinking approaches to affordable housing. Big players like HK with a cheap cookie cutter approach and a long history with HUD tend to be favored by the process.

    Also, from the proposal it looks like this might be a TIF district/project. Anyone know if this is the case? If so, the City won’t be actually seeing those taxes for a while.

  54. Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Water Street Flats can benefit Water Street and downtown with a diverse group of renters that includes recent college grads, seniors, and families below the 60% area median income for Washtenaw County. This diverse group of people will attract more development to Water Street as well as patronize downtown businesses. Herman Kittle is committed to the Waters Street development because they will develop and manage the property.

    Water Street Flats must have high quality design and materials, stringent lease requirements, and attentive maintenance to be successful and enhance our downtown.

    There is also plenty of Water Street acreage left for a grocery store and other development.

    Paul Schreiber

  55. Rustbelt Revival
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    since when did the far eastern edge of Water Street become “right at the heart of downtown”? it’s not even in the same zip code…

  56. EOS
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Section 8 housing projects do not lead to a diverse group of renters, but rather a segregated concentration of low income families. There’s well documented evidence that this will lead to lower performing schools and higher crime rates. The question is not whether there is room left for more development, but whether viable businesses would choose this site rather than a multitude of other more desireable locations.

  57. Kristin
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised at my own swinging emotions on this project. I do think it’s impractical to wait for a utopian developer, and as someone with riverfront property for sale I’ll tell you that it isn’t worth what it used to be, anywhere. Maybe on the Hudson, but not here. Then you read the proposal and it sure isn’t inspiring, and doesn’t necessarily fit the vision most of us have for Ypsi, and it’s more than disappointing. You can see how it would thwart future efforts. Unfortunately I think that if we citizens want something different we have to come up with our own plan, that includes money, to change the trajectory. It’s not fair to ask the city to carry their admittedly poor investment forever.

  58. anonymous
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Paul, Amanda, Murph, and other (in some cases self-appointed?) stakeholders,

    As a longtime Ypsilanti resident, mother, and worker, I personally would support this project if a few alterations can happen:

    > the name contain neither ‘Water Street’ nor ‘Flats’

    > the design of the complex be specific or at least semi-specific to the location where Herman & Kittle proposes to build it

    > the design inhibits in no way the course of the B2B Trail

    > the building be constructed of sustainable, local materials, to a degree the city deems feasible

  59. Emma
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    You don’t have to be eligible to receive a Section 8 voucher to live in a place that accepts Section 8. I don’t understand the issue here. Accepting section 8 is beneficial to a landlord. If I was building an apartment complex I would be sure to be Section 8 eligible. It is better to be guaranteed at least part of your rents.

  60. Dan
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “You don’t have to be eligible to receive a Section 8 voucher to live in a place that accepts Section 8. I don’t understand the issue here. Accepting section 8 is beneficial to a landlord. If I was building an apartment complex I would be sure to be Section 8 eligible. It is better to be guaranteed at least part of your rents.”

    The issue here is that people generally do not want to live in high crime apartments. Section 8 housing has proven to increase crime rates substantially. Why would someone choose to live in a crime ridden apartment complex, if they could afford not to?

  61. MM
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Murph, Paul, others,

    Would you agree that a development which included a mix of various types of housing, catering to a wider range of individuals, would be preferable to one which just catered to those individuals with low incomes? I haven’t read studies concerning the prevalence of crime in areas of concentrated section-eight housing, but it seems intuitive that everyone would be better served by a development where those with greater means and those of lesser means lived side by side, in the same neighborhood. Assuming you agree, are there no developers currently doing that kind of work?

  62. Posted January 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    “Section 8 housing has proven to increase crime rates substantially. ”

    Actually, that doesn’t appear to be the case. There appears to be a good amount of discussion as to whether Section 8 has any correlation with “increasing crime rates” (in what time? what place?) or even whether Section 8 has anything to do with the dispersal of crime. I don’t think that there is any consensus on the issue.

    Is there anything to suggest that Section 8 would increase crime in Ypsilanti?

    It appears to me that the reaction to Section 8 is one which seeks to exclude the poor, associating poor families with crime.

    I’m curious, exactly where should poor families go? It’s a sad state of affairs if a town like Ypsilanti is going to exclude them, through process or by accident.

  63. skeptic
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    This could be a great Amanda Edmonds for mayor 2014 campaign slogan!

    “As an FYI, these things take relationships and time and money, and some of us are working on them.”

  64. Posted January 23, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    MM asks “Would you agree that a development which included a mix of various types of housing, catering to a wider range of individuals, would be preferable to one which just catered to those individuals with low incomes?”

    Of course. The problem is that those kind of mixed use/wider range kinds of projects are easier to bring to higher income areas than lower income areas. It’s easier for an Ann Arbor to build some kind of development that includes “affordable housing” options than it is to build some kind of mixed development that hopes to also attract higher income folks to the Ypsilantis of the world.

    And by the way, no, this is not the way it should be.

    Maybe there is a way to do something that is more approaching the mixed use space, but it seems to me it would take convincing someone to take a risk. So for example, suppose the Zingermans people could be convinced to open a restaurant/grocery in this complex? Suppose Slows BBQ got a deal on opening a second location on the Huron River?

  65. EOS
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    The township buys foreclosed homes at auction. Habitat for Humanity refurbishes them and then low income families move into the houses in existing neighborhoods. There is better support for the families and they are integrated into a community of diverse incomes. There is no concentration of low incomes in a single location and this works significantly better for all involved. You can’t sit around waiting for a developer.

  66. Dan
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink


    you’re likely reading about the conversion of giant public housing projects (e.g., Cabrini-Green in Chicago) to Section 8 vouchers. i.e., removing a large amount of govt subsidized residents from a single location, and dispersing them into neighborhoods. That’s not really the situation here. This is adding a 76 unit Section 8 building to a single location. There’s some research on this, actually, and the amount of Section 8 “homes” in a neighborhood is a determining factor on what happens with crime. Generally more than 50 “homes” in a neighborhood seems to be the cutoff. Above that = increased crime rates. So this would be 76 “homes” in not actually a neighborhood, but a single structure.

  67. jcp2
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Mixed income communities tend to be more sustainable over the long term if there is a constrained housing market and a good public school system, neither of which is the case here.


  68. anony
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I wondering why Peter Larson is so set on turning Ypsi into a place where people who are earning money wouldn’t want to be? They such nasty folks – expecting academically successful schools, lower crime rates, driving cars, possibly – wait for it, owning property(gasp). Who would want to live in a place like that!

  69. Emma
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never looked into my ability to qualify for section 8 assistance but I have CHOSEN to live in apartment complexes (River’s Edge, and Scenic Lake which is now called something else) I’m assuming were accepting section 8 vouchers. My current home is next door to a small complex that I’m also assuming accepts section 8 (I’m not sure where to go to find out but the other neighbors say it is city owned section 8 housing so I’m going to believe them). I lived in the complexes because it was cheap and I wanted to save/spend my money on things more important than rent. I never had any issues with crime in the apartments. Where I had an issue was in houses I owned not the current next to section 8 one but, I have houses broken into three times in Ypsi. and once in Ann Arbor, none of these were in section 8 housing. I know this is a small sample of one here but I find it incredibly difficult to believe that the section 8 voucher causes crime. If I were in the market for an apartment I would look into whatever is being built there. I don’t want to pay a lot for an apartment, it would be a gigantic waste and believe me there are bad neighbors everywhere.

  70. Anne
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    There are developers that do mixed income housing, and once again this is what HUD/MSHDA says they would like to see, but when it comes down to it the incentives are often harder for these folks to get. Investors don’t think market rate buyers want to live among affordable/low income units (which hasn’t necessarily held true). Incentives for affordable housing are skewed towards these cookie cutter approaches. Just as an example here is a project that my company is working on the energy components of http://aeggroup.wordpress.com/ with a very forward thinking Housing Authority in Connecticut. The community will eventually become very close to being Net Zero. The per unit cost is higher than what HK is planning, but the operating costs are much lower – building materials that will last and don’t require the same maintenance combined with very small utilities. The Housing Authority recently completed a LEED project with a similar approach, but no renewables, that has also become mixed income. The feel and sense of community in the completed project is completely different than the one we are currently remodeling. The newly remodeled neighborhood is 100% occupied and there is extremely long waiting list of folks that would love to move in.

    As a side note, Section 8, is a voucher program and not a type of housing. Any landlord can qualify to accept Section 8 and in my neighborhood there are a couple of rental houses that usually have folks with Section 8 vouchers. Managers of affordable housing like Section 8 vouchers not only because it is guaranteed income, but also due to the fact that it is often worth more than what they can charge the residents that qualify for Affordable Housing. As Dan mentioned part of the Section 8 program goal as well as HUD programs like Hope 6 was to help disperse low income individuals and do away with the large high rise type projects like Cabrini-Green in Chicago or Brewster in Detroit that tended to promote the cycle of poverty and crime.

  71. Posted January 24, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    This has been extremely interesting to read all the way through in one sitting (going a bit stir crazy from being stuck at home). Do any unbiased (as unbiased anything can be) studies exist on Section 8 and how it affects cities and neighborhoods. I have had two experiences in living in places where Section 8 was added and both were extremely negative. But I don’t want to base an opinion on two personal things…I’d like to know if any hard data exists.

  72. Emma
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    From wikipedia:

    “…The study concludes that there was no increase in violent crime for the participants of subsidized housing or their surrounding neighborhoods in the five cities tested…”

    “…according to a paper prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Policy Development and Research[26] rather than increasing crime, those who use housing vouchers are more likely to move into areas where crime is increasing….”

    Also this article:

    and P.S.
    “Fear is the mind killer.” -F. Herbert

  73. Emma
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Furman Center Study:

    Urban Institute:

    I didn’t read all of the last one.

  74. Meta
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    There’s also a local “higher-end” developer looking at Water Street.

    A high-end housing development and a mixed-use project could be on the way for Ypsilanti’s 38-acre Water Street site.

    Officials confirmed the city is vetting two proposals for the city-owned property, one of which is from a “high-end” developer who would build market-rate housing, according to City Manager Ralph Lange.

    The city began assembling the property in 1999 with a vision to turn the property into a premier residential and waterfront property.

    City Planner Teresa Gillotti said during a Jan. 21 council meeting that the market-rate proposal was from a Washtenaw County developer, interested in a two-story residential project.

    Read more:

  75. Meta
    Posted February 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    From the Ann Arbor News:

    Ypsilanti will provide a tax break worth up to $750,000 to the developers of an affordable housing project on Ypsilanti’s Water Street development.

    At its Feb. 17 meeting, the Ypsilanti City Council approved on second reading an ordinance granting a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), which will allow the developer, Indiana-based Herman & Kittle, to pay a percentage of its rent revenue instead of direct taxes to local governments.

    That means the city will receive $25,000 less in annual taxes than it would without the ordinance and up to $750,000 less over the PILOT’s 30-year life.

    The PILOT won’t kick in immediately. Instead it will start in approximately 20 years upon expiration of a separate county financial incentive providing Herman & Kittle with an estimated $77,000 in annual reimbursements for cleaning up the site.

    Council voted 5-2 to approve the deal, with Council Members Brian Robb and Pete Murdock voting against it.

    Read more:

  76. Mark Lee
    Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I saw the pictures in M-Live. It doesn’t look that different than the stuff being built in Ann Arbor. Are you still going to lay in front of the bulldozers? Thanks.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] took it upon herself to send her thoughts on our proposed downtown low-income housing development, Water Street Flats, to members of both the Township Board of Trustees and our City Council. You can find her entire […]

  2. By Race and the Water Street Flats debate on March 8, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    […] As I’ve stated here previously, I believe that a legitimate case can be made against Ypsilanti’s proposed Water Street Flats development. When I read stuff like this note to Ann Arbor News reporter […]

  3. […] of the Water Street property that Indiana-based developer Herman Kittle expressed interest in for the affordable housing project they planned to call Water Street Flats. Things, it would seem, were advancing relatively well, in spite of some citizen pushback against […]

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