Let’s talk about race and the Water Street Flats debate

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 Katrease Stafford, though, I don’t feel all that inclined to join the campaign against the controversial downtown affordable housing project. While I’d like to think best of everyone working to kill this project, you can’t deny that, for some, there is a racial component, which is not only incredibly off-putting, but just plain disgusting.


Speaking of Katrease, yesterday was her last day at M-Live. She’s been hired to work the breaking news beat at the Detroit Free Press, and begins on Monday. I’m supper happy for her, as this is something that she really wants to do, but her coverage of the Ypsilanti community will be sorely missed. As of right now, as I understand it, M-Live hasn’t announced that they’ll be hiring a full-time replacement for her. One hopes, however, they have plans to continue staffing the Ypsi beat.

[note: Katrease’s articles, including the one about Water Street Flats that led someone to write the above comment, can be found here.]

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  1. Posted March 8, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink


  2. anonymous
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I believe this is one of the first times Mark Maynard has written about an African American. I am glad for the evolution.

  3. Kim
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    It sucks to be on the same side of an issue as racists, but that doesn’t make you a racist. A lot of good people are against the Water Street Flats project and I’d hate to see them cast in this light.

  4. Tommy
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Anonymous, I first started reading this site in 2007 because of the coverage of the David Ware murder (http://markmaynard.com/2007/02/who-was-david-ware/) and I’ve continued since then because Mark continues to write about race. From his posts on Washtenaw County ICE raids and the Prison Industrial Complex to his posts about recent threats to the Voting Rights Act and Rand Paul’s proposition that we should once again allow segregated lunch counters, he’s one the few people actually writing about racism in our area (http://markmaynard.com/tag/racism/).

  5. maryd
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I’m inclined to agree

  6. Posted March 9, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    So Peter Larson commented on something on FB and it popped up on my feed. I had no idea this thing existed but I thought I would share it here…it’s called the White Man March. According to the spunky fella behind it, diversity = white person genocide.

    I just throw this out there for all you to chew on.

    (Peter made some wonderfully snarky comments on the FB thread)

  7. double anonymous
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I submit that you cannot win a debate so long as people like this are on your side.

  8. Joe
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    The point here is that, if you’re a racist, it is not in your best interest to say racist things in support of anything you actually support (or to oppose anything you actually oppose). This is one of the big problems that the Republican Party is facing: when you have overtly racist people supporting your candidates, it probably does more harm than good for the party. So a rational, self-interested racist, therefore, would keep their mouth shut.

  9. Posted March 9, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    “It sucks to be on the same side of an issue as racists, but that doesn’t make you a racist. A lot of good people are against the Water Street Flats project and I’d hate to see them cast in this light.”

    No, but I think it’s cause for some very serious soul searching if it so happens that your position lines up nicely with classists and racists.

  10. Andrew Clock
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    To be fair, it was being pretty strongly suggested that ANYONE who makes less than $30k and lives in Ypsilanti was predestined to be a criminal who enjoyed vandalizing their own home and would only patronize national chain businesses. Oh, and predetermined to be a sex offender. I also thoroughly enjoyed the personal attacks that took the place of discussion if you didn’t fully agree with that sentiment.

    There were/are lots of legitimate questions to be asked about this project. Unfortunately, too many people chose to focus on irrational fear instead. Gross is exactly the right word for what was being said on Facebook and Mlive, and made it very hard to take the against crowd seriously.

    I felt the same about this topic as I do when people tell me that I run an event full of gangbangers and thugs, but I can only find a few unsupervised teenagers and lots of families and neighbors: to wonder if anyone saying these things has really spent time in the community.

    I also think a lot of people in Ypsilanti, and I would include myself in here from time to time, who speak of what Ypsilanti wants or needs, do so from a very narrow perspective. As we’re so quick to point out, we live in a diverse community, and I think that makes it somewhat difficult to speak with authority on what is best for the entire community.

  11. Posted March 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Great point, Joe. Fortunately for the racists, most of their comments are quickly deleted from M-Live. The only reason this one exists is that it was sent directly to Katrease on Twitter, and she posted it to Facebook. (Also, I asked her if I could reprint it here before doing so.)

    As for me, I’m on the fence about the project. I see the appeal for the city, but, at the same time, I’d hoped for something better. As I’ve said, I don’t have a problem with low income housing. I would have preferred, however, to see mixed income housing on the space, as I don’t think it benefits anyone to segregate the poor. I also think that mixed-income housing would more likely attract better jobs.

  12. Posted March 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s also worth repeating that the people I’ve spoken with who are against the Flats project would be horrified to know that there are people like this on their side of the debate. As I’ve said multiple times, I do think there are legitimate reasons for thinking that this is not in the best interest of the city, and race, I’m confident, is not a factor for those people whom I’ve spoken with.

  13. Andrew Clock
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I’m on the fence too for much of the same reasons, but I think it’s important to keep the utter size of the property in perspective: Talking in just rough terms, you could build the proposed rec center, trail park, the Flats, dollar whatever, and the mixed use minor league ballpark concept and still have about 10 acres, about 6 city blocks, left over for both retail and residential.

    That’s why I can’t buy into the “tipping point” argument just yet. The two approved projects are dwarfed by what’s already proposed and what’s left over.

    That doesn’t necessarily make having these two places go first a great decision either. I think it hinges on the rec center at this point. If we get that, both the remaining properties and these apartments look a lot more attractive. If not, it’s anybody’s guess.

  14. Posted March 9, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with both you and Pete — opposing a proposal like this doesn’t have to come from racism, but one has to be very aware of the potential of reinforcing structural racialization with that opposition. (That is: people who are not personally racist can still contribute to policies that have a disparate impact on members of racial minorities.)

    I’m very sympathetic to your interest to see “mixed-income” development as a tonic to the concentration and segregation of low-income residents. Unfortunately, opposing a project like this one is not the way to make deconcentration happen. (In many cases, drives to “tear down the projects” and “deconcentrate affordable housing” makes affordability *worse*, because they lead to less (fewer housing units) affordable housing, and are frequently resisted by the actual residents.) While the motivation may be different, the practical outcome of “we need less concentration of low-income housing” and “we need less low-income housing” tends to be pretty minimal.

    In this case, the developer is not going to come back with a mixed market/subsidized project if the City says no to their proposal — nor are we really going to get any other developer to do so. (Unless we’re willing to give them MORE subsidy to make non-low-income units doable.) Because of the way the financing program is structured, nearly all LIHTC-subsidized construction is 100% affordable units, and the majority of LIHTC developers specialize in only doing those projects. (Hamilton Crossing — the relaunch of Parkridge on South Hamilton — was actually done as two separate projects: one “phase” was all-LIHTC, the other used only other financing programs, because mixing them is so difficult.)

    There’s a term “horizontal mixed-use” in development, which reflects an often necessary compromise with the commodity nature of real estate development: we might really like residential uses above ground floor retail, but it takes a strong market (or a lot of public subsidy) to make that happen, because the real estate financing world is reluctant to get into such complicated projects. So, instead, we often see the retail going in adjacent to the residential — not in the same building, but “close enough” to get a lot of the benefits of a mixed-use district.

    The nature of affordable housing financing programs means that’s probably also the best way to manage “mixed-income housing” here: one building/developer uses affordable housing financing programs to build affordable housing, and the one next to it uses other subsidies to build “market-rate” housing. The city’s role in this case is not to kick out any developer who doesn’t offer us the unicorn of fully integrated construction, but to manage the mixture on a block-wise basis.

  15. EOS
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    The majority of the poor in our country are white. Persons of color are disproportionately represented among the poor, but they do not comprise the majority. Conflating poverty with race is racist.

    This topic is just a page taken from Saul Alinsky tactics. Attempting to smear all persons with a certain point of view as racist is an attempt to silence their voices. Resorting to these tactics shows your inability to formulate a valid line of reasoning.

  16. Packer
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I want more people of color at Water Street, and less Herman & Kittle.

  17. H.
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Murph, if you really think that other developers will come in and build middle income and upper income housing developments between this property and the dollar store, you’re out of your mind.

  18. General Demitrios
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    We are going to build a low income housing development in one of the poorer sections of the poorest city in this county. We have just merged the two lowest performing districts into one big low-performing district in the poorest city in this county. I don’t care what color they are, poor is poor. The idiotic tweet of one person is not the issue to be discussed. We need to discuss why this state is so unconcerned about the economic opportunity disparity in its affordable housing program. I looked at the application that a developer files to get state grant money. There are no points awarded for putting affordable housing in an area that can provide fair economic advantage.

  19. anony
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I think one of the most telling bits about any conversation about race in this community is that the stilted and fairly low-brow discussions we do have about race are exceedingly limited as shown on this blog. They are Black -v- White.

    Maybe a better questions is: How come Ypsi is so cleansed of other colors that we don’t even talk about them?

    One answer is because they aren’t here in numbers. Well, why is that?

  20. Mr. Dr. Anonymous
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    An interesting comment left in response to an Ann Arbor News article about potholes.

    The comment:

    The article:

  21. Posted March 10, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Whew. Glad there’s so much racism in Ann Arbor.

    Now we can stop worrying about racism in Ypsi.

    Thanks, Dr. Anonymous!


  22. interstate
    Posted June 9, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    How dare you all insinuate that poor people shouldn’t be segregated in isolated government housing projects. You must really hate poor people.

  23. Posted October 27, 2014 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Fact: The Ypsilanti Housing Commission oversees thirteen scattered dwelling sites, the majority comprised South of Michigan Avenue in Ward 1.

    Race: city-wide, 31.9% of the population is African American. In Southwest Ypsilanti, the western portion of the South of Michigan Avenue (SOMA) Needs Assessment area, 80% of the population is African- American, a decrease from the 90% portion from the 2000 census. Hispanic and Asian populations represent approximately 4% each of the total City population.

    Housing: The South of Michigan Avenue (SOMA) area contains some 1,044 residential parcels. 63% of these parcels are home to owner-occupied residences. The amount of owner-occupied residential parcels has increased by approximately 8%, compared with the City at large decreasing by 1% in the same measurement.

    Ranked highest in both female-headed households with children and large families earning below $25,000, indicating a need to preserve larger affordable units. Ranked second in cost-burdened households (housing costs exceed 30% of income) and high among areas with older structures. This indicates an area where housing maintenance and repair is an issue. This also indicates a higher need for lead-based paint abatement, due to the high number of families with children in this area. Ypsilanti has the highest concentration of poverty and subsidized rental housing, indicating a need for coordinated neighborhood revitalization strategies in lower- income areas.

    Ypsilanti has the largest concentration of poverty and subsidized households in the County and therefore, additional new subsidized housing is not recommended. However, it is necessary to provide rental assistance to families that are in distress and facing homelessness by keeping them housed in their neighborhood of choice.

    Ypsilanti has a disproportionate number of lower-income residents and rental units compared to the rest of the county. The City of Ypsilanti should continue to encourage homeownership to stabilize neighborhoods and tax revenues. In particular, the City needs to diversify its tax base and attract higher income residents in order to maintain economic viability. (Especially in Ward 1; SOMA!)

    The Ypsilanti Housing Commission provided the following housing for low-income individuals and families: June 30, 2012
    Low Rent Public Housing Program 187
    Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program 341


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