Former Ypsi CIty Planner Richard Murphy weighs in with data on gentrification

Last night, prompted by the social media dustup over news that Ann Arbor’s Babo would be opening a location in Depot Town, I posted something here about the looming threat of gentrification in Ypsilanti. I’d encourage you, if you haven’t already, to read through the comments, as, for the most part, they’re pretty thoughtful. Here, though, for those of you who won’t take my advice and follow that link back to yesterday’s conversation, is my favorite comment from the thread. It was left by former Ypsilanti City Planner Richard Murphy.

Are we talking “gentrification” as in “the stuff I used to like closed, and stuff I don’t like opened”, or as in “my community has undergone a wide-scale transformation where people with more money and choices have actively displaced people with less money and fewer choices”?

If the former, meh. If we call any single business’ opening “gentrification” — most especially when they’re opening in a vacant space that used to house an IT company — it’s hard for that word to mean anything. To babo: welcome to town, and good luck. I admittedly don’t even know what a juice cleanse is, let alone why I would pay triple digits for it, but not every business in town has to (or should even try to) cater to me.

If it’s the latter meaning, widespread change that not only excludes but actively displaces community members, then yeah, that’s something we should address before it’s too late — and I’m glad people care enough about it to be watching for signs and symptoms of it.

As symptoms go, the housing market worries me more:

* Last year, according to board of realtors’ stats, home sale prices in Ypsi (school district) jumped 13.3% over the previous year’s, over twice as fast a climb as Ann Arbor or the county as a whole, and second only to Manchester’s 17%.

* A quick skim of this year’s property assessments from the city’s website shows even faster climbs in some neighborhoods — 10-20% in Normal Park, looking like 30% in the Historic East Side

* One datapoint on hearsay is poor data, but: I’m told a home in Normal Park recently got multiple offers for over $200k — and $50-60k over the zillow estimate or city’s assessor’s evaluation — in a single weekend on the strength of a facebook post? Certainly not a sign that the market is cooling

* I don’t have any comparable data on rental prices available, but would be interested in hearing them.

Like it or not, we’re part of a larger community that includes Ann Arbor, one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state, and we are going to see people looking at Ypsi as another option for places to live within that larger system. (Especially as our school system makes more positive strides.)

Short of outright intimidation, Ypsi doesn’t really have mechanisms for preventing people from moving here — and, as you say, we need people & investment to support public services and benefits within our community. (Fun fact: due to the arcana of Michigan’s tax system, those folks moving in, driving up home prices, and paying full Prop A “pop-up” taxes actually drive down the millage rate for everybody else — having some housing go up in value fast and turn over ownership can actually make it *more* affordable for other, longstanding homeowners.)

So I agree with you that “up” is a better direction than “down” for a community — and that those are the choices. I also agree that “up” should include policies and collective actions that specifically seek to include everyone in the benefit of up. Enough pontificating from me for now, though.

So let’s talk policies and collective actions. What are our options? What protections are already in place? What’s worked elsewhere? And what do we think might work given the unique circumstances we face here in Ypsi?

Also, for what it’s worth, I just heard from a friend of mine here in Ypsi that he’ll be leaving soon, as his landlord just raised the price of his one-bedroom apartment by $50 a month. So these shifts that we’ve been talking about really are beginning to effect people in real, tangible ways.

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31 Comments

  1. Lynne
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a bigger commitment to public housing? I liked Jean’s idea of finding ways to help poorer people start businesses by helping them access capital. Could our community fund something like that? I wouldnt even begin to know.

  2. Posted March 3, 2017 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Really appreciate Richard’s insights and talk about the different ways we are defining gentrification. I also agree with that Janette’s idea from the previous article’s thread: “sit down as a group and work on a strategy.” More conversations about this should be taking place in real-time group and individual interactions, in addition to the healthy portion we have already had of “social media-ted” conversations.

  3. Jean Henry
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I want to be very clear that I said African Americans, creating access to capital and business support for people of color to own businesses in Ypsi. And I said that for a reason.
    Not just poor people. Not even women entrepreneurs, who are not POC. Not LGBTQ people who are not of color. Because all of those groups statistically still have more access to capital than an African America in this culture.

  4. General Demitrious
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Ypsi’s artificially low home prices are going to have to come to an end eventually, and our residents are going to have to make more money. A city of majority poor people cannot survive. Here is a report from the Washtenaw County Commission on that very subject:

    http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/community-and-economic-development/plans-reports-data/housing-and-infrastructure/2015/washtenaw-county-affordability-and-economic-equity.pdf

  5. M
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Does any entity track Ypsilanti’s changing rental rates over time?

  6. Quinn Marie
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    The Ypsi housing commission? I know the Ann Arbor Housing commission has resource guides for “affordable” housing options which include Ypsi. Maybe you can try to get their old data which includes rental rates.

  7. Quinn Marie
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The data on what is considered affordable housing in Washtenaw County (broken down into Ypsi, Ann Arbor, and greater Washtenaw County) isn’t hard to find. Should be currently on the AAHC website

  8. Quinn Marie
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Fair market rent info (including historical data) from HUD. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/fmr.html

  9. Vivienne Armentrout
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    To answer your question, I don’t think there is any entity (governmental or otherwise) that publishes overall rental price data. It would require querying a lot of private businesses. The FMR mostly applies to Section 8 requirements, as indicated, and does not drive or constrain the private businesses who don’t accept Section 8 or have other subsidies.

    One of the commenters on your blog pointed out the Washtenaw County study that was adopted by Ann Arbor and the BOC (not sure about Ypsi) which proposed to eliminate inequity by moving the richer people to Ypsi and the poorer people to Ann Arbor. Mechanisms were few. (ex. inclusive zoning, illegal in Michigan; they recommended lobbying at the state level.)

  10. Quinn Marie
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Absolutely. But I believe the changes in FMR correlate to the changes in the rental market overall. I also think it’s worth discussing how $900 a month is considered affordable for a one bedroom

  11. Vivienne Armentrout
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    It’s based on a certain income level. A complication is when the median income in a community is relatively high. You are probably familiar with this:

    http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/community-and-economic-development/plans-reports-data/housing-and-infrastructure/2016/2016IncomeLimitsandAffordableHousingLimitsv3.pdf

  12. Sam
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I am surprised that this discussion is framed as if this is a new thing. I left Ypsi a year ago, and felt that the gentrification had priced me out of patronizing more and more establishments for at least five years prior. It used to be that someone working a service job in Ann Arbor could live comfortably in Ypsi, but in the last at least two years that has only been true if you happen to get a good deal on rent, and know where the deals are when you go out. I stopped going into depo town regularly around the time Woodruff’s closed, and had already started seeing Sidetracks as a special occasion only place, rather than a place to relax with friends over dinner on a weeknight. It would be interesting to look at the cost of a burger and pint at Sidetracks over the years, to see if/how much it coincides with my recollection.

  13. murph
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    To Jean’s comment, yes: I offer up housing prices as as wide-scale trend or pattern or potential concern, (and because it’s one I’m more familiar with the data and policy on), but it’s also one that typically boosts whites over people of color. E.g. from Demos:

    for every $1 in wealth that accrues to median Black households as a result of homeownership, median white households accrue $1.34; meanwhile for every $1 in wealth that accrues to median Latino households as a result of homeownership, median white households accrue $1.54.

    A rapidly rising local housing market is likely to exacerbate disparities between white residents, and predominantly white neighborhoods, and black or latino residents.

  14. General Demitrious
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Giving money to poor people, via subsidies for rent, or direct grant, is probably not sustainable. Better to evaluate why someone can’t keep a roof over their head without help, and help with that problem, be it education, criminal rehabilitation, child care assistance, and so on. The goal is not to create a paupers paradise, but to level the playing field and boost our citizens into the middle class.

  15. murph
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    And to Greg’s point, I can certainly spew forth plenty of potential options for tackling concerns of gentrification and trying to steer towards more inclusive growth, but that’s terribly useful when it’s just me (a white male professional-class homeowner/policy wonk — clearly not on the losing side of these trends) offering theory online.

    I’m flagging things that I see as a concern, but that doesn’t mean I’m right — I’m interested in hearing what people actually need before I push the wrong answer too hard.

  16. General Demitrious
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Murph, I can’t believe you were our city planner. Did you read the link I posted, and did any of it register. What you propose is simply to put all the poor people into the poorest city in the county, with the worst schools, and the fewest jobs, and give them a pittance to live out their lives. THAT DOES NOT WORK.

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    “I’m interested in hearing what people actually need before I push the wrong answer too hard.” — yes!

  18. Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Hahahaha I’ll still blame you ;)

  19. mossy
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    seems like the income based housing project on water street everyone hated so much might have been a great place to start in keeping rents affordable?! i spent 40k on a 3 br home here in 2011, which comes out to around $550/ mo in mortgage and taxes today. at the time there was so much property on the market and tons of it was snatched up for rentals instead of owner occupied. the house next door to mine was purchased for the same price as mine but rents for $1200 so the landlord makes a tidy $600/mo profit. i honestly got tired of listening to myself tell everyone i know to buy a house as quickly as possible. here we are six years later and my house is worth triple that price. still, right now realtor.com says there are 98 listings for homes under 100k in ypsilanti. they’re not in normal park, but still– home ownership here isn’t out of reach and continues to be far more affordable than renting the same thing. i think one way to combat these issues is to find existing opportunities in housing and business and help others cut through the tape to access them. there are lots of barriers to access including down payment funds, credit scores, student loan debt, etc. there are collective owned property groups in communities like ypsilanti leaving blue prints for us to follow.

  20. Citywatch
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Some of the changes we see are a result of the lack of affordable housing and business space in Ann Arbor. Many people who work there simply cannot afford to live there and businesses, especially start-ups, face the same situation. They come east because everything to the west is also expensive and there is pretty good public transportation between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. It is need and common sense. It is people and businesses seizing on opportunity, same as it ever was. However, as in Detroit, poor people and people of color get squeezed out. I am aware of efforts/activities in cities bordering Detroit who actively try to keep these populations from moving west. I agree with Jean and General Demetrious that strategizing ways to provide business and housing opportunities, a “grow in place philosophy”, is better than pushing people with history and determination to other places. Yet, I am also aware that our city planners, city council, DDA , major real estate entities and landlords view what we are calling “gentrification” in Ypsilanti as good thing and there are no plans that I am aware of to do that. And now a warning. We must fear and resist the first Starbuck’s or Potbelly that wants to open a store here. That is the beginning of the end of what makes Ypsilanti special. It happened to Ann Arbor!

  21. bil
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    the same people screaming gentrification are the same people who wanted a farmer’s market instead of a dollar store, right?

  22. Lynne
    Posted March 3, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    “I want to be very clear that I said African Americans, creating access to capital and business support for people of color to own businesses in Ypsi. And I said that for a reason.”

    If your goal is to make reparations for slavery etc or even to compensate for discrimination in lending, then I think this is a good plan. If your goal is to reduce gentrification, programs which help the poor work better. I was hungry and craving some Taco Bell tonight (oh gawd what if they gentrify Taco Bell out of town?) so I went in and while I was there, I met a nice woman who was an off duty manager there. And she was homeless. And white. She is a victim of gentrification too.

    Anyways, There is a lot of complexity and intersectionality when it comes to privilege. I generally support income based programs rather than race based programs because I know that when it comes to things like home ownership and business ownership, a black person with the Harvard undergraduate with the UM law school education who is married to a similarly well educated and successful lawyer has less of a need for such help than that homeless Taco Bell manager. I also know that income based programs will still help a lot of black people, because so many are poor. I guess I don’t see the increased privilege of white skin sufficient to not want to see programs for poor white people too especially if what we are talking about is preserving the diversity of this city. We could have a very racially diverse city that isn’t economically diverse and I am not sure that is a great thing either. We need all kinds.

    “Giving money to poor people, via subsidies for rent, or direct grant, is probably not sustainable. Better to evaluate why someone can’t keep a roof over their head without help, and help with that problem, be it education, criminal rehabilitation, child care assistance, and so on. The goal is not to create a paupers paradise, but to level the playing field and boost our citizens into the middle class.”

    Actually, there is evidence that just simply giving money to poor people with no strings attached is not only sustainable but also very beneficial. Let them evaluate why they can’t keep a roof over their head. Let them decide what will work best for them, be it education, child care assistance, home ownership, starting a business etc.

    I mean, a big reason for poverty is a lack of good jobs and like or not, technology is going to continue to reduce jobs at the bottom while making the owners of the technology wealthy as well as those who build and maintain the technology. The thing is, you can’t educate everyone into that build and maintain class because there are fewer of those types of jobs than the ones they replaced. You can, however, redistribute the wealth as it get concentrated into the hands of the owners of technology. I imagine that it is more sustainable than letting the wealth and income concentrate at the top.

  23. Murph
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    General D, I’m very familiar with the county’s housing and equity report, and am very supportive of its goals of access to economic opportunity and reducing concentrated poverty. If you weren’t coming to this with quite so much hostility, you might notice we’re saying a few pretty compatible things.

    For example, your: “our residents are going to have to make more money.”

    Is a big part of what I mean in saying Ypsi’s path up needs to include opportunities for folks who already live here — not just removing those people from the community to get or poverty numbers down and replacing them with “better” people.

    And my periodic advocacy for intentional inclusion of affordable housing options in Ypsi is not ignorance of or disagreement with the czb report, but an expectation that Ypsi can and will reach a point where we can’t rely on “cheap houses” to fill “affordable housing” needs, and have to plan ahead for how we make sure some affordable housing remains when the housing market isn’t so cheap.

    But straw men are fun too, so carry on.

  24. Demetrius
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that giant corporations (like Taco Bell) which exploit their workers so badly that one of their own managers remains homeless is a much bigger threat to poor and working people in our community than a shop selling $125 juice cleanses.

    Same with all the payday loan, rent-to-own, and “cash for gold” outfits that plague our community.

    There are, of course, many in our community who need and deserve assistance. But for many of the working poor, the answer isn’t more SNAP benefits and subsidized housing – but access to jobs that offer decent hours, living wages, employer-paid healthcare, etc.

  25. jean henry
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Lynne- I understand very well that not all poor people are African American. The likelihood that the truly impoverished will move into home or business ownership is very very small, and historically such efforts have created large rates of foreclosure, bankruptcy etc, do not stabilizing to everyone. I’m talking about addressing racial bias in housing and in business capitalization. It exists and is well documented. I’m not talking about reparations (though I support them); I’m talking about addressing existing and easily documented inequity within the current system of home and business finance. So the rough equivalent would be affirmative action in college admissions. Denying racial disparity persists does not create conditions for greater equity. And it never will.

  26. Lynne
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    But for many of the working poor, the answer isn’t more SNAP benefits and subsidized housing – but access to jobs that offer decent hours, living wages, employer-paid healthcare, etc.

    OK, but in a market where human labor is being replaced with machine labor, making sure people have jobs like that is tough. You can do it with large scale public works where the government offers good jobs to anyone who is able-bodied and capable. You still need things like food assistance and subsidized housing for those who are not.

    Denying racial disparity persists does not create conditions for greater equity.

    I have not denied that such disparity exists nor am I opposed to programs which might address such disparity. However, that alone will not help enough if the goal is more than racial diversity. Programs designed to help poor people (such as public housing) are also needed and should be race neutral. That will help with economic diversity which is also important.

  27. Demetrius
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    @ Lynne

    I somewhat agree. The problem is that in many cases, these programs (however well-intentioned) allow fast food companies, big-box stores, etc., to provide lousy pay and benefits because these companies know they can count on public assistance to make up the difference. In effect, middle-class taxpayers end up indirectly subsidizing the bottom lines of major corporations by paying for chunks of their employees’ cost of living.

    I understand the issues with automation, etc., but I think we owe it to the poor and working poor (and to our society as a whole) to make sure that anyone is who is capable and willing to work is able to *earn* a salary and benefits that enables them to pay for decent housing, adequate food, basic health care – and provides the dignity that comes with self-determination.

  28. Lynne
    Posted March 5, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    If you are talking about a minimum wage and labor laws which require things like paid time off, I agree. Health insurance is more efficient when it is single payer so I would prefer such a system but could see funding it with a payroll tax.

    The problem is that will increase incentives to automate. There will be fewer low skilled jobs even as more high skill jobs are created. It is worth noting though that fewer high skill jobs would be created than low skill jobs lost. Nevertheless, it will be worth it to prepare young people for high skill jobs with good education. It will be worth it to spend resources retraining many workers too.

    It may not be worth it or possible in many individual cases to retrain workers. We need a strong safety net for such people but this can be accomplished in a way that preserves and even enhances people’s dignity. For instance I don’t know anyone on Social Security retirement who feels ashamed about receiving a government check every month. Since older workers have the least time to recoup an investment in retraining and also may be the least likely to want to, lowering the SS retirement age could help get people out of the labor market. Reducing the supply of labor would help wages rise or at least not fall as much as they otherwise would.

  29. Jcp2
    Posted March 6, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Reducing the supply of labor only causes wages to rise if labor itself is the only means of productivity. If automation is cheaper in the long run, then investments will be made in that area instead of paying higher wages indefinitely.

  30. Jean Henry
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I’m more than a little tired of the issue of economic inequity (and arguments therein about the end of labor etc) diverting from the issue of broader racial inequity on this blog.

    I was talking about setting up a private fund to capitalize minority, specifically Black owned businesses in Ypsi and now, and suddenly we’re back to this fantasy govt funded UBI bullshit.

    I see this over and over again in A2 and Ypsi when issues of racial inequity are brought up. The quick diversion to some liberal fantasy and away from any kind of meaningful localized solution or even conversation. No, it’s not all poor people. And PS, there are still manufacturing jobs, lots of them in the health industries and machining. These are skilled labor and people may need re-training, but they exist in plentiful numbers. And there’s alway driving trucks. The kids don’t want to take those jobs or train for them. Whether POC could access those jobs or the training is a question someone should look into. But none of that replaces the value to a community of minority owned businesses and homes.

  31. Lynne
    Posted March 7, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Reducing the supply of labor only causes wages to rise if labor itself is the only means of productivity. If automation is cheaper in the long run, then investments will be made in that area instead of paying higher wages indefinitely.”

    Yes. There is indeed a pretty direct connection to the price of labor and the implementation of labor saving technology. However, it is change that happens slowly and thus the solution can be slow as well. I really like the reduction of retirement age option because as more and more technology replaces labor, more and more can be urged out of the workforce with retirement.

    “I’m more than a little tired of the issue of economic inequity (and arguments therein about the end of labor etc) diverting from the issue of broader racial inequity on this blog. “

    You somehow don’t see how a UBI would actually benefit minorities quite a lot. i.e. it has a much greater benefit to poor people and if racism causes a group to be impoverished in disproportional numbers, even race neutral solution will benefit those same groups in the same disproportional ways. If you want to create a fund that only benefits minorities, go ahead. I have no issues with that kind of affirmative action but generally feel that race neutral programs are nearly as beneficial and also have the advantage of being more likely to gain support even among the majority of white Americans who have implicit biases against minorities.

    Yes, there are still manufacturing jobs but they are slowly being replaced by globalization and automation and there is absolutely no indication that is going to change any time soon. Driving is a perfect example. We could see self-driving trucks in a decade or so. That is an industry, btw, where minority participation has been studied. I remember reading a paper on it in school about how trucking was an industry where unions were very harmful in terms of minority employment and minority employment went way up (but wages went way down) after the industry started to get away from high regulation and unions.

    I am not sure why you think that people not adopting your bullshit ideas = “quick diversion to some liberal fantasy and away from any kind of meaningful localized solution or even conversation.” Perhaps you would like to elaborate about why you feel that way. Seems like there has been plenty of conversation at least even if we haven’t moved towards meaningful solutions.

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