Plans for more affordable housing in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti get state funding boost

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI — Efforts to bring more affordable housing to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are getting a big boost.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has announced nearly $100 million in grants for projects across the state through the Revitalization and Placemaking Program.

That includes over $8 million for projects in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti under a grant application submitted by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission in partnership with others.

It’s a significant amount, said Housing Commission Executive Director Jennifer Hall, though since it’s less than the $10 million they requested, they still have to figure out how the money is going to be divvied up.

The full amounts they requested were:

  • $5 million for a six-story, 63-unit affordable housing development planned by the Housing Commission and Avalon Housing at 121 Catherine St. in downtown Ann Arbor.
  • $1 million for a Fourth Avenue streetscape improvement project by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority in conjunction with the Housing Commission’s plans to create affordable housing along the street.
  • $3.9 million for a mixed-use development planned by the J29:7 Planning and Development Corp. at 136 N. Washington St. in Ypsilanti, including five floors with 60 affordable housing units above two retail spaces.
  • $100,000 for a workforce development project by J29:7 at 124 Pearl St. in Ypsilanti.

“These investments will help create vibrant places that attract and retain talent, add new housing options, enable business creation and attraction, and provide resources for Michiganders and our communities,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

The money coming to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti is huge and it’s a true regional collaboration to prioritize affordable housing near transit, said Derric Scott, CEO of the J29:7 Planning and Development Corp. in Ypsilanti.

The six-story development J29:7 has planned on Washington Street would take shape on a parking lot across from where TheRide plans to build a new Ypsilanti Transit Center. There would be 60 housing units, all affordable to people of varying incomes starting at 50% of the area median, Scott said.

“For us, it’s a big project that’s going to put affordable housing right across the street from transit,” he said, adding that’ll give residents good access to the rest of the region and jobs.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell secures $7 million in federal funding for Ypsilanti Transit Center expansion project

The exterior of the Ypsilanti Transit Center at 220 Pearl St. on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell secured $7 million in federal funding for what’s now estimated to be an over $18 million project to build a new Ypsilanti Transit Center.Sydney Verlinde | The Ann Arbor News

The other workforce development project J29:7 has planned involves acquiring and preserving a six-story building at the northeast corner of Washington and Pearl streets that has the Ypsi Alehouse on the ground floor and five floors of office space above. The building provides affordable space for small businesses, many minority-owned and nonprofit, Scott said.

The project includes a first-floor renovation that may mean truncating the alehouse space to create a new space for another food operator, Scott said, adding it would be a minority-owned business bringing about 15 new jobs and would be complementary to the alehouse.

Scott said he calls Ypsilanti home and his company’s name and mission is based on the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:7, which is about seeking prosperity for the places where he works.

The affordable housing development that Avalon Housing and the Housing Commission have planned on Catherine Street in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown district is projected to cost over $30 million. Some of the apartments are planned to be paired with supportive services for people with incomes up to 30% of the area median, including people with a history of homelessness, while others will be for people with incomes up to 60% of the area median, with a preference for low-income artists and other creative economy workers.

121 E. Catherine St.

Renderings show plans for a six-story affordable housing development at the northwest corner of Catherine Street and Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown district.Landon Bone Baker Architects

The ground floor is planned to be divided into two spaces, one of which would include space for onsite property management and resident services, as well as a flexible community space, including a kitchenette for residents.

“Tenants will be able to access computers, internet, phones and faxing services in the community center, as well as create and participate in community events and activities,” the proposal states, noting there also would be a community room, laundry and a medical office on the sixth floor.

The other ground-floor space would be a community and cultural space honoring the area’s Black history.

‘We are losing our Black history.’ New Ann Arbor housing project looks to past

“It is anticipated that a nonprofit will be created to activate and manage the space,” the proposal states, noting the neighborhood around the site was for much of the 20th century a predominately Black neighborhood. “The last several decades have brought significant gentrification to this neighborhood and the loss of Black-owned businesses and residents.”

African American Festival

The 26th-annual Ann Arbor African American Festival on Fourth Avenue downtown on June 3, 2023. (Ryan Stanton | Stanton | The Ann Arbor News

The streetscape improvement project the DDA has planned on Fourth Avenue involves a full reconstruction between William and Liberty streets, next to the Blake Transit Center and where the Housing Commission is planning another affordable housing development on the former YMCA property.

The streetscape project will enhance transit operations and add amenities for pedestrians and bus riders, including wider sidewalks, and incorporate infrastructure to support the Housing Commission’s plans, according to the grant proposal, which notes the commission’s 18-story, mixed-income high-rise development there is tentatively slated for 2026.

As for the Catherine Street project, officials previously said their hope was to line up funding to be able to start construction in 2024 and be complete by fall 2025.

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