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Residents need balance on WCC Board

I’ve written about this in the past, but it’s something that bears repeating. The WCC Board of Trustees isn’t representative of the population of Washtenaw County. Six out of seven Board Members have Ann Arbor addresses, including the newly appointed trustee, Alex Milshteyn. The seventh comes from Dexter.

I’m absolutely certain that if you asked the members of the WCC Board of Trustees how well they could represent the needs of Washtenaw County residents outside of Ann Arbor, they would – to a person – say that it would not be a problem for them. They will swear that they fully understand the challenges that low-income households in Washtenaw County face.

But here’s the problem with that. In 2022, Ann Arbor (proper) saw the largest one-year increase in median household income ever. Ann Arbor’s median household income is twice that of Ypsilanti’s. (And Dexter’s median household income is 50% higher than Ann Arbor’s.) Other areas in the county did not see record one-year increases. The income gap between Ann Arbor and the rest of the County grows annually as wealth concentrates in Ann Arbor.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the median gross rent in Ann Arbor consumes about 20% of the average household income. In Ypsilanti, the median household income is much smaller, so rent consumes about 30% of the monthly household income. Gross rent is defined as the cost of the rental unit plus utilities.

Concentration of wealth causes perception problems

The concentration of wealth in Ann Arbor poses a problem for Ypsilanti. As Ann Arbor becomes steadily more unaffordable, lower income residents get priced out of Ann Arbor. They gravitate to Ypsilanti, which puts added pressure on Ypsilanti’s housing market. The increased demand for housing raises the rents in Ypsilanti, which makes it more difficult for lower-income individuals to remain in Ypsilanti. According to US Census Bureau data, rents rose faster in Ypsilanti ZIP codes than they did in Ann Arbor ZIP codes between 2020 and 2022.

Ann Arbor residents would not (and do not) see a problem with this. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats, right? Possibly, except that the only thing that’s rising in Ypsilanti is the rents. The household income is substantially lower than it is in Ann Arbor and it’s not rising at the same rate Ann Arbor’s household income is rising. As rents rise in Ypsilanti, they consume a greater percentage of the renter’s household income.

WCC Board prefers to make students pay capital costs

Household wealth makes people blind to those of lower means. It allows the WCC Board of Trustees to permit the WCC Administration to promote low-value, non-degree certificates, and degree programs that lead to low-wage jobs. It also allows them to believe that a $5-per-credit-hour increase in costs at WCC is both affordable and equitable. The alternative is to ask the taxpayers for money, which would make the Trustees’ own taxes rise. (That’s supremely unpalatable to them.)

When confronted with a substantial tuition or fee increase, WCC students reduce the number of classes they take or withdraw altogether. WCC’s own enrollment and tuition data confirm this. (Apparently, the students are less certain that tuition and fee increases are either affordable or fair.)

No one on the WCC Board of Trustees can speak authentically to the impact of economic disparity within Washtenaw County. The Trustees all come from economically advantaged areas of the County. And when they have the opportunity to fill a vacancy on the board, invariably they select someone with a similar economic background to their own.

Given that the majority of the property tax revenues that support WCC come from outside the City of Ann Arbor, there is no reason Ann Arbor residents should occupy 6 out of 7 Board seats.

Photo Credit: , via Flickr