Press "Enter" to skip to content

Washtenaw County housing will remain unaffordable in Ypsilanti

Yesterday, I wrote about housing in Washtenaw County and what it takes income-wise to live in various communities here. There is no doubt that Washtenaw County is one of the most expensive places to live in Michigan. It doesn’t matter if you live in Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor Township – you’re going to pay a lot more for housing here than you will in most other places in the state.

The cost of housing is a critical benchmark because shelter is an absolute need. It’s not something you can forgo and there is no alternative to it. Traditionally low-cost housing options – like mobile homes – have also recently caught the attention of venture capitalists. As a result, mobile home rents have skyrocketed, leaving their residents unable to afford one of the last bastions of affordable housing.

(When a wealthy person decides the land underneath the only housing you can afford has “real investment potential,” you’re pretty much screwed.)

The chart from yesterday’s post includes dollar figures for what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls fair market rent (FMR). FMR includes the cost of rent and utilities. But another perhaps more nuanced approach to FMR for lower earning residents includes the cost of transportation. Housing, utilities, and transportation costs should not exceed 45% of a worker’s income.

The logic in adding transportation costs reflects the fact that as lower- earning households are forced to seek less expensive housing at a greater distance from where they work, their transportation costs increase. While these displaced workers can find lower cost housing, they effectively transfer their “savings” to increased transportation costs. Those costs come in the form of additional gasoline, higher insurance costs, and higher repair costs. A more subtle and less definable transportation cost is the increased commuting time.

Washtenaw County costs drive need for WCC Trustees from Ypsilanti

There are several “affordable” housing projects currently planned or under construction in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. But don’t assume that people in Ypsilanti – whose median income is the lowest in Washtenaw County – can afford this “affordable housing.” That’s because the income guidelines used to define “affordable” – and determine who qualifies to live in these new homes – are based on the median income for Washtenaw County – not Ypsilanti.

For the most part, these “affordable” new homes will be very close in price to Ypsilanti’s current market rate. What’s most likely to happen is that people who eventually occupy these affordable spaces will come from less affordable parts of Washtenaw County – like Ann Arbor.

The base problem is the median income in Ypsilanti. This perfectly illustrates why Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti township need much better performance from Washtenaw Community College. We simply can’t have a community college that generates a lot of low-wage graduates. These low-wage earners gravitate to eastern Washtenaw County because that’s where housing comes closest to being affordable for them. While that may help out Ann Arbor, it places an excruciating and unfair burden on Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

The occupational and vocational programs at WCC must be revamped, redesigned, and reconsidered to bring graduates closer to the median income in Washtenaw County, which currently exceeds $83,000.

If WCC will not focus on creating and filling programs that prepare students for high-wage jobs, then there’s no point funding WCC at $75M each year. If WCC focused nearly exclusively on high-wage programs, its classrooms would be full. Instead, it minimizes degree programs and focuses on low-wage certificates that don’t allow graduates to earn enough to remain in Washtenaw County.

This is why we need Ypsilanti residents on the WCC Board of Trustees.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks, via Flickr