Ann Arbor Mayoral Candidates Share Thoughts On Affordable Housing And Homelessness

Jul 16, 2014

Ann Arbor homeless advocates hope the large turnout at a mayoral forum on the issue will show it's a priority to voters.  If nothing else all four City Council members appearing on the democratic ballot for mayor pledged to commit financial and political capital to ending homelessness in the city by 2018.

Ann Arbor Mayoral Candidates
Credit Andrew Cluley / 89.1 WEMU

Still Episcopal Church of the Incarnation pastor Joe Summers thinks the large turnout at the forum is a result of the city's failures to address the problem.  "But in the last 10 years we've only developed 100 units of affordable housing when far more units of affordable housing have been destroyed in the last 10 years.  So, its our failure to make any progress in this area that has the community so frustrated and so concerned."  

Summers thinks the topic got the candidates to go beyond their normal talking points.  The candidates shared their views on a wide range of questions connected to affordable housing and homelessness.

Sally Hart Petersen is nearing the end of her first term representing the second ward on council.  Petersen has stressed economic development efforts on the campaign trail, and believes that a job is the top anti-dote to homelessness.  Petersen says the city also needs to work to find a place for homeless people to live together when they aren't willing or able to stay at the Delonis Shelter.  "There are models that exist that are better than tent cities.  that will help them all live together in a way that's mutually supportive and I think that's what we need to focus on to be creative with our zoning laws in the city."

Sabra Briere has been on council since 2007.  The first ward representative says she will use a study being conducted by the county to help shape affordable housing policies.  "To help set priorities for different types of housing, for families, and seniors, for veterans, for the mentally ill, for those with addiction problems, for those who need a front door to protect them from themselves, for each need in our community."  Briere also called for the creation of a single source for all job listings to help more people find work. 

That leaves two more candidates, both representing Ann Arbor's third ward.  It's also home to the Michigan Itinerant Shelter System Independent out of Necessity, or MISSION.

Christopher Taylor has been on council nearly six years.  He hopes a community conversation can happen around MISSION's plans for a tiny home community on their Stone School Road property.  "Can we have something experimental work here?  Can we work with the neighbors to assure them that it will be alright for them as I think it would be?  Can we assure that these tiny homes will be safe for the residents?  I think we can get this done.  I am very much interested in moving forward."  Taylor highlights his efforts through the parks commission to allow church groups to share food in Liberty Plaza without paying a fee.

The final candidate is Stephen Kunselman who has been on council all but one year since first being elected in 2006.  He says legally the city can't allow tent communities even if the occupants are well behaved.  "I will not support a tent city in the city of Ann Arbor.  Now, today, or tomorrow.  It's not ok.  I won't support trying to accommodate people living in substandard conditions."  Kunselman says the city has squandered opportunities to increase affordable housing through small projects by focusing on larger efforts.

While many homeless advocates were pleased with things they heard from the mayoral candidates, concerns remain.  Alexandra Morgan fears an important question remains to be answered, "A lot of it was,  it will be a continual problem, and we need funding and we don't have funding, and where are we going to go?  And, tent cities aren't a solution.  But my concern is what is that going to look at MISSION to make the now happen for people who don't have a place to stay."

Ann Arbor's mayoral candidates will be looking to find short and long term solutions to the problem of homelessness if they hope to win votes from people at Wednesday's forum.

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— Andrew Cluley is the Ann Arbor beat reporter, and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him acluley@emich.edu.