Stories indexed with the term ‘Ann Arbor Housing Commission’

Ann Arbor Looks to Future: Housing, Transit

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 3, 2013): At a meeting that lasted until nearly 1 a.m., the council took major steps that will affect the future of services in two core areas: housing and transportation.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Ann Arbor Housing Commission Executive Director Jennifer Hall.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Ann Arbor Housing Commission executive director Jennifer Hall. (Photos by the writer.)

On the housing side, a unanimous vote of the council approved the transfer of ownership for city properties managed by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) to the commission itself – an arrangement that’s actually more common across housing commissions in other cities. That step will allow conversion of the AAHC’s 355 public housing units to a project-based voucher system under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. AAHC will then be pursuing low-income housing tax credits through a ground lease of the properties to a private/public limited partnership. The tax credits are intended to fund several million dollars in needed capital improvements to the existing properties, as well as build 20-30 new units.

Other unanimous votes related to the AAHC’s plan included: a resolution to approve a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the properties now owned by AAHC – so that no property taxes will be owed; a resolution declaring that AAHC employees are and will remain city employees; and a $200,000 allocation from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to support improvements to Miller Manor.

On the transportation side, the council unanimously authorized membership of the city of Ypsilanti in the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, by approving changes to the articles of incorporation for the AATA. The number of board seats is expanded from seven to nine, with one of the seats to be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti. The transportation authority will go by the name Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The board of the AATA and the city of Ypsilanti also will need to formally approve the new articles, but are expected to do that in a straightforward fashion.

While the amendment of the articles of incorporation changes only the governance of the AAATA, the intent is to provide the potential for increased transportation funding. The AAATA could, with voter approval, levy a uniform millage on all member jurisdictions of the authority – now the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. It’s a right the current AATA already has, but has never exercised. Each city itself already levies a transit millage, and transmits the proceeds of those taxes to the AATA. For Ypsilanti, the advantage of a transit authority millage is that it would not count against the state constitutional 20-mill cap that a city can levy – a cap that Ypsilanti has already reached.

Deliberations on those two agenda items – housing and transportation – did not begin until after 11 p.m.

Taking an hour of the council’s time before that was a debate on a change to the city’s public art ordinance. The council unanimously supported eliminating the requirement of an automatic 1% set-aside for public art in the budget for every capital project – known as Percent for Art. But lengthy deliberations unfolded about an additional change: A provision that would allow for the return of previous years’ public art allocations to their funds of origin.

The ordinance revision that had already been given initial approval by the council allowed for such a return just for the FY 2014 public art set-asides. In the end, the council opted for an ordinance change that did not provide for a return of previous years’ public art allocations. That leaves roughly $845,000 in funds that can be used for the public art program as defined in the revised ordinance – one that places the onus on city staff to identify capital improvement projects that might be suitable for incorporating public art.

Another significant item on the council’s June 3 agenda was a resolution encouraging the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to allocate funding for three police officers. That resolution passed on an 8-2 vote. The council also gave final approval to utility rate increases (an annual item) and a reduction in utility improvement charges imposed on first-time connections.

Other business included final approval of rezoning requests for Parkway Place and State Street Center. The Parkway Place rezoning – at 490 Huron Parkway – was from R3 (townhouse dwelling district) to R1B (single-family dwelling district). The State Street Center rezoning, near the intersection of South State and Ellsworth, was from O (office district) to C3 (fringe commercial district).

In anticipation of the upcoming July 4 holiday, the council took initial action on an ordinance that would restrict use of fireworks to the hours of 8 a.m. to midnight.

During public commentary, the topic of Pizza in the Park was reprised as a theme from the council’s previous meeting. Advocates for the homeless community lobbied for a written commitment from the city that a parks and recreation fee would not be imposed on a church that distributes food and other aid at Liberty Plaza, a downtown city park. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Takes Steps to Convert Public Housing

The Ann Arbor city council has taken steps to convert the city’s public housing stock to a public/private system in a effort to address a roughly $520,000 deficit in capital improvements funding each year for the next 15 years. Key among those steps was a transfer of ownership from the city of Ann Arbor to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, which currently manages but does not own the 355 units of public housing in the city.

The action came at the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting. AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall had briefed the council on the issue at a Feb. 11, 2013 work session.

At its June 3 meeting, the council approved a total of four resolutions affecting the AAHC. … [Full Story]

June 3, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: In Progress

The Ann Arbor city council’s June 3, 2013 meeting agenda features two significant topics that will have an impact on the future of public housing and public transportation in the city.

Door to Ann Arbor city council chambers

Door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber.

The council will be asked to vote on a series of resolutions related to a proposed conversion of the city’s 355 public housing units to a project-based voucher system under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. The council had been briefed at a Feb. 11, 2013 work session on the details of the proposal.

Key steps the council will be asked to take on June 3 include transferring ownership of properties managed by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) from the city of Ann Arbor to the AAHC. Because it involves the transfer of a land interest, approval will require an 8-vote majority on the 11-member council. The properties would eventually be owned by a public/private partnership. The AAHC selected a co-developer earlier this year at its Jan. 10, 2013 meeting.

AAHC is seeking to undertake with this initiative in order to fund several million dollars worth of needed capital improvements. On the RAD approach, they would be funded in large part through low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC).  The council will also be asked to approve a payment in lieu of taxes to the AAHC, so that no property taxes will be owed by AAHC.

The AAHC had originally conceived of converting its properties to project-based vouchers in phases over a few years. The impact of federal sequestration had led AAHC to contemplate converting all the properties this year, to soften part of that impact. However, a hoped-for change in HUD’s rules that would allow the all-in-one-go approach was not made, AAHC learned last week. So “Scenario 3″ described in the staff memo accompanying the council resolution is no longer possible. The negative financial impact of that HUD decision totals around $550,000 over the course of three years.

On the public  transportation side, the council will be asked to approve a change to the articles of incorporation for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The change will admit the city of Ypsilanti as a member of the authority, and expand the AATA board from seven to nine members. The name of the authority would change to Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. One of the board members would be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

The request comes in the context of a demised attempt in 2012 to expand the AATA to all of Washtenaw County. Since then, conversations have continued among a smaller cluster of communities geographically closer to Ann Arbor. Previous Chronicle coverage includes “Ypsilanti a Topic for AATA Planning Retreat” and “Ypsi Waits at Bus Stop, Other Riders Unclear.

While the change will affect the governance of the AATA, the goal of the governance change is to provide a way to generate additional funding for transportation. The AATA could, with voter approval, levy a uniform property tax on the entire area of its membership – but the AATA does not currently do that. The cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti currently levy their own millages, which are transmitted to the AATA. However, Ypsilanti is currently at its 20-mill statutory limit. A millage levied by the AATA would not count against that 20-mill cap.

Other significant items on the council’s June 3 agenda include a resolution encouraging the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to allocate funding for three police officers. The council will also be considering a final vote on ordinance changes to which it’s already given initial approval: public art (eliminating the 1% capital project budget set-aside); utility rate increases (an annual item); and a reduction in utility improvement charges imposed on first-time connections.

In anticipation of the upcoming July 4 holiday, the council may also take initial action on an ordinance that would restrict use  of fireworks to the hours of 8 a.m. to midnight. The local regulation is only possible as a result of a change in the state law that has been passed by the Michigan House and is expected to be ratified and signed into law before July 4. The item had not yet been added to the city council’s agenda as of 4 p.m. today.

Other agenda items are available on the city’s Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article “below the fold.” [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Grants $300K to Public Housing

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission’s Baker Commons building, located in downtown Ann Arbor at Packard and Main, will get an infusion of $300,000 from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – as a result of action by the DDA board at its March 6, 2013 meeting.

The $300,000 will be used toward a range of capital improvements to the 60-unit building: driveway and sidewalk replacement and repair; installation of energy-efficient lighting; insulation and air sealing; window replacement; adding a second entrance; door replacement; upgrade of fixtures appliances, flooring and cabinetry; replacement of heating and cooling units; generator replacement, elevator replacement, upgrade of common area furniture, and installation of additional security cameras.

This grant for $300,000 to Baker Commons comes in addition to … [Full Story]

Round 3 FY 2014: Housing Commission

After a Feb. 11, 2013 budget work session that included separate presentations on the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) and the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC), both of these topics came up again briefly at the city council’s most recent regular meeting.

During communications time for the council’s meeting on Feb. 19, 2013, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed his view that the CIP should start including the 360 units of public housing managed by the AAHC.

Ann Arbor Housing Commission Properties

Ann Arbor Housing Commission properties. The size of the dot is proportional to the number of units in the location. (Map by The Chronicle. Image links to interactive map.)

Kunselman’s argument for future inclusion of AAHC properties in the city’s CIP is based in part on the fact that the city of Ann Arbor currently holds the deeds to those properties. But his broader point is that he’s opposed to the city relinquishing title to the properties – as part of a proposal made to the council by AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall. Hall has served in that capacity for about a year, and began her Feb. 11 presentation at the council work session with an overview of improvements that AAHC has achieved since she took the post.

Hall’s proposal stems from a need to cover an estimated $500,000 per year funding gap for needed capital investments, coupled with a perceived shift in priorities by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its funding strategy. That shift is somewhat away from subsidized public housing, where rent is subsidized in units owned by a housing commission. [Ann Arbor's situation is apparently unique – because the city, not the AAHC, holds the deeds.] While HUD still allocates several billion dollars nationally for public housing, it subsidizes even more in programs that are based on vouchers. And based on the last three years, the trend is toward more funding on the federal level for vouchers than for public housing.

Some HUD vouchers are tied to a tenant – a person. A potential tenant can take that voucher to a private landlord – and it’s the tenant who receives the rent subsidy, wherever that tenant is able to rent a place to live. Other HUD vouchers are tied instead to privately-owned property, and whoever lives in that private project receives the rent subsidy.

The strategy that Hall will be asking the council to authorize is one that converts AAHC properties to part private ownership, in order to take advantage of project-based HUD vouchers. The private ownership of the AAHC properties will also allow the possible use of tax credit financing to pay for needed capital investments – roofs, boilers, plumbing and the like.

The conversion to project-based vouchers would take place under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. To set the stage for that, the board of the AAHC selected a co-developer at its Jan. 10, 2013 meeting: Norstar Development USA.

The council would need to take two specific steps in order to proceed with the RAD: (1) approve the contingent transfer of the city-owned AAHC properties to the AAHC; and (2) approve a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the properties so that they’d owe just $1/unit in property tax per year. As city-owned properties, no property tax is currently owed. Without the PILOT provision, taxes would be owed. Requests to take those steps are expected to come to the council in March. March will also be a period during which public hearings will take place on this issue.

Although Kunselman expressed clear opposition to the idea of transferring the deeds, and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) joined him in expressing significant skepticism, other councilmembers were more positive. They still had several questions about the complexities and the risks associated with the RAD program. [For more background on the AAHC’s efforts to prepare for the RAD program, see Chronicle coverage: “Housing Commission Eyes Major Transition.”]

The Feb. 11 budget work session included the 15th District Court and the capital improvements plan (CIP). A session held on Feb. 25 covered the fund-by-fund budget picture for the next two years. Presentations on those topics are covered in separate Chronicle reports. The council’s discussion of its budget priorities – identified at a planning retreat late last year – is expected to begin at a March 11 work session. [Full Story]

Housing Commission Selects Co-Developer

Ann Arbor housing commission special board meeting (Jan. 10, 2013): Taking another step toward a public/private partnership, Ann Arbor housing commissioners unanimously voted to choose Norstar Development USA as co-developer for a major new public housing initiative. The action took place at a special board meeting on Jan. 10 called solely to hear presentations from two finalists: Norstar and MHT Housing Inc.

Tim OBrien, Rick Higgins, Norstar Development, OBrien Construction, Ann Arbor housing commission, public housing, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Tim O’Brien, president of O’Brien Construction, and Norstar Development USA president Rick Higgins, at the Jan. 10 special board meeting for the Ann Arbor housing commission. (Photos by the writer.)

Norstar – based in Buffalo, N.Y. – will help AAHC convert about 275 of Ann Arbor’s 360 public housing units into public/private developments. Residents in those units will receive rental assistance through long-term Section 8 subsidy vouchers that are tied to the buildings. It’s part of a new rental assistance demonstration program, known as RAD, offered by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). AAHC was accepted into the program late last year, and faced a Jan. 30 deadline to submit its selection of a co-developer to HUD.

The process eventually will entail that ownership of some Ann Arbor public housing properties – to which the city of Ann Arbor holds deed – would be transferred to a new entity. The city, via the AAHC, would retain a small ownership stake in the new entity – likely 1% or less. The arrangement would give AAHC access to private financing to renovate the current public housing properties, using tax credit financing, loans, equity or grants that are not otherwise available to the housing commission.

Executive director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission Jennifer L. Hall will be making a presentation on this process to the Ann Arbor city council at its Feb. 11 working session.

AAHC also faces a Feb. 15 deadline for the next round of the state’s low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program, in the category of permanent supportive housing. AAHC officials hope that tax credit financing will provide the bulk of investment for this RAD initiative, but much work is needed to complete the application in time. “You can’t even imagine how much work it will take for us to get into that Feb. 15 round,” Hall told commissioners. They need to hire an appraiser, do a fiscal needs assessment and environmental review, and take a range of other actions.

The goal of this complex set of transactions is not at this point to increase the number of public housing units in Ann Arbor. Instead the goal is to enable AAHC to tap private financing for capital improvements in its existing housing stock, which is aging. Many properties were built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Norstar will be one of at least four entities working with AAHC on this project. The AAHC also has hired Avalon Housing, an Ann Arbor nonprofit, as a consultant to help seek low-income housing tax credits from the state. Avalon’s contract runs through Dec. 31, 2013 for an amount up to $32,000, to be invoiced hourly at $180 per hour.

Two others who are working on the effort are: (1) Tom Davis, a senior vice president of advisory services at Recap Real Estate Advisors, based in Boston; and (2) Rochelle Lento, a real estate attorney with Dykema’s Detroit office. The cost of Dykema’s service is estimated at no more than $40,000. Recap’s compensation could include more than $70,000 for helping AAHC complete the RAD transactions.

Both Davis and Lento attended the Jan. 10 meeting. Also attending his first meeting as the newest housing commissioner was Christopher Geer, an accountant and finance director with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Geer was appointed by city council to replace Andy LaBarre, who resigned last year after being elected to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. [Full Story]

Housing Commission Eyes Major Transition

Changes are underway that could be transformative for Ann Arbor’s public housing system, taking advantage of a new federal program that might result in private financing for capital improvements in aging housing stock.

Rochelle Lento, Ann Arbor Housing Commission, public housing, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rochelle Lento, right, is an attorney with Dykema who is doing pro bono work for the Ann Arbor housing commission. Seated next to her is Margie Teall, Ward 4 city councilmember and council liaison to the commission. Next to Teall is Kevin McDonald, senior assistant city attorney. The commission’s Nov. 14 meeting was held at Miller Manor, one of the city’s public housing complexes.

The Ann Arbor housing commission is the local agency responsible for administering the city’s federally-funded public housing and Section 8 rent subsidies for low-income residents. It manages 360 public housing units, including large complexes like Baker Commons at Main and Packard. Most of its properties were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and are in need of serious maintenance and upgrades that aren’t covered by federal funding.

To address this issue, the AAHC has applied for a new program offered by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The rental assistance demonstration program, known as RAD, is a mechanism to convert public housing units into public/private developments that in turn provide rental assistance through long-term Section 8 subsidy vouchers that are tied to those developments. It would also mean that ownership of some Ann Arbor public housing properties would be transferred to a new entity, in which the AAHC would have only a small ownership stake – likely 1% or less. The arrangement would give AAHC access to private financing to renovate the current public housing properties, using tax credit financing, loans, equity or grants that are not otherwise available to the housing commission.

HUD is expected to inform AAHC this month about whether it’s been selected for the program.

Last month, the housing commission board took additional action to lay the groundwork for these changes. The board approved amendments to bylaws and articles of incorporation for an AAHC nonprofit subsidiary – the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corp. – which will serve as the entity to enter into partnerships for these RAD projects. Rochelle Lento, a Dykema attorney who’s doing pro bono work for the housing commission, described it as a way to protect the AAHC from liabilities associated with entering a public/private partnership.

The five-member board will also be voting to select a co-developer and consultant for this effort, from a list of nine entities that responded to a recent request for proposals (RFP). Respondents included the local nonprofit Avalon Housing and a subsidiary of the construction firm JC Beal Construction.

The housing commission board is appointed by the Ann Arbor city council, but the council has a limited role in authorizing actions related to the RAD program. Current AAHC board members are Ron Woods, Marta Manildi, Gloria Black, Leigh Greden and Andy LaBarre.

However, at the end of the Nov. 14 meeting LaBarre announced his plans to resign from the commission. He noted that he’d recently been elected to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and needed to focus on what he’d been elected to do. LaBarre, a Democrat, won the District 7 seat on the county board in the Nov. 6 general election. It’s one of three districts that cover Ann Arbor. His two-year term begins in January of 2013. No nomination has yet been made for his replacement. [Full Story]

DDA to Put Roof on Public Housing Complex

The roof of Baker Commons, which offers 64 of the roughly 360 public housing units managed by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, will be replaced using funds provided by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The authorization of $260,000 was given at the DDA’s Oct. 3, 2012 board meeting.

Jennifer L. Hall, the commission’s executive director, had addressed the board at its Sept. 5, 2012 meeting and also spoke to board members on Oct. 3.

Baker Commons, on the corner of Packard and Main streets, is the only AAHC  property within the Ann Arbor DDA district. The roof has had ongoing leaking problems, according to Hall’s presentation at the Sept. 5 meeting, and the housing commission has undertaken periodic patches. However, in the last … [Full Story]

Debate Details: Ann Arbor FY 2013 Budget

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 21, 2012) Part 2: The council approved the city’s fiscal year 2013 budget – with disagreement about what priorities it reflected.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) looks on as Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pleads her case for increased police staffing levels.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) looks on as Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pleads her case for increased police staffing levels. Though Derezinski had little sympathy for Lumm’s amendment on police officers, he joined her in supporting a budget amendment to restore collection of loose leaves in the fall as a city service. The city now collects leaves and compost in containers instead of allowing residents to sweep piles of leaves into the street. The amendment failed. (Photos by the writer.)

The cumulative impact of the amendments approved by the council on May 21 increased general fund expenditures to $79,070,842 against revenues of $79,193,112, for a surplus of $122,270. The entire city budget, across all funds, was proposed at $404,900,312 in revenues against $382,172,603 in expenses. The fiscal year begins on July 1.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) saw two of her proposed amendments fail – which would have funded five additional police officers from non-specific reductions in other general fund departments, and would have restored the service of loose leaf collection in the fall. She also opposed the addition of a court secretary position for the 15th District Court, which the rest of her colleagues agreed to add into the budget that evening. That combination prompted her to vote against the overall budget, saying it did not adequately prioritize public safety. She was joined by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) in voting against the budget.

But Mayor John Hieftje summarized the majority view on the council in framing this year’s budget as a reflection of public safety as a top priority of the city – because nearly half of the general fund is being spent on public safety, and the vast bulk of additional revenue for FY 2013 (compared to the forecast in last year’s budget planning) is being spent on public safety. Those investments in public safety prevented further reduction in budgeted firefighters (by five) and in police officers (by nine) – reductions that were originally called for in the two-year budget plan. Those investments also allowed the city to add one police officer.

However, former police chief Barnett Jones and current fire chief Chuck Hubbard have identified ideal targets for staffing levels for their departments that are higher than the budgeted levels for FY 2013. For the fire department, that’s 82 firefighters compared to Hubbard’s ideal 88; for police, that’s 119 sworn officers compared to Jones’ ideal 150. The point of disagreement on the council essentially reduced to this: Should the city take additional steps this year to reduce the gap in public safety staffing between current levels and the ideal targets?

One resolution approved at the meeting – which did not actually modify the budget – simply directed the city administrator to bring a future mid-year budget amendment to add up to six firefighters to the budget – if a federal grant and increased state fire protection allocations materialize. Although it would have been conceivable to pass a parallel resolution on the police side of public safety, there was no effort at the table (by Lumm or other councilmembers) to modify Lumm’s resolution  and stipulate that additional police officers would be hired, if a federal grant application were successful.

Voting for the budget were eight councilmembers, including Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who saw two of his own amendments fail. One would have interpreted the city ordinance on DDA TIF capture differently, which would have resulted in additional revenue to the city’s general fund – revenue sufficient to fund two firefighter positions. Also failing was an amendment that would have prevented the transfer of money to the public art fund from a variety of different sources. [The 8-2 overall budget vote on the 11-member council was due to the absence of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) for the final vote. She attended the meeting and stayed for the better part of it, but succumbed to a persistent hacking cough before it ended.]

Although several amendments failed, others were approved by the council. Those included budget modifications that added a secretary position to the 15th District Court, increased human services funding by $46,899, added $78,000 to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission budget, and eliminated a contract with RecycleBank to administer a coupon program to encourage recycling.

The council’s budget discussion came in the context of a briefing from the city’s paid lobbyist in Lansing, Kirk Profit, who sketched an uncertain state budget picture, but offered compliments to the city’s approach to managing its budget.

Box-score style results on the budget amendments were previously covered in a report filed from the city council chambers on the night of the vote. Below we’ve summarized the deliberations by the council on the budget amendments. Items not related to the FY 2013 budget are detailed in Part 1 of this meeting report: “City Council Expands North Main Task Force.” [Full Story]

Ann Arbor City Council OKs FY 2013 Budget

At its May 21, 2012 meeting, which adjourned around 1:30 a.m., the Ann Arbor city council approved the city’s fiscal year 2013 budget, for the period from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. As required by the city charter, the budget had been proposed by city administrator Steve Powers a month earlier on April 16.


In the couple of weeks leading up to the May 21, 2012 meeting, councilmembers had their hands literally full with the FY 2013 budget. (Photo by the writer, taken on May 18.)

The amendments approved by the council included modifications that added a secretary position to the 15th District Court, increased human services funding by $46,899, added $78,000 to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission budget, and eliminated a contract with RecycleBank to administer a coupon program to encourage residents to recycle.

One resolution – which did not actually modify the budget – simply directed the city administrator to bring a future mid-year budget amendment to add up to six firefighters to the budget – if a federal grant and increased state fire protection allocations materialize.

Amendments that were brought forward, but that did not win council approval, included a proposal to leave money in various city funds, totaling $307,299, instead of transferring that amount to the public art fund. Also failing to win approval was an amendment that would give a specific interpretation to the city’s downtown development authority tax increment finance (TIF) capture ordinance – that would have benefited the city’s general fund by around $200,000. Both of those amendments were brought forward by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Another amendment that failed would have restored loose leaf collection service in the fall, as well as holiday tree pickup. And an amendment to fund additional police officers also did not succeed. Both of those amendments were proposed by Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Lumm was joined by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) in dissenting on the final budget vote.

The total expenditure budget for FY 2013 as proposed – across all funds, including utilities, solid waste and the like – came to $404,900,312 in revenues against $382,172,603 in expenses.

The originally proposed budget for the much smaller general fund – out of which the city pays for services like fire and police, planning, financial services, administration, parks and recreation – showed $79,193,112 in revenues against expenses totaling $78,869,750 for a planned surplus of $323,362. The following year, FY 2014, had been projected to be basically a break-even year.

The cumulative impact of the amendments approved by the council on Monday night increased expenditures to $79,070,842 against revenues of $79,193,112, for a surplus of $122,270. Below is a detailed list of proposed amendments and outcomes. [Full Story]

Column: Digital Information Flood

At the city council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, Dan Rainey – the city of Ann Arbor’s head of information technology – was on hand to receive an award recognizing the city’s use of digital technology. The award was for 5th place in the 2011 edition of the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Cities Survey.

Parcel Flood

Screenshot from the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County mapping website. It shows the new floodway and floodplain boundaries for the new FEMA maps, highlighting the buildings and parcels that are no longer in the floodplain, according to the new maps. The parcel with extra highlighting (yellowish green) is one of special interest for this column.

Yet among the nearly 12,000 words in The Chronicle’s report from that meeting, there’s no mention of the city’s Digital Cities award. The decision not to include that award in the meeting report was not one about which I agonized; it was not made on the basis of some high-minded journalistic principle. From a purely practical point of view, the award was likely a victim of my finite stamina for writing about a city council meeting.

But one reason I don’t mind omitting that kind of award from a meeting report is that it really does not matter to me where Ann Arbor ranks on that survey. What matters to me is the fact that the city’s investments in the realm of digital technology make life in Ann Arbor as a local journalist easier than it would be otherwise.

And that, I think, is best illustrated with a specific example. It’s an example I stumbled across a couple of months ago. But because it overlaps with two agenda items on the city council’s next meeting, on Feb. 21, I thought now would be a good time to share it with readers. One of those agenda items involves demolishing derelict houses, and the other involves the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps.

This tale begins on Facebook and ends in the bucket of a big yellow backhoe. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Housing Commission to Expand?

The Ann Arbor housing commission board’s last meeting of 2011 was the first one attended by Jennifer L. Hall in her new role as executive director of the commission. Hall – who previously served as housing manager for the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development – was selected by the board in October to replace Marge Novak, who had resigned in July.

Jennifer L. Hall, Andy LaBarre

Jennifer L. Hall, the new Ann Arbor housing commission executive director, talks with commission board member Andy LaBarre before the board's Dec. 21, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of the Dec. 21 meeting focused on a presentation by Hall. She gave an overview of local affordable housing demand, and looked at how the housing commission’s operations might address some of those needs. In part, her talk set the stage for possible land acquisition. Later in the meeting, the commission entered into closed session to discuss two potential properties it might buy to add to the city’s public housing stock.

On one of the properties Hall suggested constructing a rental project consisting of 22-37 detached single-family units and duplexes, ranging between 1-5 bedrooms. For the other property, she proposed building a 15-unit complex of detached 2-4 bedroom condos and duplexes, which would eventually be sold to low-income homeowners for $140,000 each. Funding for these projects would come from a variety of sources, including state and federal grants and loans.

The locations of the properties weren’t disclosed in open session. But Hall said she was looking for direction from the board on pursuing the two projects. If the projects move forward, more details would be discussed in the public portion of upcoming meetings.

Hall also floated the idea of changing the format of board meetings and of the information that commissioners receive in their meeting packets. She proposed cutting back on staff reports, presenting them quarterly instead of monthly. That way, more of the board’s meeting time would be freed to focus on strategic planning issues, she said.

Hall also suggested changing the way that meeting minutes are written up. Instead of including a detailed description of the board’s discussions, she said, the minutes could provide a summary of the discussion and a note about the outcome, if a vote is taken. Some commissioners expressed concerns about truncating the minutes dramatically. Board president Marta Manildi said the AAHC board would like a richer level of detail than what’s provided in Ann Arbor city council minutes, which she described as too terse.

During the time available for public commentary, two residents of Miller Manor – an AAHC apartment complex on Miller Avenue – raised concerns about security issues in the building. Manildi told them that their comments would be forwarded to a working group of staff that’s addressing security problems at all AAHC properties. [Full Story]

Lenart, Hall Take New Jobs in Housing

As Jennifer L. Hall prepares to start her new position as executive director of the Ann Arbor housing commission, Brett Lenart has been named to replace her as housing and infrastructure manager at the joint Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development. Hall sent an email on Sunday night to announce the transition.

Hall had been offered the housing commission job at the commission board’s Oct. 19, 2011 meeting. The commission oversees the city of Ann Arbor’s public housing units, as well as the Section 8 program for Washtenaw, Monroe, and western Wayne counties. Hall’s last day with the office of community & economic development is Nov. 23.

Among his various responsibilities at the county, Lenart has managed the … [Full Story]

Hall Tapped for Ann Arbor Housing

At its regular monthly meeting held on Oct. 19, 2011, the board of the Ann Arbor housing commission voted 4-1 to select Jennifer L. Hall as its new executive director. The board had begun its deliberations at an Oct. 12 special meeting after holding interviews with four finalists on Oct. 7. Hall currently serves as housing manager for the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development.

At the Oct. 19 meeting, commissioners cited Hall’s knowledge of affordable housing in the community, and her relationships with community members and elected officials as an asset that outweighed her lack of experience with HUD regulations compared with another candidate, Damon Duncan. As a plus for Hall, commissioners also cited a  perception … [Full Story]

Finalists Selected for Housing Director

At a special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, board members of the Ann Arbor housing commission deliberated on four finalists for the job of executive director. The position would oversee the city’s public housing and Section 8 programs, at a time of uncertain federal funding and increasing need. Board president Marta Manildi described it as perhaps the most important decision the board will make.

Andy LaBarre, Ronald Woods

From left: Ann Arbor housing commissioners Andy LaBarre and Ronald Woods at the Oct. 12 special meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners praised all four candidates, but Jennifer L. Hall emerged as the leading choice. Four of the five housing commissioners selected her as their first choice in a straw poll at the beginning of the meeting. Hall currently serves as housing manager for the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development. In advocating for Hall, board member Leigh Greden – a former city councilmember – noted that her knowledge of the local community is a strong asset.

But after about 90 minutes of discussion, commissioners decided to move ahead with three of the four finalists: Hall, Damon Duncan and Bill Ward. Both Duncan and Ward have more extensive public housing experience than Hall, primarily with the Detroit housing commission. The other finalist, Nick Coquillard, has served as deputy director of the Ann Arbor housing commission and is now interim director.

During the meeting, much of the discussion focused on the vision, leadership and management styles of the candidates, and how those styles would fit the existing staff focus on teamwork and customer service. As a backdrop to the discussion, the housing commission has seen some dramatic leadership changes over the past two years – including dissolution of the previous board in 2010, and a previous change in executive directors.

At the beginning of the meeting, Ronald Woods, the only commissioner who did not indicate a preference for Hall, asked whether it would be possible to conduct some of their discussion in closed session. He felt it would allow for a more candid exchange of opinions. But Kevin McDonald of the city attorney’s office informed the board that this was a public hiring process, and needed to be held in public view.

The executive director of the housing commission is one of only four positions in city government that is required to have a public hiring process, McDonald told the board. The other positions are city administrator, city attorney, and executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The board will take up the hiring decision again at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 19. The meeting is open to the public and starts at 6 p.m. at Baker Commons, 106 Packard (the corner of Packard and Main) – a housing commission property. It’s possible that commissioners will make a final decision then, or continue the discussion at a later date. [Full Story]

Housing Commission to Hire New Director

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission expects to hire a new executive director by mid- to late October, following the resignation of former AAHC executive director Marge Novak this summer. Novak resigned effective July 29, 2011 to take a position with an affordable housing investment firm.

The Chronicle has not observed any mention of this transition at public meetings of the Ann Arbor city council. The June 2011 AAHC board minutes record that Novak had tendered her resignation by that commission meeting, with AAHC deputy director Nick Coquillard appointed as interim at the July 2011 AAHC board meeting.

As recently as Sept. 23, 2011, the AAHC website read: “The Board of Commissioners announced that the Executive Director of the AAHC, Margaret … [Full Story]

Mayor To Give Teall Nod Over Kunselman

At the Ann Arbor city council’s Sept. 19, 2011 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) elicited from mayor John Hieftje that Hieftje had decided not to accept Kunselman’s offer, made at the council’s Sept. 6 meeting, to serve as the city council’s liaison to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission.

The post of council liaison to the commission became vacant when it was announced at the council’s Aug. 4 meeting, that Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) had volunteered to replace Jeff Meyers on the city’s public art commission, if some other councilmember could be found to replace him as housing commission liaison.

Hieftje announced at the Sept. 19 meeting that two councilmembers had volunteered to be the housing commission liaison: Kunselman and Margie Teall (Ward 4). Hieftje said he’d be bringing forward Teall’s name as the nomination at the council’s next meeting.

Were Kunselman appointed as council liaison to the housing commission board, he would have been joining a body that now includes Leigh Greden, whom Kunselman defeated in the 2009 Ward 3 Democratic Party primary election. Teall was one of Greden’s strongest allies on the council during the time that he served.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Plan Amended, Delayed

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Jan. 3, 2011): The council’s meeting was held in the Washtenaw County board of commissioners boardroom to accommodate current renovations to city hall. Before the meeting, advocates for medical marijuana demonstrated with signs and chants on the sidewalk outside the Washtenaw County administration building on North Main.

Protesters outside the Jan. 3, 2011 Ann Arbor city council meeting

Signs held by advocates for medical marijuana before the start of the Jan. 3 Ann Arbor city council meeting. Stephen Postema is the city attorney for Ann Arbor, and also president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys, a section of the Michigan Municipal League. Postema has pushed for a licensing scheme that some medical marijuana advocates say violates the state statute. (Photos by the writer.)

Inside at the meeting, the council ultimately delayed their vote on an initial approval of a licensing scheme for medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities and home occupations. That initial vote is now scheduled for Jan. 18, with final approval expected in early February, along with zoning regulations affecting medical marijuana-related businesses. The licensing proposal to be considered by the council at its next meeting will be significantly different from the one that they started with Monday night, due to various amendments councilmembers approved, before voting to postpone the measure.

Amendments included: eliminating home occupations from the licensing scheme; increasing the number of licenses to 20 for dispensaries and 10 for cultivation facilities; creating a licensing board; removing reference to “misdemeanor involving a controlled substance”; and revising the language of required internal signage.

The council also dispatched with several other pieces of major business, with scant deliberation. Those included: final approval of revisions to the city’s area, height and placement regulations in the zoning code; final approval for adoption of the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Uniform Traffic Code; appropriation of funds for footing drain disconnection; approval of new fire inspection fees; and a contract for weapons screening services at the new municipal center. [Full Story]

Novak Hired to Lead Housing Commission

Officially, it was an interview. But with just a single candidate vying to head the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, there was little doubt about the outcome.

On Wednesday evening, the commission’s five-member board listened to a 30-minute presentation by interim executive director Marge Novak and voted unanimously to take the interim off her title after posing fewer than a dozen questions during a 40-minute Q&A.

With 10-plus months as a temporary leader of the commission, Novak has considerably more time with the organization than some of the commissioners who endorsed her. Effective today, the hiring comes less than two months after the Ann Arbor city council dissolved the previous board. [See Chronicle coverage: "Housing Commission Set to Hire Director"]

Despite the unusual circumstances, the decision was well received by most of the roughly 30 residents of commission-run properties who attended Wednesday’s special meeting. [Full Story]

Housing Commission Set to Hire Director

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission‘s new board is moving ahead with the selection process for its new executive director, but is now considering only one candidate for the job – interim executive director Marge Novak.

Marge Novak

Marge Novak, interim executive director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, talks with commissioners at their April 21 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Novak will be interviewed by the board at a special meeting on Wednesday, May 12. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. at Miller Manor, 727 Miller Ave. It will include an opportunity for public comment.

The board made its decision to move forward with the interview process at its April 21 meeting. That was the first meeting for new board members Ron Woods and Sasha Womble, who were recently appointed by Ann Arbor city council. Council had dissolved the previous board in March, following a consultant’s report that recommended an overhaul of the organization, and a follow-up report written by city administrator Roger Fraser at the end of February.

Jayne Miller, the board’s new president and a former top-level city administrator, supported Novak, saying the housing commission – which oversees the city’s public housing units and the Section 8 program for a three-county region – has transformed over a very short time. “I truly believe it’s because of her leadership,” Miller said. [Full Story]

Investments: Housing, Bridges, Transit

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 19, 2010) Part 2: In Part 1 of this meeting report, we focused on the city’s budget process, parking issues and the University of Michigan commencement exercises.

In Part 2, we wrap up other topics of the meeting. One common theme was capital investments in the community’s physical infrastructure of various kinds.

Michael Nearing city of Ann Arbor engineer

Michael Nearing, city of Ann Arbor engineer, was available for any city council questions on the East Stadium bridge project. (Photo by the writer.)

The council allocated a total of $313,000 for three different permanent affordable housing projects in Ann Arbor.

The city’s East Stadium bridge replacement project received discussion in the form of a resolution that authorized the city to go after state funding for the third time in the last three years. The anticipated construction start for fall of this year has been postponed until spring 2011 – the earlier date had been tied to the city’s application for federal funding, which was rejected this February.

The ongoing construction of the police/courts building, directly adjacent to city hall (the Larcom Building), received some tangential discussion in the form of an explanation from Roger Fraser about the recent closure of city hall due to elevated carbon monoxide levels. The police/courts building was also the subject of public commentary that prompted some extended remarks from the mayor – which were covered in Part 1 of this report.

Another construction project that will likely factor into the upcoming primary election campaigns is Fuller Road Station. The city-university collaboration to build a combined parking deck and bus station, which might eventually serve as a commuter rail station, was taken up during the council’s communications time. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje both responded to some cautionary remarks made by Mike Anglin (Ward 5), which he made based on a recent park advisory commission meeting.

In business related to ethics and rules, the council voted on two occasions to excuse the participation of Taylor in a vote, because of a conflict of interest posed by his employment with the law firm Butzel Long. They also satisfied the requirement of a recent lawsuit settlement that they formally consider a rule about their use of government email accounts – by voting to remand consideration of the issue to council’s rules committee. [Full Story]

Indefinite Busy Signal for Cell Phone Ban

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 5, 2010) Part 2: The greatest part of the council’s meeting last week – covered in Part 1 of our report – was taken up with the public hearing and deliberations on The Moravian project, which failed to get the 8-vote super majority it needed for approval. However, the council handled other business besides The Moravian.

Kirk Westphal

Kirk Westphal addressed the city council as a private citizen on the issue of the cell phone ordinance – he serves on the city’s planning commission. He encouraged councilmembers to pursue the ordinance. (Photos by the writer.)

Among that business was a proposed local ordinance banning cell phone use while driving or bicycling. The council decided not to repeat a postponement to a particular date for its consideration of the cell phone ban. Instead, the council tabled the ordinance. Tabling means that the ordinance can be brought back for consideration by the council, but by council rule it will die unless it is brought back within six months.

The council’s business included an item that would have reconsidered its recent decision to replace the entire Ann Arbor housing commission board. The motion for reconsideration was voted down, with no support, not even from its two sponsors – Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Kunselman cited the late hour as part of the reason for his lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter. Two people had spoken during public commentary on the issue, including one of the ousted board members.

Also receiving brief discussion was a possible council rule on email that the council must consider publicly at its next meeting under terms of a recent lawsuit settlement. Two proclamations were also made, one to declare April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month and the other as part of a recent move by the council to honor parks volunteers once a month. [Full Story]

Housing Commission Reorganizes

Ann Arbor City Council work session (Jan. 11, 2010): Ann Arbor city councilmembers were presented on Monday evening with an outline for the reorganization of the city’s housing commission, a plan that has in large part already been adopted by the commission and needs no further city council approval.

The housing commission is responsible for 355 public housing units spread over 18 sites – or around 50% of the affordable housing stock in the city – plus 1,300 Section 8 vouchers for a three-county area.

computer screen with housing commission slide show

Kerry Laycock, the consultant who gave the city council a presentation on the reorganization of the housing commission, gave a slide presentation from the podium using this laptop computer. (Photos by the writer.)

Keys to the reorganization are beefing up the Section 8 program with a dedicated financial analyst and a program manager, and redefining roles of the executive director and deputy director, as well as outsourcing maintenance of the housing units.

Outsourcing maintenance will reduce the housing commission staff by six people – two temporary employees plus four union workers.

Alan Levy, who chairs the housing commission board, told councilmembers that the reorganization had already been approved by a 3-2 vote of the housing commission’s board at a special meeting held on Jan. 6, 2010. [Full Story]