308 affordable apartments coming to Ypsilanti through new developments under construction

Media Mention

By Kate Klemp May 25, 2023

Originally Published in MLive

Construction is underway on two parallel housing developments at 845 and 945 Clark Road, bringing the promise of affordable apartments to a city people say is in desperate need of them.

“It’s important that we recognize that what’s being built here is more than a building,” said Ypsilanti City Council Member Desirae Simmons. “It’s a community, and it’s a beautiful addition to our community here in the city of Ypsilanti.”
Simmons — who before she was elected shaped the projects by serving on a citizens committee that negotiated with developers — made the pronouncement overlooking the site across the river from Eastern Michigan University during a ground-breaking ceremony Wednesday, May 24.
Developers with Lincoln Avenue Capital, the California-based company that invests in affordable projects across the country, gathered with Michigan housing officials and city council members to mark the occasion.
Rising from the dirt during the next year and a half will be a series of buildings. One portion, dubbed Huron Vista, will bring 156 units for individuals and families, split between one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The other, The Residences at Huron, involves 156 one- and two-bedroom apartments for senior housing.

“Residents of Washtenaw County, like so many Americans across the country, face a persistent housing crisis. It’s a real issue,” Lincoln Avenue Capital Chairman Neal Schore said.

The project is meant to help, with all units reserved for residents with below-average incomes, including some 40% or under the county’s median income.

“This is the way we have to do affordable housing. It’s not easy, but it does get the products delivered that we need into communities that are going to last quite a while,” said Tony Lentych, Michigan State Housing Development Authority chief housing investment officer.

The agency is providing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds. The city also played a significant role through an arrangement forfeiting much of the new property taxes generated by the construction, in exchange for the affordability measures.

The development was one of the test runs for the city’s community benefits ordinance, unique rules requiring developers to negotiate with residents to mold projects getting public support.

When citizens groups fought for the passage of the ordinance in 2018, detractors claimed it would discourage developers from coming to the city, Simmons said. Five years later, two projects have gone through the process, with a third on the way.

“It wasn’t all rabbits and rainbows but we came in with serious questions, with serious desires of what we wanted to see in the community and we had a serious partner. And so we were able to move things forward that we didn’t know that we could do,” Simmons said.

An agreement produced by negotiations with Lincoln Avenue Capital included boosting the number of more affordable apartments, creating space for a “free store” or food pantry at Huron Vista and the formation of a tenant governance council.

City Council OK’d the deal in June 2022, though some city leaders lamented the project would effectively destroy an old-growth oak forest, much of which has now been cut down.

The tax incentive was also not without controversy, with some arguing it wouldn’t result in enough benefit for the city as a whole and was unwise with Ypsilanti facing budgetary challenges.

Even with the agreement and financing in place, other behind-the-scenes roadblocks threatened to derail the project.

In November, with the project fully approved and financing ready to go, the general contractor set to make it a reality walked away, Lincoln Avenue Capital Developer Kyle Brasser said.

“I was scared,” he said. “These two projects that I spent two years working on were failing miserably.”

Developers found an alternate construction team, Wolverine Building Group, to take on the project.

“They’re honestly one of the only reasons we’re all standing here,” Brasser said.

Brasser, the public face of the project as it moved through Ypsilanti’s approval process, hailed the development as effective collaboration between developers and public officials.

“If you involve members from the private sector and the public sector in a true partnership what you get is a much better end result,” he said.

Construction is slated to continue throughout the year and into 2024, with the buildings ready for occupancy in fall 2024, according to the developer.

“We did this to answer a need in our community for more affordable housing, for more housing opportunities and choices for seniors, for more places for people who are single and for families to live that is beautiful and joyous,” Simmons said.