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Detroit City Council passes affordable housing ordinance to fight gentrification

Sep 19, 2017

Developers of residential housing who receive public subsidies for their projects in Detroit will have to make 20% of new units affordable, under a proposed ordinance unanimously passed by the Detroit City Council today.

Several members of the city council said the ordinance will help slow gentrification in the city. Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said the measure includes waivers for projects that wouldn’t be financially  viable if they're forced to follow the 20% mandate. But she says in most cases she’s happy to pass the cost of maintaining affordable housing to the developers.

“I do not believe that is unreasonable to ask Developers who are coming in our city,” Sheffield said. “To be frank, and candid, the [cost] comes from the bottom line. It comes from the prosperity which the developers are receiving in the city of Detroit. And I do not believe we are asking for much.”

An amendment to the ordinance was introduced and passed, with Sheffield and two other council members voting no. As amended, the ordinance would require developers receiving public subsidies to reserve 20% of total housing units created at a development site for people making 80% or less of the Area Median Income. That's about $42,900, a figure some housing advocates say is still far too high for the city of Detroit.

The ordinance was passed unanimously, 8-0 and now heads to Mayor Mike Duggan’s desk. Council President Brenda Jones had to leave the meeting to catch a flight and did not vote on the housing ordinance, nor its amendment. 

You can read the entire Inclusionary Housing Ordinance as passed, here.

Sheffield also introduced an ordinance requiring residents to be notified whenever a new development plans to eliminate existing affordable housing in the city, which was also unanimously approved 9-0.

Roughly a few dozen Detroit residents attended Monday’s city council session to make public comments prior to the council voting on the proposed ordinances, and amendment. Generally, most were in favor of creating more affordable housing, and urged the council to pass the ordinance to help fight gentrification in the city.

Clifford Brown is a developer in Detroit who supported the ordinance as amended. He said he supports the calls for affordable housing in the city, but felt the amendment was needed to control the cost of building those units to developers like him.

“I will work with you outside these chambers to create jobs,” Brown said. “But we need the support of being able to financially pay for it. All developers are not rich developers, all developers aren’t from the suburbs. We are here, we stand with you. We want the inclusionary housing, we just need a way to pay for it.”

Sheffield repeatedly mentioned parts of the ordinance that would allow developers to obtain waivers if a project's financing wouldn’t support including affordable housing units. The ordinance also outlines penalties for developers who don’t obtain waivers but fail to meet the required affordable housing requirements.

Correction 9/28/17 1:05 p.m.: This article was updated to more accurately reflect the position of Clifford Brown.