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Acting HUD Secretary and US Congresswoman Visit Dexter’s Supportive Housing Development

Acting Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Adrianne Todman visited Hilltop View Apartments in Dexter with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Thursday April 4, 2024. Photo courtesy of Ryan Henyard.

On Thursday, April 4, 2024, Acting Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Adrianne Todman visited the Hill Top View Apartments on her way to the University of Michigan where she was scheduled to speak later that day. Joined by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents Michigan’s 6th Congressional District, Secretary Todman toured the property and met with leaders at Avalon Housing and Faith in Action to understand the property’s operations and supportive services model.

Both Todman and Dingell acknowledged the housing problems in Ann Arbor and its surrounding small communities, including a lack of affordable housing and a gap in the infrastructure and support services needed to assist those transitioning from homelessness to stable housing.

“One of the reasons I’m here…is to get an understanding of what is happening here, to look at what’s been done, but also to hear from you the work that still needs to get done,” said Todman.

Dingell agreed and specifically identified western Washtenaw County as needing housing options, particularly for veterans. “It’s a major issue in Ann Arbor but also a major issue in western Washtenaw County.”

Avalon’s Executive Director Aaron Cooper, Director of Real Estate Development Wendy Carty-Saxon, and Faith in Action’s Executive Director Sarah Shugart took turns answering questions from the officials.

“What would you say is one of your larger barriers to building this sort of housing around here?” questioned Todman.

“Land acquisition,” said Carty-Saxon. “We can’t compete with a private buyer. We need a seller that will give us the time. We need to apply for funding whereas someone in the private market can buy something immediately. And then certainly money. With supportive housing, the other piece is the services. We need to have some dollars to provide the type of ‘wraparound’ services that are really needed to make housing for folks successful.”

“Can you talk about the services? I know that’s the secret sauce for making sure people have a great tenancy, “ asked Todman

“One of the unique things about this development is that it’s a combination of two nonprofits. Faith In Action–which is a six-person non profit–and Avalon Housing. We were able to leverage the strengths of both organizations. This is our community so we were able to help bring their development into this community and so we agreed to be the service provider here,” said Shugart.

“We have two case managers here,” she continued, adding that one of them has a background in counseling and specifically worked to establish trust and relationships with tenants. “I watched him come in and build relationships by helping some kids with their bikes and that trust trickled up into the households. Over the course of months, the capacity for us to have deep and meaningful conversations with the people that live here has just blossomed. It’s helped create and stabilize a community.”

“There ya go,” Todman nodded.

Following the discussion, Shugart gave the officials a tour of the offices, pantry, and a one-bedroom unit, the only vacant unit in the community, for which there is a long waiting list of potential occupants.

After the tour, Secretary Todman and Congresswoman Dingell sat with The Sun Times News to answer a few questions.

When asked what the incentives are for developers to build affordable housing instead of market rate housing Todman said there are a lot, including federal funds. “You can look at HUD funding. With those funds you are able to write down the cost of acquisition, which I heard from [our discussion] tends to be one of the barriers they have. But in addition to that…there are tax benefits and access to other resources.”

Todman expanded on the idea that affordable housing is only the problem of a few. “This is a business problem, too,” she said. “If you just opened up a restaurant or a small business, you need employees to live near you. I’ve seen restaurants that couldn’t open…because they really couldn’t find the staffing. I’ve seen where business people wake up to the notion that their bottom line is hurting because there is not enough housing and they scoot themselves up to the table.”

“You have to build the table,” said Dingell. “It has to be the [City] Council, Planning Commissions, Mayors, the business community, the nonprofit community, and the interfaith community.”

When asked what she says to people who do not support the development of a supportive housing community in their neighborhood Secretary Todman paused to think and then responded, “You know, what I say to folks is ‘think about your family.’ When we think about our own family, we probably have a recent graduate looking for their first apartment, an uncle or a grandfather who is a veteran, we probably have a grandmother who is now living on Social Security and doesn’t have a place to go. So when it comes to affordable housing, think ‘who in your family do you think would love to live here?’  That’s who we’re building it for.”

Avalon Housing Executive Director Aaron Cooper (far left), Faith in Action Executive Director Sarah Shugart (left), Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (right), Acting Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Adrianne Todman (far right).