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Site of the future Avalon/FIA housing iniative, Hilltop View Apartments, on Dan Hoey Rd. in Dexter.

| by Doug Marrin | dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Dexter’s Planning Commission held a public forum on Sept. 3, 2019, regarding the preliminary site plan for the Avalon Housing /Faith in Action collaborative housing initiative proposed for 7651 Day Hoey Road.

First to speak was Karl Fink, a board member for Faith in Action. He highlighted the success of the Faith in Action and Avalon Housing collaboration with the Sharon Ann Apartments in Chelsea.

“Because of the success we have had in working with Avalon, it seemed to make sense to do something similar in Dexter,” Karl told the commissioners. “It’s clear there’s a need for affordable housing throughout Dexter. This is very evident to the folks that work at Faith in Action. It’s hard for people to find places to live that they can afford. So we are here to encourage you to support the application and do what’s necessary to help us go forward.”

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Avalon Housing is requesting the rezoning of the 1.72-acre portion of property proposed for the initiative, Hilltopview Apartments, to PUD (Planned Urban Development). The parcel is currently zoned for research and development. The apartment complex has five buildings on the site plan.

  1. Eight 2-bedroom (stacked) flats,
  2. Six 1-bedroom (stacked) flats,
  3. Four 3-bedroom townhomes,
  4. Two 3 bedroom townhomes and two 3-bedroom (stacked) flats,
  5. Two 2-bedroom flats above the 1,537 square-foot space used for a community center, food pantry, tenant laundry, and offices.

The current timeline has Avalon breaking ground for Hilltop View Apartments in August of 2020 with construction taking about one year.

The Hilltop View Apartments campus includes living spaces, food pantry, community room, and offices.

Wendy Carty-Saxon, Director of Real Estate Development for Avalon, spoke next:

“It’s our mission to build set healthy, safe, inclusive, supportive housing communities as the long term solution to homelessness. We started in 1992. We grew out of the local emergency shelter, and the folks there were looking for a solution to homelessness.”

“Once a person has their housing, they can then better address other aspects of their lives. They can improve their health. They can pursue education, both for themselves, the adults, and for kids in their family, stabilize or increase their income, employment, reconnect with family.”

Before members of the public speaking, Dexter Community Development Manager, Michelle Aniol, set the stage for the commissioners by clarifying specific points of the application and also reminding them of compliance to the Fair Housing Act. In considering an affordable housing proposal, the Planning Commission and/or City Council may not:

  • Reject a proposed affordable housing development in response to neighbor’s fears that racial minorities and/or a disability, including persons with substance use disorders (addiction), will occupy such housing.
  • Require additional studies or procedural steps or unnecessarily delay decision-making when considering a proposed affordable housing development that may be occupied by a member of the protected class.

Ryan Bruder, Principal of Beacon Elementary in Dexter, also spoke:

Beacon Elementary Principal Ryan Bruder speaks of his experience with Avalon Housing residents

“During my three years in the District as a school administrator, there are countless times that I have called on the leadership at Faith in Action. Faith in Action is an amazing organization that supports this community and has helped families in the Dexter Community Schools.

“Before coming back to Dexter, I worked in Ann Arbor Public Schools at Northside Elementary, which served the community members of Avalon’s Carrot Way Apartments. We had a wonderful relationship with the folks over at Carrot Way. The family and school partnership is really important, and when you add the layer of a support team, that’s even better. We found that our relationship with the community members at Carrot Way and the Avalon team was truly beneficial.”

Also setting the stage for the public forum, before anyone from the public spoke, Megan Masson-Minock, from the City’s planning consultants Carlisle Wortman Assoc., gave a detailed assessment of the property before the public hearing. The biggest challenge facing the City regarding the property is a conflict between the current Master Plan and the Draft Master Plan. Under the current plan, the property would have to be rezoned. Under the draft plan, the apartments could be built without a zoning change.

Dexter resident Jamie Griffin spoke. Among her concerns, she highlighted the lack of distinction between “affordable housing” and “supportive housing” by city officials and members of the public. She also commented on how these concepts relate to the City’s Master Plan. Her comments included:

Before the public forum opened, planners and architects explained and clarified the project.

“My concern is that a critical aspect of this development is inconsistent with the intent of both master plans and generally misunderstood, typically the distinction between affordable and supportive housing. I’m not surprised there’s this confusion, I found documentation that even when in Ann Arbor’s  Planning Commission was looking to approve Pauline Apartments, they were also confused about the distinction that this very similar, analogous meeting.”

“If we take a look at the master plan, it does specify the residential objective of providing for a range of housing options, including affordable housing and senior housing. But I think it’s notable that there is no definition of affordable housing and no mention of supportive housing.”

“Now if the statements made by Mayor city council or other city staff indicated that they understood the distinction between the two housing types and the extent to which the proposed development meets Dexter’s housing needs that would be one thing. Unfortunately, the only such statements that I have seen or heard suggest just the opposite. I have a number of examples. I’ll limit it to just three in the interest of time.”

After giving three specific examples, Jamie then explained why she believes this distinction is so vital:

“Why does it matter? Because there is a difference between affordable and supportive housing, the requirements for placement in them, and whether and to what extent either housing type is needed in Dexter.  And, as you’ve been asked to review tonight whether either housing type aligns with the Master Plan’s general objective of providing affordable housing.”

Sharon Ann Apt. in Chelsea is a collaborative initiative between Avalon and Faith in Action.

“Most of the public statements dominating the community conversation have been inaccurate. In the absence of consensus about something as fundamental as the definition of affordable housing, I do not see how the Planning Commission can conclude that the proposed development complies with the Master Plan.”

Amanda Carlisle, Executive Director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, spoke next and disagreed with there being any distinction between affordable housing and supportive housing. Her comments included:

“I want you to know that ‘affordable housing’ and ‘supportive housing’ are not mutually exclusive. Supportive Housing is a form of affordable housing. In addition to the affordable housing benefits of this project, I want to point out that our partners at Faith in Action will operate a food pantry on the site in collaboration with Food Gathers.”

“I want to address a couple of the inaccuracies and incomplete information that have been shared with members of the Dexter community about permanent supportive housing, affordable housing and the need for each of these in Dexter and throughout Washtenaw County. Supportive housing provides long term, affordable permanent housing with supportive services that help people live more stable, productive, and independent lives.”

“Supportive housing does serve folks who are chronically homeless or those at risk of homelessness or chronic homelessness, those that have a long history of homelessness, those with chronic medical conditions and mental illness, or substance use disorder, and those with more than one of those issues.”

“Stable housing has positive effects on mental and physical health, children’s educational outcomes, and positive effects on businesses.”

Scott Phillips was next to speak:

Artist renders of past Avalon Housing complexes.

“I was excited when I heard that this was a potential opportunity for Dexter because it was affordable. If I were to move here today, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in the community that I love. It is crucial for a community like this to provide extra support for a disabled population, our elderly population, our survivors of domestic violence, and people impacted by substance use. If we don’t start with housing, it’s harder to get the surrounding support services. So I’m just proud to live in a community that is considering an opportunity like this.”

Patsy Clauson had this to say:

“We hear a lot about our luxury, and that’s wonderful for those folks that can afford it. However, you’ve got to remember the other end of the spectrum. I worked in the schools as a sub, and I can tell you people would think there is no problem. Everybody’s wealthy. It could not be farther from the truth. There are so many homeless people, homeless kids, and its right here in Dexter. You don’t always see it. So I just wanted to reiterate what other people are saying. I support this effort, and I hope that you will see the benefit of this and that everything will fall into place.”

Brent Griffin was the last member of the public to speak. His comments included:

“I want to make a couple of quick comments. The first is in regard to the comment on disproportionately Dexter taking on the supportive housing component and the need at the county level. My wife, Jamie Griffin has reached out explicitly for comments, the people within the Washtenaw County Housing Authority and asked explicitly how many people on the list are determined who goes to supportive housing in Dexter and she’s never been able to get a clear answer – same with following up with Faith in Action. And so, we’re left to conclude there’s no one in Dexter who is on that list. Otherwise, all they had to do was let us know how many people. That’s never been done.”

A full house awaits Dexter Planning Commission’s public hearing on Hilltop View Apartments.

“The other thing is, I want you to keep in mind that most people coming up and saying what the need is, is the affordable housing component. And that’s what’s consistent with the master plan. Now, this development is now a minority of affordable housing. It used to be an even fifty-fifty split. Now that’s more towards the supportive housing component, which is not benefiting anyone in Dexter. So use this land as properly as possible. And in accordance with the master plan, it would make sense to have something that was all affordable housing units, which can be used by people in Dexter, who are part of the elementary school, who are struggling, people who are older citizens here and are struggling, we need to up that proportion of housing, not the supportive housing component.”

After the public hearing closed, the Planning Commission discussed and approved the preliminary site plan with recommendations to Dexter City Council. Once City Council approves the initial site plan with its required changes, it will return to the Planning Commission as a final site plan for approval.

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