The purpose of this letter is to clarify the intent of the petition to the Dexter City Council regarding the proposed Avalon Housing (“Avalon”) development at 7651 Dan Hoey Road and to bring additional information to bear on the ongoing community discussion about the development. Note that a nearly verbatim statement was presented to city council on July 22.
The petition urges city council to reconsider both the need for and location of the proposed development (specifically, the supportive housing component). Such a reconsideration includes an evidence-based response to the following questions: What is the need for supportive housing in Dexter? To what extent does the proposed development meet this need? To what extent do features of the development minimize the burden on existing infrastructure and the potential risks associated with placing those requiring supportive housing in such close proximity to school children? Although Mayor Keough shared his thoughts about the proposed development in his report to city council dated July 8, his response has not adequately addressed these fundamental questions. His comments, when relevant, are referenced below. I also reference information shared by representatives from Avalon and Faith In Action at the open house (July 16) and in personal communications I have had with them.
In this discussion, it is important to note the distinction between affordable housing and supportive housing and how placement in each works. Of the 24 units at the proposed development, 12 are designated as affordable and 12 are designated as supportive. Affordable housing is housing for an individual or family that costs less than 30% of their gross annual income. Avalon will randomly select residents for the 12 affordable units from an affirmatively marketed wait list that they will open. Details about this process have not yet been decided. On the other hand, supportive housing is designated for people who are chronically homeless as defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Among the 12 supportive units, 5 are reserved for veterans with Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers; the remaining 7 units are projected to be reserved for those with vouchers from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Placement in these 7 units will be filled by Avalon through referrals from Housing Access for Washtenaw County (HAWC). HAWC is the county’s central intake for those who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness and they maintain a by-name list of individuals and families with supportive housing needs. Notably, people staying with friends or family are not considered chronically homeless and, thus, do not appear on this list.
The need for supportive housing in Dexter remains unclear. Although a representative from the Washtenaw Housing Alliance has indicated that there is an overwhelming need for supportive housing throughout Washtenaw County, the need is not quantified by city or township.
Regarding the need in Dexter, Mayor Keough stated: “The reality is that the Dexter community already has people in need of some type of supportive help, and many of those people are part of family units that need community support. They may be living with a spouse, a parent, a sibling or a friend already.” However, this need does not meet HUD’s definition of chronic homelessness. Further, in a letter addressed to the community, although I am not sure it has been shared publicly, a representative from Faith In Action confirmed that at least 12 families in the Dexter Community School District are receiving McKinney-Vento funding (the McKinney- Vento Act is a federal law protecting the rights of homeless children). Importantly, the definition of “homeless” used by this law is less restrictive than the definition of “chronic homelessness” used by HAWC for placement in supportive housing. That is, a child might be receiving McKinney-Vento funding even though his or her family is not necessarily considered chronically homeless. Although these individuals and families would almost certainly benefit from the addition of affordable housing units, it is not clear that they would be eligible for placement in the supportive housing units in the proposed development.
Concerns I and others have expressed about the proximity of supportive housing to the Dexter Community Schools have yet to be addressed. As stated in a report prepared for HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, the realities of substance use among homeless people are that “the great majority of them, when sheltered, are going to be living in multi-unit buildings in which their ongoing substance use will affect others.” The report describes some of these effects, including the temptation for use among others in the development working toward recovery, risks for crime and violence associated with drug and alcohol abuse, and changes in behavior (for example, “belligerence, noise, bizarre behavior”). Further, as described in HUD’s training manual for those providing supportive housing services prepared for HUD, the first year of residence in supportive housing is a critical year in which psychiatric decompensation or breakdown and substance use relapse are the norm, not the exception. Notably, as confirmed by the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, the county ascribes to the Housing First approach in which placement in supporting housing is not conditional on sobriety or completion of alcohol or drug treatment, participation in supportive services is voluntary, and alcohol and drug use are only considered lease violations when such use results in “disturbances to neighbors or is associated with illegal activity.” Thus, disregarding concerns about the proposed development’s location is naive, at best, and irresponsible, at worst.
I can certainly appreciate that these issues are complex and nuanced; however, as our elected officials, it is incumbent upon the city council to answer these fundamental questions about the need for a particular development and address legitimate concerns about it, particularly because it involves the sale of city-owned land. Although exercising due diligence would most certainly involve conversations with Avalon, simply deferring to spokespeople for a real estate development and property management company who have a vested interest in the closing of a deal is insufficient. Avalon was not elected to represent Dexter; the city council was. Further, if the city council’s decision to sign the purchase agreement was motivated by a desire to help address the county’s broader need for supportive housing rather than a specific need in Dexter, then they should be transparent about that. Residents have a right to know the circumstances surrounding an agreement to sell city-owned land—an agreement that was reached with unprecedented speed and seemingly little resident input.
So, again, I and the 62 others who have signed the petition are asking the city council to reconsider both the need for and location of the supportive housing component of the proposed Avalon development. The first public hearing regarding the PILOT ordinance, an ordinance regarding payment in lieu of taxes, is scheduled for August 12 and the second public hearing regarding the land sale to Avalon is tentatively scheduled for September 9. Why not hit the pause button and take some time to fully vet the sale of this land for this purpose? Why not give the city’s own housing task force, appointed only one month before the purchase agreement was signed, a chance to bring additional information to the table? What if the housing task force were to find that additional affordable housing units, rather than supportive housing units, would actually better serve Dexter’s housing needs? Why not fully investigate the impact this development will have on traffic in an area already under study for improvements to pedestrian safety? Why not take time to properly address resident concerns about the proximity of supportive housing to the schools by bringing more evidence to bear? Why not provide greater clarity about the parameters for eviction and other community standards that will ensure the development has a positive impact on both its residents and the community? If the city council insists on moving forward at this pace, Dexter residents and even the city council, itself, will not have an opportunity to weigh the potential tradeoffs of this development when making a decision to favor or oppose it. If the city council thinks it has fully vetted this sale, then why not take the time to share the facts it has considered with the citizens it represents?
I want to conclude by thanking everyone who has contributed to this discussion, particularly community members and representatives from various community and government agencies who have answered my questions or provided additional information.
Please visit change.org for more information or to sign the petition (https://www.change.org/p/dexter-city-council-reconsider-the-need-for-and-location-of-avalon-housing-s-supportive-housing). Additionally, you can email email@example.com for supporting documentation or to be directed to the petition.