Sylvan Township Takes First Step Toward Affordable Housing

By Melinda Baird,

Inclusionary housing is a new concept for rural Sylvan Township—a municipality where 72% of its housing stock is single family homes on a minimum of two acres.  Still, the township’s Board of Trustees listened intently to a presentation on the subject during its March 6 board meeting.  The presentation, initiated by Trustee and Planning Commissioner Cyndi Jabara, led to several officials and residents voicing their desire to reexamine permitted use of space in the township.

“I think it’s a tremendous waste of land out here,” said resident Bob Pierce.

Not only that, but lack of inclusionary housing often pushes more and more people out of the community, such as seniors living on fixed incomes and younger people seeking independence, said presenter Teresa Gillotti of Washtenaw County Office for Community and Economic Development.

She defines inclusionary housing—a term she borrowed from Ferndale, Michigan—as a variety of different housing types, sizes and, of course, price points to accommodate people in all phases of life.  The ideal scenario, she said, is to have different housing types to provide for mixed-income, multi-generational communities.

Examples include single family homes with accessory dwelling units (such as an attached attic, detached garage or converted basement with separate entrance), duplexes, triplexes, rowhouses and townhomes, or even live-work units and very large older homes converted into apartments.

Affordable housing, inextricably linked to the concept of inclusionary housing, is defined as housing (mortgage or rent, taxes and insurance) for an individual or family that costs no more than 30% of their gross annual income.  When considering housing and transportation (car payment, car insurance, maintenance and gas) costs together, the income target increases to no more than 45% gross annual income, Gillotti said.

According to Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing & Transportation Index, more than two-thirds of Washtenaw County residents spend more than 45% of their monthly income on housing and transportation combined.

But it’s not just a revision of zoning policies, such as those pertaining to lot size limits, building size limits and permitted uses, that can help provide more options to existing and prospective community members.  It will also require engaging with developers, Gillotti said.

“If someone is coming in with a new subdivision and zoning allows it, how do we get them to mix in, say, 8 duplexes and 4 accessory units in with 80 homes?  Do they need to know for sure they’ll have renters?  Do you need to prove there’s a market to them?” she said.  “And sometimes they just need to be asked.  If you don’t ask for what you want, you’re sure to get the prototype.”

Gillotti’s same presentation was recently well-received by the Chelsea Community Forum, and her office will continue to provide support services as requested.



Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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