The Ypsilanti City Council approved a purchase during the July 16 city council meeting that will bring affordable housing with an emphasis on senior housing to Ypsilanti.
The building, located at 206-210 N. Washington, was formerly a 16-unit apartment building that caught on fire in January 2017. The property, which was three years delinquent in taxes, has since been foreclosed according to Washtenaw County Treasurer, Catherine McClary.
“There is a general property tax act which I am obligated to enforce as the county treasurer,” McClary said. “If I am unable to collect delinquent taxes, then I am required to foreclose on the property.”
Under the right of first refusal, the city was able to obtain the property from Washtenaw County for the lowest bid of $101,977, which is the amount of taxes due for the property.
With significant damage to the interior of the building, the property was put on the city’s dangerous building list after the fire. Aside from a few broken windows, the exterior of the building is in decent condition, according to Joe Meyers, head of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority.
“The building as far as the exterior, outside of some broken windows, is not dangerous,” Meyers said. “But because of the fire and the fire damage, you can’t move into it, which is what makes it dangerous.”
The previous owner purchased the building for $1 million and only owned it for a year, according to Meyers. However, there was no insurance on the property when the building caught on fire. The cost of fixing the damage was estimated to be $1.5 million.
When it became evident that the owner could not redeem the property, Meyers said that the two remaining options were to turn the building into affordable housing or tear it down.
“It was affordable housing or tearing it down, which the Historic District Commission does not want to see,” Meyers said. “The main reason why we targeted this was because the only way we can get this done is through affordable housing tax credits … The building is in pretty rough shape. We don’t want this to become another Farm Bureau (2 W. Forest), which has been abandoned for many years with broken windows.”
At the July 16 City Council meeting, council members voted 7-0 to approve the purchase of the building, utilizing funds from Affordable Housing Fund and the Dangerous Buildings Escrow Fund.
The city will now put out a request for proposals. Once the property is purchased from the city by a developer who specializes in low-income and senior housing, the amount of $101,977 will be put back into the Affordable Housing Fund.
Mayor Pro-Tem Lois Richardson said she is in favor of creating more affordable housing in Ypsilanti.
“I think that this a great opportunity for us,” Richardson said. “One of the things that we hear over and over during our public comments is the fact that there is a need for affordable housing in the city. I just think that this is a good opportunity for us to be able to provide more affordable housing.”
Mayor Beth Bashert said affordable housing is needed, particularly for seniors.
“We lost 90 units of senior affordable housing, and we missed an opportunity to add 60 immediately after,” Bashert said. “There’s about to be a massive crisis in senior affordable housing nationwide. But we’re in the middle of about 20,000 lost units in southeast Michigan. That’s why there was the request for emphasis on senior housing.”
During the meeting, council member Annie Somerville expressed concern over lack of housing that’s wheelchair accessible, stating, “We’re just now starting to care about people with disabilities.”
Meyers said there is potential to make the building wheelchair accessible. However, several factors should be taken into consideration.
“Because it’s a historic building, it obviously can’t be (wheelchair accessible) everywhere,“ Meyers said. “The cost to retrofit a building that’s historic is actually far too great.
“With this type of building, you would want to make it as accessible as possible. We don’t want to eliminate six units to put in one elevator to get one extra person upstairs. We try to make as many of them as we can on the main floor.”
According to Mayor Bashert, the process moving forward will take time.
“There are a lot of hoops to jump through, approvals from the state to acquire, the building needs a lot of work,“ Bashert said in an email to the Echo. “I don’t expect any movement on the physical building for about two years, to be real.”