Ronia-Isabel Cabansag: On this week’s episode, Gov. Whitmer appointed two new members to the Board of Regents, the Ypsilanti City Council expressed affordable housing concerns with the Kaufman Jacobs development plan for Water St., and the Jim Toy Community Center will close its physical location at the end of January. I’m Ronia Cabansag, sitting in for Liz Hornyak, and this is The Eastern Echo Podcast.
On Dec. 28, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Nathan K. Ford and Dr. Jessie Kimbrough as the newest members of Eastern Michigan University’s Board of Regents. On the same day, EMU Today, an official source for university news, published an article introducing the new regents.
Nathan K. Ford succeeds Mary Treder Lang, and his term will be from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2028. Ford is the Associate Vice President and Director of Public Engagement for the HNTB Corporation. He is also a member of the COMTO Michigan Board, and the Vice President of the Morehouse College Alumni Association, Detroit Chapter. Ford received his Bachelor’s of Arts in Business Administration from Morehouse College.
Dr. Jessie Kimbrough is an EMU alumni. After receiving her Bachelor of Science at Eastern, she earned her Masters of Public Health at Harvard, and her Doctorate in Medicine from Wayne State. Dr. Kimbrough volunteers at mobile clinics that conduct testing for COVID-19 and flu vaccinations in several counties. She has served as the medical director of the Washtenaw County Health Department, and was a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan. Dr. Kimbrough’s term is from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2028. She succeeds Jim Webb.
On Dec. 1, the Ypsilanti City Council discussed the redevelopment plans for Water St. This redevelopment deal involves the 32-acre lot that sits between E. Michigan Ave. and S. Grove Rd. This land was for industrial use, and left behind lead and polychlorinated biphenyl. The Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority estimates that preparation of the property will cost a developer $23 million.
According to Joe Meyers, the Director of Economic Development, the city of Ypsilanti has already spent $5-10 million cleaning the property. The estimated cost to finish cleaning the property is $8-10 million.
Kaufman Jacobs, a real estate investment team interested in development on Water St., contacted Meyers’ staff in October of 2019. Meyers expressed his appreciation for the development team, Kalabat Development Group, who is partnered with Kaufman Jacobs.
Joe Meyers: Right now, any wild life that lands on this property could be contained with lead. That’s not good. So getting the property cleaned up is, I think, a very feasible development. I think the developers have really come in and listened to what we want and really, it gives another option to do it.
The developers haven't said we’re going to set aside this amount for this or that, they said ‘we want to know what you need.’ That’s what I appreciate. They didn’t say, ‘This is what we’re going to give you.’ They said, ‘What do you need?’ and then they tried to work their development around it.
Ronia Cabansag: Kaufman Jacobs held a virtual public engagement meeting on Nov. 5, Nov. 13, and Nov. 18 in order to gauge public interest in the project. That’s when concerns about housing began to arise.
Out of the 326 residential units that Kaufman Jacobs intends to build, only 34 units, or 10%, will be considered affordable housing.
Meyers stated that he believes that 10% of affordable housing in the development plan is the right amount because there are other places in the city where affordable housing can be built. He also noted that the plan applies to Ward 1, where most affordable housing is already built. Meyers believes future affordable housing projects should be spread to Wards 2 and 3.
A study by the City of Ypsilanti Housing Affordability and Accessibility Committee showed that more than half of renters in Ypsilanti spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Affordable housing units are calculated based on the Average Median Income, or AMI for Washtenaw County. Washtenaw County’s AMI for 2020 for a family of four is $101,000. This means that 60 percent AMI would make the rent limit $1,500, while 80 percent AMI would bring the rent limit up to $2,000.
Meyers stated that the developer is not looking to pursue an 80 percent AMI development, but is hoping to work with the community to determine reasonable rates.
Ypsilanti City Councilman Steve Wilcoxen told the Echo, "This is a regional issue. So as the city government, we’re going to do as much as we can within our domain, but this really is an issue because if people can’t afford to live in Ann Arbor they move here, and if people can’t afford to live here as prices go up, then where do they go?"
Plans for Water St. are still pending. We will keep you updated on this issue.
The Jim Toy Community Center has announced that it will be losing its physical location at the end of Jan. due to the financial impacts brought on by COVID-19. The community center will continue to have an online presence via Zoom. Here’s Joe Schoch, president of the community center, on their plans for the future.
Joe Schoch: Zoom has been a pretty efficient way for us to build community. As vaccines are getting distributed and communities and small gatherings are becoming more safe, we’re also exploring the options of what small meetups could look like in person. Whether it be a small watch party for Ann Arbor pride at a local restaurant or maybe at a library once that opens up for some of the small groups.
We want to be cautious and we want to be responsible. I think the challenge at the head of the board this year is using our creativity and innovation to push beyond what we did last year and really build onto that foundation.
Ronia Cabansag: The Jim Toy Community Center is named after U of M graduate and LGBTQ+ advocate Jim Toy, who was the first publicly “out” man in Michigan in 1970. According to their website, this organization strives to “provide information, education, social events, and advocacy by and for the Queer and Ally community.”
The Jim Toy Community Center will be hosting Ann Arbor Pride later this year.
EMU’s spring semester begins today, and clinical therapist Katie Holden gives advice on how students can deal with their mental health. Holden advises students to find a support system, seek outside therapy when needed, and utilize relaxation, exercise, and fresh air.
A study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, called “Effects of COVID-19 on College Students’ Mental Health in the United States” showed that out of the 195 students that participated in the study, 71% saw an increase in their stress and anxiety as a result of COVID-19. 177 of the students confirmed that “COVID-19 increased the level of fear and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones.” Additionally, out of 159 students, 8% also stated that they are less motivated to learn and they found themselves procrastinating more.
Holden said this to encourage students:
“We don’t know what will be, so try to connect with what is...focus on the things that anchor you, that bring you hope and security, don’t neglect those. As well, remember your strengths, you’ve got loads of it.”
As always thank you for tuning in. Also a huge thank you to reporters Juliana Lumaj and Gracie Thompson for today’s stories. You may have noticed - the podcast will now be airing on Wednesdays instead of Mondays so be sure to subscribe to be notified of new episodes each week! Until next time, this is Ronia Cabansag sitting in for Liz Hornyak, and this has been The Eastern Echo Podcast.
Script: Jasmine Boyd
Host: Ronia-Isabel Cabansag
Produced: Ashlee Buhler, Ronia-Isabel Cabansag