Ann Arbor housing inequality

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Housing inequality in Ann Arbor, Michigan is a growing problem which contributes heavily to the displacement of many lower income people from the city. Housing in Ann Arbor, Michigan is in high demand, with a rental vacancy at just 1.88%, compared to 12.93% in 2005,[1] and a national average of 6.90%.[2] This high demand, in conjunction with limited availability to affordable housing and restrictive zoning policies, have created a housing crisis in the city. Occupancy has shifted and become notably whiter and wealthier,[3] displacing residents who can no longer afford housing within Ann Arbor and discouraging working-class students from attending the University of Michigan or Concordia University. The effects of this movement radiate from Ann Arbor into neighboring cities, and contribute to general trends of housing inequality and gentrification.

University of Michigan housing

The average undergraduate pays between $10,000- $14,000 dollars to live in University of Michigan student housing.[4] While students in Ann Arbor pay between $10,000-14,000 a year to live in university housing, neighboring University students pay between $5,000- 12,000 a year to live on campuses such as Eastern and Western Michigan University. However, as students begin to branch away from dorm life, many of them chose to skip the high prices of Ann Arbor and find shelter in Ypsilanti. According to the U.S Census Bureau, from 2010-2015 rent in Ann Arbor increased 14% leaving students paying approximately $1,075 a month. This number, however, does not account for the high-density housing areas which rises 32%, nor does it account for Kerrytown or South campus.[5]

Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC)

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) is the city government group that “seeks to provide desirable housing and related supportive services for low-income individuals and families on a transitional and/or permanent basis.” Its mission statement explains that the AAHC “partners with housing and service providers to build healthy residential communities and promote an atmosphere of pride and responsibility.” As required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the AAHC compiles an Annual Agency Plan. This plan “addresses the policies, programs, operations and strategies” that it intends to implement to meet the local housing needs of the community. If someone is a current AAHC voucher holder, he or she can take advantage of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV). Section 8 HCV Homeownership is a subsidy program to help holders purchase homes in Washtenaw and Monroe counties. The AAHC's homeless program works alongside local housing and shelter/service providers, and they encourage people to call 734.961.1999, if they are or will be homeless.[6]

Ann Arbor zoning policy

Two of six general categories of districts are in Salem Township, which encompasses Ann Arbor, including Rural Districts and Business Districts. The Business Districts in Salem Township are divided into Local Commercial Districts (LC), General Commercial Districts (GC), the Highway Commercial District (HC), and the Office District (OC). The purpose of zoning policies in these districts is to regulate or provide opportunities to commercial or office activities primarily serving local markets. The minimum lot sizes range from 10,000 square feet to one acre in size. Low-density single family and agricultural uses range from 1 to 2 units per acre. These areas have gravel roads with no plan to pave these roads.

Single-family housing in Ann Arbor, defined as the R1A, R1B, R1C, and R1D single‐family dwelling district, is limited by regulations that make homes with under six bedrooms impractical for low-income or student use. “Total floor area devoted to the home occupation in the principal or accessory building shall not exceed 25% of the gross floor area of the dwelling.”[7] This makes it difficult to house as many people as would be needed in many cases to pay rent within a house. This relegates those seeking more affordable housing to R4B, R4C, R4D, R4E multiple-family dwelling districts, a designation covering a small area in relation to the demand for similar housing.[8]

Impact on Ann Arbor neighborhoods


Central Ann Arbor is defined by its proximity to the University and high percentage of student housing. Recent development has increased the number of large, high capacity, high rent, buildings adjacent to the Michigan campus. These “luxury” buildings, coupled with higher enrollment rates, have dramatically increased the price of housing across Ann Arbor—with the most drastic increases happening in Central Ann Arbor. This has led to an increase in housing insecurity and availability for even undergraduate students. With this shortage of affordable housing, graduate students, university employees, and residents have had to move farther towards the edges of the city to find rents low enough to afford.[5]

Outside of student housing, the residential neighborhoods in Central Ann Arbor are among the most expensive in Washtenaw County. The Angell and parts of the Bach neighborhoods feature some of the largest homes and mansions in Ann Arbor with many of them occupied by the highest paid and socially elite employed by the university.[9]


Northeast Ann Arbor is home to the University North Campus and thus is also home to an elevated level of enrolled-student occupied housing. The neighborhoods closest to the campus (The King and Northside areas) follow similar trends to those in Central Ann Arbor, with graduate students and lower paid Michigan employees moving West of the campus.[9] Further North of the main student residential neighborhood housing becomes more family oriented, more suburban, and more expensive. The hilly, expensive suburbs are home to much of the city’s more affluent non-white population, specifically higher percentage of Asian residents than the national average.


Northwest Ann Arbor features far less dense residential neighborhoods than the rest of the city. As the city approaches Scio Township, it reaches some of its most affluent neighborhoods. The Barton Hills, Wines, and Abbott neighborhoods are extremely wealthy, housing prices high as they near central campus.[10] Prices only rise further as the area becomes more residential and affluent. As the city turns into suburbs and Scio, housing remaining spread and residential with lot size increasing. There are apartments and newer developments, but these expensive, amenity heavy apartments are few and far between the more ubiquitous country style homes in the area.[9]


Southeast Ann Arbor is home to some of the most affordable housing in the city. As Ann Arbor approaches Ypsilanti, housing prices decrease drastically and the number of affordably priced housing options increases. The Bryant and Pattengill elementary school district contains modestly priced and smaller homes than the average Ann Arbor neighborhood, and has far more multi-family housing complexes and buildings. There is slight variation in housing prices as the city nears the Ypsi border, but Ann Arbor generally and drastically becomes more affordable the farther away from the city center, especially as one moves further south. Here, housing prices are the generally the lowest in Ann Arbor, with house value showing the least appreciation. Atop this, this area of the city features the lowest income to rent ratio present in Ann Arbor, meaning that despite housing prices being lower and more affordable, they are still higher than the average normal price range for the average income of its residents.[9]


Southwest Ann Arbor housing is more diverse than that found in other areas of the city. The further South and more central areas of Southwest Ann arbor trend similarly to Southeast Ann Arbor—housing prices decrease and the number of affordable housing projects and buildings increases. However, the farther North and West one looks, the housing increases in both price and number of rooms, and begins to look more like the far more expensive, country-club suburban neighborhoods like Barton Hills and Abbott.[9]

Demographic impact

As of 2016, Ann Arbor’s population was 120,777. The estimated median household income in 2016 was about $60,745 which was a significant increase from 2000’s median household income of $46,299 (about a 76% increase). The estimated median house and condo value in 2016 was $297,700 which is a 60% increase from 2000’s median house value of $178,500. The median gross rent as of 2016 was $1,189 and about 55% of the population are renters.

68.3% of Ann Arbor’s population is white, 15.7% is Asian, 7.2% is black, 4.4% is Hispanic, 4% are two or more races, 0.3% are American Indian, 0.1% identify as other, and 0.06% are native Hawaiian and other pacific islanders. 78% of males and 75.4% of females over the age of 25 have achieved a bachelor's degree or higher. A significant portion of the population are between the ages of about 18 and 24 because Ann Arbor is composed largely of students and recent graduates. Ann Arbor residents under the age of 25 account for the largest percentage of residents making less than $10,000 a year. With tuition, loans, expensive rent and living arrangements, and other expenses that come with college, the shortage of affordable housing can be especially difficult for Ann Arbor’s college students and residents who have either recently finished college. It may also be difficult for residents who have not attained a college degree because it may be more difficult for them to find work and they usually do not earn the same amount as those with a degree.[3]

Neighboring areas

Rent increases in Ann Arbor have caused many students at the University of Michigan and other Ann Arbor residents to seek lower rents in nearby areas. While 80,000 people work in Ann Arbor each day, only about 31% of Washtenaw county residents could sustainably afford the city’s average rent. As a result, neighboring cities such as Ypsilanti, Saline, and Pittsfield have also seen significant increase in the cost of living. 98% of Ypsilanti Township residents who earn less than $20000 annually currently pay more than 30% of their revenue towards rent. This trend is reflected across Washtenaw County, with 96% in Pittsfield and 94% in Ann Arbor paying at the same rates.[11]

International Village

A $300 luxury housing project called the International Village has caused controversy among Ypsilanti residents. Catering mainly to wealthy foreign investors and students, the development plan centers around a piece of legislation called EB-5. The EB-5 program is a policy of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services which makes entrepreneurs eligible for green cards if they make a certain amount of investment in a commercial enterprise or plan to create at least 10 full-time permanent jobs in the country. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services website, the minimum qualifying capital amount for general investment is $1 million, or $500,000 for targeted areas with high unemployment or rural locations.[12] This, combined with the $1,100 per month price tag for each unit, make the housing project inaccessible to most of Ypsilanti’s 21,000 residents. With about 25% of single-family homes in Ypsilanti City owned by investors, this development is a continuation of the trend of large-scale developers capitalizing on high-rise zoning in Ann Arbor.[13]

Defend Affordable Ypsi

Many residents and allies of Ypsilanti affordability have joined public action group Defend Affordable Ypsi. DAY works to maintain a presence in Ypsilanti town halls, and provides advocacy training and information to concerned citizens.[14]


  1. "Residential Rent Statistics for Ann Arbor Michigan - Department of Numbers". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  2. "US Rental Vacancy Rate". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Ann Arbor, Michigan (MI) profile: population, maps, real estate, averages, homes, statistics, relocation, travel, jobs, hospitals, schools, crime, moving, houses, news, sex offenders". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  4. "Room & Board Rates 2017-2018 - University Housing". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "City and students share concerns over affordability of housing". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  6. "Housing Commission". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  7. "Zoning restrictions" (PDF). 
  8. "Municode Library". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4[zl]=14&mapOSM[c1]=42.30149988393079&mapOSM[c2]=-83.70311737060547&mapOSM[s]=income3&mapOSM[fs]=false
  10. "Ann Arbor Neighborhoods - Dicken - Ann Arbor Observer". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  11. "Data" (PDF). 
  12. "About the EB-5 Visa Classification". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  13. "Huge housing, retail project would target Asian immigrants in Ypsilanti". Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  14. "Defend Affordable Ypsi / Documents". Retrieved 2 April 2018.