TT with HD: Dave DeVarti
[Ed. note: Mentioned below is www.ecurrent.com, the website connected to Current, the print
publication, which is available free at numerous distribution points
throughout Washtenaw County.
Also, the issue of the proposed combination of the Housing Policy Board with the Community Development Executive Committee discussed below, was also discussed back in January when Rebekah Warren graced the then-frozen board.]
HD: Shall we mount?
DD: There's no handle.
HD: That is true, but that has not posed an insurmountable difficulty for anyone yet.
DD: It might be a liability ...
HD: ... that's the beauty of having no handles, that you can just scootch back and forth until ...
DD: ... do you have a thing where you can adjust it? They used to have three gizmos where you'd have to adjust it.
HD: Exactly. I knew that I was not going to be able to pull that off, so my solution was: no handles. Which allows people to slide as opposed to the entire board.
DD: Oh, I get it, so you move the weights. So does that happen where you slide to a natural balance point?
HD: I don't know if you just slide to a natural balance point. I think most times people have very consciously slide forward and back. Is this going to work for you?
DD: It's fine. I'm good. If you lock me in the up position, or?
HD: Yes, well as long as you're nice. Oh, now you're not letting me down! You know, I was at the Old Town on Sunday, and the August edition of Current was out in a nice neat stack. And thumbing through it, it seemed to me that the paper stock was maybe a smidge heavier or smoother? I perceived some kind of difference. Have you changed paper suppliers?
DD: Not that we know of. It's possible the printer has. But we do get the premium whiter paper for the cover, and it covers eight pages basically. So eight pages are that white stock.
HD: Okay, so maybe it was those pages I was noticing.
DD: Could be. And the August issue is always the smallest. So even though we've got essentially 16 pages--eight pages front and back are white paper--so 16 pages out of 80 pages in August is 20 percent. In September it'll be more like 12 percent of the issue will be on that white paper.
HD: Well, I definitely use Current almost exclusively to find out who's playing at the Old Town on Sunday nights.
HD: Yeah, that's my main use of Current. In fact, I noticed that Dave Boutette is playing later in the month. That's a name, whenever I see it slotted for the Old Town, I'll try to see him, because if it's his birthday, he brings birthday cake for everybody. Or he did once.
DD: Oh, great!
HD: That's kind of a cool thing. Most people's association with, indeed my association with Current, is that it's event listings.
HD: So I was wondering, do you lose any sleep at all over software platforms like Upcoming-dot-org and other social networking sites that are driven by event listings in some way or another? Do you see them as a threat at all to the business model of Current?
DD: I think there's always going to be a place for print. I'm not sure in event listings, if that's going to be true. But certainly, for example, novels, there's no way you're ever going to find me reading a book on the screen. Because I want to hold the book and look at the type and stick my bookmark in my place when I'm ready to fall asleep. The pleasure of holding the book and leafing through it as I read it is not going to be replaced by some electronic medium. Now event listings, it could go that way. We have a website ...
HD: ... right, eCurrent-dot-com.
DD: It's a modest site. Very low-cost, but it downloads fast. What we haven't been able to find, is a way to turn it into a way to produce any revenue. But we're getting 80,000 page-loads a month at this point, which means that a lot of people are looking at what's playing at the Old Town on Sunday night on the website! But still we run through 25,000 copies fairly regularly. And they get picked up.
HD: So when the distribution people drop off, they're not having to pick up a bunch of old ones.
DD: Well, we do pick up any old ones that remain. At the end of July there were very few left. Part of that is because the Art Fair happens and there's an extra couple hundred thousand people walking through town picking stuff up. Not all of them, but some of them. Oddly enough, even though July is in the summer, and you'd think because the students are out of town, the population is down, we'd have more left over. We actually had very few left over at the end of July. Almost none for office use. And then some months, you know like April, we have very few turn-backs in April. The October issue seems to move fast ...
HD: ... the April edition is the one that has the ...
DD: ... Best Of.
HD: Right, the Best Of, so maybe people want to keep that as an archive copy.
DD: And I don't understand why, you know, it's just a simple ...
HD: ... well, I understand why, Dave! I have like five copies of the April edition from this year and I think you know why!
HD: [Ed. note: HD is alluding to Teeter Talk's achievement of Best Blog in spring of 2006] It's kinda cool, actually. But where I was going with this is, that Current has more than just event listings. There's actual editorial content in there.
HD: And the columns, I find kind of refreshing in that there's more of a personal voice, it seems to me, than what you'll find in other local publications.
DD: That is something that I specifically ask for. I want the personal voice. I tell them, the people whose photo is right there, as opposed to the boxes and the articles--which they even have a little bit of a personal voice--but the columnists, like Sue Dise, who wrote a column for us ...
HD: ... yeah, actually, I had extracted something that she wrote as exemplifying exactly this kind of thing and wrote it down from the Stage Whispers column [HD reading aloud]: "Summertime is when my journalistic slough of despond reaches its nadir. It's seems as if the entire acting world has slipped off to holiday in the Hamptons, whilst I must toil in the brutal air-conditioning ..." etcetera, etcetera. To me, that really does exemplify the author's voice that you get in Current. I don't know if you'd say it's lacking elsewhere, but it's certainly more pronounced in Current, than what you see in the Observer or the Ann Arbor News.
DD: Well, we want that. You read that in columns like in the New York Times. Your reviewers and columnists that have regular columns, they have a voice. And if you follow them, you identify with them. And some of them, you hate'em. And some you love. I'm less worried about that, than people reacting to them. I'd like the reader to react, to hear the person's voice, the columnist's voice, and for it to generate some reaction, not to just be neutral about it and not care one way or other. I know we have columnists that have a tendency to provoke a little bit, but that's okay. The columns are for them to have a voice.
HD: So you encourage that from your publisher's position. Do you actually review each column before it goes to press and sign off on it? Or do you leave that to ...
DD: ... the editors? I look at each page before it sends out, just to make sure that the right thing is on the right page, basically. And a lot of times, it's to make sure that the ad on the page gets color like it's supposed to. And occasionally, I'll see something that draws my interest right off the bat, and I'll read it. But really, my purpose there is to get it off to the printer as fast as possible, and that's slowing me down if I do that. Usually, I don't really read it carefully until after the thing comes out. But we have good editors. The editorial staff is excellent. And occasionally there'll be some discussion of the propriety of something. For example, the Improv Inferno had a MILF [Michigan Improv Laugh Festival] Festival or whatever it was. It stood for something.
HD: It stood for Michigan Improv Laugh Festival. [laugh]
DD: Okay, but unbeknownst to me, MILF really has a meaning that, to some people, is really derogatory.
DD: And the next thing I knew, there's a big discussion going on among designers and editorial staff, and even a couple of free lancers, this thing that was coming across my email, reply-all discussion, of the propriety of putting this on the cover and what it would mean ...
HD: ... so how did discussion come out, what was the end result of that conversation?
DD: Well, I think it ended out with a lot of people developing an understanding of why somebody would be upset by it. For me, what was important was for people not to misunderstand it. And I wanted it to be in the context. I'm not sure if it appeared on the cover, but if it did, it was in the context of clearly delineating what it stood for: Michigan Improv Laugh Festival. And inside I was less worried about that. The cover is the first impression somebody has ...
HD: ... sure, that's the thing that's lying around that you can't help but see.
DD: Right, and I'd like to be somewhat careful about that. I'm willing to take a chance that somebody might be offended, if there's a valid reason. We're not going to offend just ...
HD: ... gratuitously ...
DD: ... for the sake of offending. But if there's a legitimate purpose for it? If somebody calls it what they call it, that's their thing, should we not say this event is happening, named as it is, because they chose an offensive name? I'm pretty open about free speech. Even as a publisher we have a right, it's our publication, it's our voice.
HD: Right. You can publish whatever you want.
DD: It's not censoring like a government censor or something, but at the same time I want to err on the side of freedom of expression.
HD: So would you say that within the editorial staff having that conversation, that there was a consensus that evolved? That the way it got published was a way that everybody was happy with?
DD: I'm not sure. I believe that there was an understanding across all the staff that participated in the discussion. And I don't think anybody was totally uncomfortable with whatever ran. But it may be that maybe we erred for some one person on the side of being too conservative and not taking enough of a risk. And maybe for somebody else, weren't careful enough. But you know there were a lot of opinions, and I felt like I learned a lot just by listening to the discussion. Then when it all played out, nobody was up in arms about it. Although we didn't sit down and say, Is everybody okay with this?
HD: So no vote, where everybody put their name down and signed off. [laugh]
DD: But there was an evolutionary process through the discussion, I think, and it got to the point, where it just kind of happened organically. I'm not even sure how it ended up playing out at this point. I just remember the discussion. Like I said, I think it ended up in an organic result that came out of a discussion with people, the designers and the editors, playing out with what they felt comfortable with.
HD: So something inside the one of the first pages, I don't know if it's right inside the front cover or not, but it's a plug for the Ann Arbor Radio request benefit for the Ann Arbor Film Festival?
DD: Is that on what was the Feedback page and we've turned it into FYI?
HD: I think so.
DD: So it's early on ...
HD: ... and it's on the right hand side, ...
DD: ... across from the Michigan Theater ad probably?
HD: Could be, but I couldn't promise you that. [Ed. note: It's page 5, August 2006 Current FYI across from the Michigan Theater ad on page 4. Readers might notice less-than-perfect communication on the topic of local radio, which can likely be ascribed to HD's apparent intended usage of 'Ann Arbor Radio' as the proper name of 107.1, whereas DD is understanding the phrase generically as 'radio stations in Ann Arbor']. Have you been listening to Ann Arbor Radio today in the office?
DD: I haven't. I wake up listening to either WEMU or UOM. And on punch-down on my car radio, I've got CBN, EMU, UOM and 107.1, which is a local station. They've got Martin Bandyke and they've done some really interesting programming. On Sunday's they've got some local programming. So for commercial radio, I think they're doing a great job.
HD: Are you planning to call in an make a request for the Film Festival Benefit?
DD: I hadn't been. Mostly I've been focussing on getting our next publication out.
HD: And this is one of the annuals, right, that you're working to get out this week? The Blue Book?
DD: We've got the Blue Book, which is the campus guide. And we've actually just put the Ann Arbor Guide to bed, which is a guide aimed not so much the campus, but the off-campus community, newcomers to the community. Realtors send it in their re-lo packs.
HD: So this is the publication that Ingrid Sheldon was talking about, that she had to write an introduction for?
DD: That was the Ann Arbor Guide. Well, she didn't have to, I mean we asked her to! And I think we had asked Liz Brater to before her.
HD: So it's a standard thing that if you're the Mayor of Ann Arbor, you get invited to write the Introduction to Our City?
DD: Right, and usually, the first time they serve, they rewrite it, so it's their voice. Then they make minor changes from year-to-year.
HD: So instead of 'I've been Mayor for the last two years' it's 'I've been Mayor for the last four years' ...
DD: ... I'm not even sure that people are that forthright about saying how long they've been Mayor. I think everybody uses it to boost the community. It's a little half-page, Welcome to the Community ...
HD: ... not really an occasion to be self-aggrandizing. How long did you serve on City Council?
DD: One year, and on Planning Commission for a year.
HD: But you still stay up to date fairly well on City affairs, right? I mean, I noticed that in March you spoke at Council in favor of keeping the Housing Policy Board separate from the Community Development Executive Committee? There was a proposal to combine the two.
HD: And you weighed-in in favor of keeping them separate?
DD: Separate and powerful. One of my fears is that the current Council is eroding [what we have]. What we have is boards and committees that are a vehicle that we can use to draw on expertise. There's tremendous community expertise here. Just for the Housing Policy Board, as an example, you've got Bob Gillett, the director the Legal Services of Southeastern Michigan. He's served in various capacities with the Bar committees and judicial review committees and has many years of housing law experience. A lot of conservatives might characterize people like that as representing a special interest. I think they're experts, representing the community's interest. Because they're not doing it for a profit-making corporation. They've made a choice, usually, to take probably a lower-paying job--than if they went into the traditional corporate world--to do something on behalf of the community: frequently dis-empowered people, or people with lower economic backgrounds. And you've got people like Chuck Kieffer, who created the SOS Crisis Center--Community Center now--in Ypsi. Now he's working for the Michigan State Housing Authority, specializing in addressing the issue of homelessness. He's on the Housing Policy Board. So he's got over 20 years of experience in these areas. You've got these community members, who serve voluntarily, because they believe in these things. And they are really, in many ways, more expert than the City staff people. So we want to keep those committees active and going and really empower them to put real policy recommendations before Council. And I'd like to see the Council really relying on that sort of expertise.
HD: So you don't feel like they've relied adequately on recommendations of the Housing Policy Board in the past?
DD: I think right now, you've got staff people, who, in some areas, are at odds with some of the policy directions that the Policy Board wants to take. I'd like to see more people on Council who come from an activist background. Who've worked for private, non-profit agencies, usually at lower wages than what they'd make in the corporate world. Who understand that people work for these things, because they believe in the community, not because they want to line their pockets. And who understand that after many years of serving, for example, as the director of Ozone House, that you really know something about issues that youth are confronted with, run-away issues and those sorts of things. So you've got to pull those people in, you've got to get them to the table to help set the policy and agenda. You know, you've got Avalon Housing, which is in the business as a non-profit, a housing developer, of creating housing opportunities for people at below 30% of median income. So they're doing things that are targeted at a constituency even below what federal dollars are targeted. So it's a hard-to-address population. Pull them into the policy-making arena, get them to the table, get them to help set direction! People who have been canvassers for SANE [Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy], maybe they haven't been a canvasser for SANE for the last ten years, but maybe ten years ago, when they were just out of college, they canvassed for SANE for a couple of years. I'd love to see that person on City Council. Or somebody on City Council with that sort of experience: really working with an issue and going door-to-door at a real retail level of discussing issues with people.
HD: So does it matter the particular issue, or does it matter more they they've developed the skill set, where they can knock on the door of some house where they have no idea who might live there, and engaging them on some substantive issue, no matter what the issue might be?
DD: There's a broad array of issues facing us as a society and a community. And I would not say, Let's choose that issue over another one. But I think the experience of working on those issues on the retail level, or at a professional level as even a director of an agency that's been doing this for many many years, gives you a real handle on what some of the challenges that confront us are in each of these areas. Whether it's providing health care for people without health-care, or providing housing for people without housing, or dealing with issues of mental health, or working in arts organizations. I want to get that expertise to the policy-making table. And if it's not at City Council, there have to be opportunities on boards and committees, that we can draw on that professional expertise.
HD: So you feel that by combining those two particular entities, it would reduce the number of seats at the broad table.
DD: And it would overload them with a job that would be beyond the capacity of them to do.
HD: So what, then, is the balance that you need between the folks with the skill set that you're talking about, sort of the grass-roots, organizing, activism, and the people who have experience in say ...
DD: ... contract law?
HD: Yeah, contract law, or I was going to say in the world of for-profit business, where basically you really worry about the bottom line? I guess one kind of response would be, It's not as if non-profits don't have to worry about the bottom line, they do.
DD: Right, I think you need a balance. I think you draw on expertise from that area as well. I'm on the DDA, the Downtown Development Authority, even now. I served on boards and committees for many years before I was on City Council, and it's great. We have people who have development backgrounds, who have construction and engineering background, a small-business background, operating a single brewpub. We just have a very diverse group there.
HD: So you'd describe the current cast on the DDA as a good balance of the skills sets needed?
DD: It's a healthy mix. Yeah, I'd say it's a healthy mix. And again, we have the Director of Legal Services of Southeastern Michigan, so he's familiar with serving the low-income community. At the same time, he also has a lot of expertise on legal issues, which we sometimes face.
HD: One of the issues, certainly here in the Fifth Ward--you probably saw some campaign signs as you were walking over here--is this issue of the Greenway. So I just wanted to bounce an idea off of you. This is my notion of something that would be concrete and specific and, I think, probably low cost and easy to do, but that would certainly not satisfy the proponents of the Real Greenway. This property down over by Felch Street, there's the Art Center, you know what I'm talking about right?
DD: I'm somewhat familiar with it, yeah. It's the one on Felch, it backs up to the yard that's on Main Street, right? It's behind the Community Center?
HD: Hmm. Yeah, I think. There's those old concrete supports for tanks that now has a gardenesque or atrium like feel?
DD: At one time wasn't there some kind of mill operation of some kind?
HD: I'm not sure of the history. But I looked at that area, which is right up next to the railroad tracks in the middle of the Allen Creek drain. And then there's this park, North Main Park, which, just anecdotally from my point of view, doesn't get as much use as it could. It's a tiny little patch of green. It's maybe not clear to a lot of people that it's a public park, it could be mistaken for somebody's really big lawn.
DD: I have to say I'm not familiar with that park.
HD: Well, I was thinking that what is really lacking is not green space per se, but it's a vantage point from which to look down on green space and on downtown Ann Arbor from a great height. So maybe there's public places you can go, but if there are, I don't know of them ...
DD: Hunt Park.
HD: Hunt Park?
DD: Up at the top of Spring Street, where Spring intersects with Sunset? A very panoramic view of the community. Or the top of Cedar Bend Drive. If you go up Broadway, when I was in high school, it was like the Lover's Lane.
HD: Oh really? Are there stories you'd like to relate?
DD: [laugh] Nothing exciting. I was kind of out of that scene. I was developmentally too young. I was more into board games at that time. I was a member of the Spanish Club and the Bridge Club, and probably the Math Club, when I was in high school.
HD: Okay, so those are already two places you know of, so maybe we don't have to build a tower. But I still think it would be cool to build the tallest tower that it would be feasible to build there by the Art Center and then put a fixed-mounted telescope at the top, focused on the North Main Park. And the routine would be: you climb the tower, look around; through the telescope you could see where you were going after climbing down; then just a walk a path on the sidewalk that you could literally paint green; and when you got to North Main Street, there would be a pedestrian bridge you could go over to the park. It'd be a like a field trip for elementary school kids, a standard thing to do. And I think, instead of trying to develop parallel connections along the Allen Creek Greenway, that it'd be better to make orthogonal green inroads from the Allen Creek area into downtown, even psychological ones. As opposed to trying to create this huge green swath, that I think, psychologically, would simply create a barrier between the leafy neighborhoods and downtown as opposed to a transition.
DD: I'm actually politically supporting all the people that are Greenway advocates in this election, even though my position on the Greenway and on development is quite a bit different than theirs probably. I think we can do some sort of limited pedestrian thing along the railroad tracks. I think we can do some things with the Allen Creek. I'd like to look at, at some point, daylighting parts of the Allen Creek. You know, it's got several tributaries. There's one tributary than comes along the tracks through the U of M golf course and along the tracks and then behind Ferry Field and Elbel field. And it strikes me that you could daylight part of the upper part of that pretty easily. Or maybe the one that goes through West Park, that tributary. Maybe you could daylight part of it in West Park. I'm not sure what you've got there in terms of how dirty the water is and whether you'd want to daylight it, but you've got ways to think about doing something interesting with the Allen Creek, which I don't think we've adequately explored. There have been explorations of these things, but not looking at what we can do in a limited way, and start maybe building towards some options later one. Now in terms of the Greenway, I'm generally in favor of denser development, although not across-the-board 10-story buildings everywhere. But having grown up in Ann Arbor, I see it as an urban community and I'm not fearful of some the aspects of urbanism, which is some higher density. What I'd like to see, though, if we're going to invest resources, is tying the downtown someway through some corridor, or multiple corridors with the existing riverway. Because the Huron River has a lot of park land, bike paths. You can bike basically from Gallup Park downtown.
HD: Oh, yeah.
DD: So why not make use of that by accentuating the connection between that existing Greenway that we've already invested a lot of resources in, connect a more obvious and direct connection that will actually pull people from the river to the downtown, and from the downtown to the river in an pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly way. I think investing the resources that way would be more productive than in some big, all-out Greenway along the railroad tracks. That's going to be very costly and that compromises other options.
HD: I'd prefer to think of it as Green Fingers emanating from the river or from the creek into downtown, as opposed to trying to make this giant green swoosh parallel to the creek. You could do that much more incrementally if the orientation was, Let's think orthogonal to the river and orthogonal to the creek. So you mentioned density. What do you think about the idea of integrating accessory dwelling units into an plan for greater overall density through the city?
DD: Like an apartment over your garage?
HD: Yeah, if you look behind you, that garage, my fantasy would be that the upper story of that, eventually when I get to be like 80 years old, my nurse could live up there and take care of me. And I'm only half-kidding when I say that.
DD: I'm okay with that. And I think there can be accommodation of that. At the same time, I'm there are legitimate concerns that people have. There's multiple demands on the housing that we have here. One is for you to use it how you want and to put somebody in there. Another one is for a landlord to come along and to stuff as many warm bodies into a space as they can for $500 a spot. And I think a lot of the opposition to that comes legitimately out of a concern that, especially close to campus, that people might take advantage of accessory dwelling units to increase the number of warm bodies that they can stuff into a place at $500 dollars a pop. All of a sudden, instead of having four or six people living next door, you've got double that. I think we can find a way to do accessory units. But I think we have to somehow balance those concerns and address them. Maybe it's a zoning thing. Maybe the zoning should allow accessory units more freely further away from campus, because it's less likely like that that could be ...
HD: ... exploited as student ghetto housing ...
DD: ... right. I'm not advocating that that's the solution. But I think there are ways of putting these ideas out there, and we can address, through zoning, some of those needs.
HD: It seems to me that it's a really tough nut to crack to actually create affordable housing from scratch downtown or anywhere. So accessory dwelling units would maybe take advantage of existing or partially existing housing stock.
DD: Affordable housing for people with low incomes requires public subsidy. You can't run it at a profit. The private sector won't make affordable housing. I mean, there are scattered landlords, they're up in years and they've owned two or three houses for 15 years, and their taxes are capped a little bit because they've owned them for so long, and their mortgage is paid off--they haven't flipped the property and bought it at a high price, so that they have to pay off a big loan so they have to charge a high rent. You've got scattered housing provided by landlords in that milieu, that are charging what amounts to a pretty affordable rent.
HD: So even though it's technically market rate ...
DD: ... yeah, that's private sector. But by and large, people who are in the housing business, what they're doing, they're looking for units to buy and to mobilize. They're not going to be providing housing for people at 30% of median income or less, because there's not profit in it. My wife's dad, who is retired now in Florida, but he worked for Harry Helmsley in New York City--he was a big real estate magnate in New York City--doing real estate law. And the first time I met him, long before my wife and I got married, we were sitting there talking about housing policy. Ellen, my wife, had cautioned me, He's a Republican and I don't want you to get in an argument with him [laugh].
HD: Is that something you're at a high risk for, getting into arguments with people?
DD: I'm happy to have discussions that have opposing points of view. And I don't think you need to throw things at other. Some sort of conflict about ideas is fine. And you're never going to go anywhere if you just hand around with people who just think the same as you.
HD: I interrupted your story about your father-in-law ...
DD: ... well, at some point I was talking to him about housing and he was basically agreeing! Although his solutions for what to do about it would be different than mine, maybe. First, he agreed that a civilized society should be able to shelter all of its community members. He agreed with that. How about people that don't have any income or very low incomes, what do you do about them? Well, he agreed, the private sector was not going to be able to do that at a profit. So basically he agreed that you needed public subsidy, that if we wanted to be a civilized society that shelters everybody in the community, you have to accept that there's going to be some forms of subsidy to make sure that people are housed. And I'm sitting there shaking my head. You know, my wife had told me, He's a Republican, don't get in an argument with him! And we were going down the same path. His model of how the subsidies would be used would be different and there might end up being increased profit for housing providers, but he was right there, that it's our responsibility as a civilized society to make sure that people are housed and it's going to cost us something. So it's going to be a legitimate use of public resources to invest in that area. It was just funny. I turned to Ellen, I said, Oh, you told me your dad was a Republican, but he's a socialist!
HD: [laugh] I meant to ask you, when we were talking about radio stations, if you could call in to request just one song, any song, today for the Film Festival fundraiser, what song would that be?
DD: Oh, wow. [long thought] I don't know, I'd spend an hour casting around for suggestions. I couldn't pick just one song, I like too many songs!
HD: How about one particular artist?
DD: [longer thought] Even that's hard. I might phone in for an Annie Lennox tune, since probably nobody else would.
HD: Really! Huh. Well is there anything else on your mind today, beside the Blue Book, which is being printed on Friday or something?
DD: I hadn't really thought of an agenda. Nothing's jumping out at me. I guess I'd like to re-visit the housing issue, because it's so important. We talked about development and downtown. I agree with you that it's hard to have housing affordability in the downtown, partly because the price of land is so high. But we also have a community that draws people from higher incomes, from all over the country. People come here to go to work at Pfizer or the University or now Google. Executives moving in, they're going to be moving in from places like Boston and San Jose, California, and San Francisco, and they're going to look at a house that's less than a million dollars and they're going to say ...
HD: ... what a bargain!
DD: That's a bargain, I'm going to bid higher on that! I'm going to make sure I get that! So we have these economic forces, because of the nature of the community driving the prices, not just in the downtown, driving the property values high. At the same time, I think, we want to keep a diversity in the community, where you have diverse incomes, where we have opportunities for people just out of college or high school, who are musicians, places for them to live and practice. I think we're losing that to some degree. You know, everybody talks about Cool Cities. Well, the fundamental underpinning of that is housing affordability. A lot of people on the cutting edge of the arts are not going to be living in million-dollar houses, or 500-thousand-dollar houses or even 250-thousand-dollar houses, and that's about the lowest price you'll find throughout Ann Arbor. So how do you accommodate that so that you maintain diversity? I think it's one of the biggest challenges we face as a community.
HD: How would you assess the strategy of having developers, if they're not going to actually build affordable units, that they pay into a fund? Do you think that's a strategy that's going to help at all, or maybe we need to re-think that particular strategy or perhaps bolster it in some way?
DD: I'm okay with it. I think especially when a developer comes in with a proposal that's off zoning--that's above and beyond what the normal zoning capacity of a property is--that any change, PUD or upzoning, is essentially a grant of value to the developer. We, as a community, are saying we have made a determination through our zoning codes that we want to build the community in a certain way. When you increase that value, or you increase the density, or you can do it a different way outside the parameters that we've set, then we're making a compromise, so it's fair for us to say, as a community, in return for that compromise that we're making, that we want balancing value to the community. That balancing of community value is done in different ways. For example, asking for a developer putting a subdivision in to make sure there's some parkland that gets dedicated to the city, so that we maintain a ratio of parkland throughout the city to the number of residents that gives a lot of open-space opportunities to people. Or they've done it also by saying, as we do this kind of development, it's a force against income diversity potentially, so we want to recognize that and say that the developer has to help out by committing some of the units to people of low income through some mechanism or alternatively, put some money on the table so that the City can go out and find the opportunities to maintain the economic diversity of the community. I disagree with some people on this. Some people say we need to have diversity in proximity and onsite. And I say that's good and healthy, but I don't think you always have to have that. I think you can take the resources that are available and invest, potentially more effectively, ...
HD: ... elsewhere.
DD: But I don't want to say the 'elsewhere' is Ypsi. I don't want to be in a position where, Oh, we don't need affordable housing, all we need is a good transportation system and then all the affordable housing can be in Ypsi! I want to see diversity in Ypsi as well as diversity here. And I want to have a strong transportation system to connect the two communities, because there's so many opportunities for sharing. I don't want to just say, You have our low-income housing and we'll have all the tax base!
HD: So is there any specific example of the City of Ann Arbor using money that's been paid by a developer into an affordable housing fund to actually create housing that ...
DD: ... I don't know particulars, and at some point I had recommended that you put right here in my spot, or in your spot, somebody from something like Avalon Housing, which has a remarkable record as a local agency that's providing affordable housing for people with very very low incomes. Put them here and they'll know, because they work with that. But I do know that there have been contributions into a housing trust fund that was created around the time I was on City Council, and it was set up along with putting in place the Housing Policy Board, which would guide policy and oversee some of the expenditures and allocate the money from that fund as wisely as possible. I know that there have been some monies allocated out of that fund. Now some monies in the housing trust fund come from the City allocating money into it. But I think some of it has come from private developers putting money into it as well. I'm just not sure how long we've had the policy. We have recent developments going on: Carrot Way that Avalon did out there on Dhu Varren Road.
HD: I remember seeing a sign for Carrot Way, is that up by Ron Olson Park?
DD: It might be Ron Olsen Park, I'm not sure, but Food Gatherers is out there, too. That's where Food Gatherers is. Carrot Way is the name of the housing and it was contributed by Food Gatherer's.
HD: So the name is kind of a nod to its origins, that's kind of cool.
DD: Food Gatherers is just another example of a not-for-profit agency, that has been created and does great work here to meet the needs of people that have low incomes that are suffering. They need food. I think we're really fortunate, we've developed a lot of strategies and have these private vehicles to go off and really do the things that need to be done to make a diverse community.
HD: So any final words?
DD: I'm going to go tune my radio to, which station should I tune it to? Is it CBN or just the commercial local radio that's doing it? So 107.1?
HD: Yeaaah, now that you ask, I'm uncertain.
DD: I know 107.1 is, because Bob Bolak, I think, is the general manager out there. He'd be an interesting person to bring out to your teeter totter.
HD: Interesting in a good way, right?
DD: Yeah. I've met a couple of times with him and I think he's really forward- thinking about where radio is going and some of the challenges it faces with the internet world. He's thinking about podcasting. He's very supportive of local programs, instead of prepackaging things, where these big-chain radio things playing the same show ...
HD: ... not a guy who's playing the show live, actually talking to you about what he thinks about this record is cool ...
DD: ... so he's supportive of local programming. They have their constraints as part of the corporate world of commercial radio, but I think he's doing something to kind of move those constraints and to work within the corporate radio milieu to really deliver something that's closer to what we're used to with all the public radio that's available around here.
HD: Listen, thanks for coming to ride the teeter totter.