Rental Rehabilitation Program

The Economic Restructuring committee has recently sent downtown building owners certified letters at a cost of $5.54 each. I imagine the certification decision was made to ensure nobody could say they weren’t notified that grants are being offered.

There are other ways to preferentially choose recipients underhandedly for that matter, like selectively advising in the application process. Favored applicants can receive guidelines and 
complementary reviews while others do not. Unbelievably sometimes not crossing a “t” or dotting an “i” can perilously result in denial. Failure to communicate deadlines could be a factor or a paper could be lost in the shuffle. I’ve heard about applications being turned down simply by having the papers out of order.

The letter starts like this:

Dear Downtown Property Owner:

Data shows that downtowns that have residents living in the upper floors of downtown buildings are generally economically healthier than those who don’t.

It sounds like the magic component we’re missing is residents living downtown. In Blissfield, we already do have residents living downtown and rental units are not always rented. I’m pretty sure the data that’s referred to in the letter actually shows a mixed use downtown creates the most economic health. Retail establishments, services, hotels, bars, nightclubs, markets, pharmacies, offices and food establishments, with a residential component is what’s really conducive to a vibrant downtown. One element does stand out having the greatest economic impact for second and third stories – offices, not apartments would be the most beneficial; they pay rent to building owners, pay business taxes, bring employees downtown and bring their customers downtown. 

A good mix is also what attracts people to downtown living, usually young urban professionals and students. Amenities, nightlife/social aspects and work all within close proximity to downtown apartments, condos or lofts are generally what is listed on the pro side of downtown living. 

Just transplant residents into the downtown core and voila – you have an economically healthy downtown? No, you attract them by having the amenities they’re looking for. Maybe we should build a university to have those students available for an opportunity to attract them. Then I suppose the next order of business would be to integrate public transportation to get those students back and forth to school. I’m betting the stats the author of the letter is alluding to came from studies of larger cities that are university towns with mass transit. If so, this is a case of misrepresentation or a manipulation of the truth. It’s a sales pitch.

What does my study say?

My own study shows that if you force or lure all the businesses from the commercial district and condense them into the downtown core, we would experience increased economic health in the downtown area. The same logic would apply to concentrating all rental units from the village to strictly occupying the upper floors of the downtown buildings. These efforts definitely raise activity levels and create more foot traffic downtown. However, the cons to downtown living remain cons – lack of parking, no back yards, no barbecuing, lack of natural light (windows), street noise, plus the ongoing task of hiking groceries, supplies and furniture up flights of stairs. It would still have limited demographic appeal.

By applying this logic as a viable fix, Michigan Main Street’s success is cemented. Preventing urban sprawl and expanding activity in the core is the stated goal, but wouldn’t answer this question; how does rearranging the commercial district create more revenue for the village?

I’m also thinking the single bar we have doesn’t really constitute a “nightlife” for luring the young urban professionals either. It seems we have a faction of planners suffering 
from visions of grandeur – continually mistaking Blissfield for a larger more densely populated city like Ann Arbor.

Market supply and demand is what should dictate upper floor uses.

I believe government’s role should be intelligently and legislatively supportive of a sustainable and effective business climate, not financially channeling unsustainable growth. Offering grants to a limited number of people who are currently in a position to incorporate them is socializing the cost (all taxpayers fund them) and privatize the profits (grantees increase their property values for resale). Another way to look at it is from the government perspective; if we issue grants to increase property value, we can take more revenue in taxes from the improved or redeveloped property. Using our money to increase government revenue is brilliant – shouldn’t that be illegal? Here is an idea how one man handled a market demand in Scranton, PA.

Micromanaging brings revenue too. 

Scores of books and articles have been written on how to micromanage every facet of human life in regards to the economic vitality and land use management by our government. When Blissfield enjoyed a bustling robust business district, government wasn’t shelling out grants based on select studies. The private sector with all its entrepreneurial creativity and old-fashioned audacity is what created Blissfield’s downtown character. The key to success there was having a great product, a great service, filling a need or some combination thereof. Along with the all the rules and regulations that come from micromanaging also brings forth revenue with permits, fees and oversight costs.

Bottom line:

How useful would rental rehabilitation grants be if renters are not in sufficient demand? I can see it now, building owners lining up to take advantage of “free money” and ending up with more empty apartments downtown. How would an inability to keep the new or upgraded units rented effect the terms of the contract or lien? Perhaps in another five to ten years our friendly neighborhood government will come up with a grant program to reconvert apartment space into office space or some other studied “use du jour.” 

Other possible uses for upper floors in downtown buildings;

Classrooms/Instruction Agencies

  • Pottery/Weaving/Sculpting
  • Art/Crafts
  • Computer/IT
  • Technology
  • Training Rooms

Showrooms/Galleries

  • Art
  • Furniture
  • Interior Design

Banquet Hall/Opera House/Live Theater/Community Meeting/Dance Hall/Gym -Fitness/Exhibitions/Cinema

Office Space

  • Insurance/Investment/Financial Agencies
  • Service Industry/ Massage Therapy/ Hair Salon

 

Photographer: graur codrin

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