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Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Jen Eyer

Jen Eyer is running for the Ward 4 city council seat.
Jen Eyer is running for the Ward 4 city council seat. (Jen Eyer)

ANN ARBOR – Jen Eyer (D) is running for the Ward 4 city council seat.

Eyer has been a resident of Ward 4 for 20 years. She is a partner at Vanguard Public Affairs and previously worked at Mlive and the Ann Arbor News.

She has served on various committees with United Way, the A2Y Chamber of Commerce, the Ann Arbor Art Center and Ann Arbor Public Schools. She filled an interim seat on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in 2016.

Eyer and her husband have two teenage children.

The following interview was conducted via email. 

In your opinion, what are the main issues in your ward? How do you propose to solve them?

As I talk to Ward 4 residents, and being a 20 year resident of Ward 4 myself, we have very local concerns about roads and traffic safety, flooding and power outages.

Roads:

We have many roads that are in terrible condition. I propose that we consider using the city's bonding authority to take advantage of historic low-cost borrowing and put people back to work on road improvements without raising taxes. 

We also must press forward to make our streets safer for everyone. That means completing our bike lane network, filling sidewalk gaps and adding traffic safety measures. For example, I recently went on a walking tour of Lawton neighborhood with several parents who are very concerned about increased traffic around the elementary school in recent years. Several kids have nearly been hit, and the school doesn’t allow student crossing guards anymore because it’s too dangerous. I will work with residents on these types of issues to make our roads safer for everyone -- pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

Flooding:

We have been waiting far too long for council action to reduce flooding in our neighborhoods. I will work to break the logjam on stalled projects to build retention ponds designed to reduce flooding in the Mallett's Creek drainage district.

Power outages: 

In the 4th Ward, we experience power outages with a frequency that is unacceptable. I will work with the Michigan Public Service Commission to compel DTE to improve the reliability of our power.

What do you feel are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor?

We have a housing crisis in Ann Arbor.  Over the past few decades, the number of jobs and students has grown by tens of thousands, and the number of new housing units hasn’t kept pace. This lack of housing supply coupled with high demand has driven up prices so much that many people who work here are unable to find housing they can afford. More than 84,000 people now commute into Ann Arbor every weekday, increasing traffic, causing wear and tear on our roads, and releasing harmful carbon dioxide emissions. 

Experts agree that the approach to our housing crisis must be multifaceted. New market-rate housing is one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to new housing, I think there is broad community agreement on building downtown and along our transportation corridors. Unfortunately, this current council voted recently to table the transportation corridor discussion indefinitely.

Using public funds to build affordable housing is another piece of the puzzle. To this end, I will:

  • Protect the stable, multi-year funding for affordable housing that the incumbent has voted several times to revoke
  • Advocate setting aside a portion of taxes from new developments for the city's affordable housing fund
  • Move forward on plans to build affordable housing on identified city owned land
  • Finally, affordability also hits existing residents when it comes to taxes. I propose providing additional options for seniors and low income homeowners who are struggling to pay increased property taxes.

Racial justice is another big issue facing Ann Arbor. Local government historically has played a role in creating racial injustice, and now must take steps to remedy. Ann Arbor has taken many steps, but there is so much more work to do.

Diversity is in our city's mission statement and is a core Ann Arbor value. I believe we must pursue diversity and equity in everything we do as a city, in housing (reducing racial segregation), transportation (ensuring our systems are equitable), the environment (making

sure that everyone has access to green spaces and no neighborhoods are burdened by pollution), the justice system, representation on city staff, boards and commissions, and more. 

With regard to the justice system, I will:

  • Explore expanding the responsibilities of the police oversight commission
  • Support a thorough review and revision of use of force measures
  • Reject attempts to add police officers for "proactive policing," as my opponent did last year
  • Champion efforts to divert people from jail and into necessary social services programs
  • Advocate for new training to reduce potentially hostile interactions between officers and citizens
  • Maintain the city's refusal to cooperate with ICE and increase protections for undocumented immigrants
  • Finally, Ann Arbor will face budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Budgets are moral documents. What a city decides to fund is a direct reflection of that community’s values -- or it should be. When faced with a budget shortfall, I believe Ann Arbor values mean that we protect funding for programs that help the most vulnerable among us. And of course we must protect funding for the basic services that ensure the health and safety of our residents.

Beyond that, it's a matter of prioritization. Delaying some capital projects, reducing debt-related expenses, voluntary furloughs, a selective hiring freeze are all options I would consider.

On the positive side, our budget was in better shape going into the pandemic as a result of housing growth in the past decade. This growth has resulted in an additional $10.26 million this year alone for the city’s general fund.

Since developers pay for necessary infrastructure upgrades to service those residents, and the residents themselves pay for their services via their taxes, this has been a net gain for our city.

So it’s important to the city’s financial health that we continue along the path of responsible growth, particularly downtown and along transportation corridors.

Why did you decide to run for City Council?

I chose Ann Arbor to raise my family because we are a progressive community. Right now, Ann Arbor is at a crossroads. People are being priced out and left behind. The pandemic is hurting our local businesses — and our city budget. There are critical threats to our water supply.

We need new leaders who will take bold, creative action. In these times, the status quo isn’t an option. As a city council member, I will work to improve our basic services like roads and water, and I won’t back away from tough issues like housing affordability, police reform and climate change.

I’m asking the voters of the 4th Ward for their support and vote, so together we can lead Ann Arbor forward.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

We are a progressive community, but many of the decisions by city council in the past two years haven’t reflected that. The current council majority has voted against affordable housing, against climate action funding, against bike lanes and sidewalks near schools. And they fired our city administrator without cause, wasting $275,000 of our tax dollars and destabilizing city government right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Ann Arbor should be a leader in addressing climate change, affordable housing, and green transit. We should be a leader in good government. That’s why I’m running for city council.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

I’ve lived in Ann Arbor’s 4th Ward for 20 years -- nearly all of my adult life. Over the years, I have turned down opportunities to move to larger cities because none compare to what I value here in Ann Arbor for my family: Strong neighborhood schools, walkable neighborhoods, public transportation, and safe public spaces for children to explore. Above all, I love Ann Arbor for being a compassionate community that works to address economic inequality and supports programs to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable are met. 

For more information, visit her website.

All About Ann Arbor reached out to all of the city council candidates for interviews. 

For more information about the Aug. 4 primary, read:

Aug. 4 primary: Who’s running in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County


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