The downtown high-rises get more attention, but, farther out, four mid-rise projects are adding 622 units to the Ann Arbor school district. Many are already occupied, as rental-ready buildings are phased in even as other buildings are receiving their finishing touches from eager swarms of subcontractors. The construction sites are much less noisy and muddy now, to everyone’s relief.

The filling of these vacant parcels of land with apartments and tenants provides today’s answer to the question at the heart of local real estate issues since humans arrived 11,000 years ago: Who gets to live in Ann Arbor and who does not? The key to answering that question has always been: Who has the most power? In recent years, the powers that be have found it much easier to please the middle- and upper-income folks, and the new apartment communities fit that pattern, feeding the affluent another slice of yummy real estate pie.

Though it serves the higher economic tiers of Ann Arbor’s rental market, the new construction tips over a very important domino. When new apartments fill with people who can afford to trade up, the less affluent move into the older apartments they vacated. This perpetual game of real estate dominoes eventually affects every renter in Ann Arbor.

Consider McKinley’s swank State Street Village. On just five acres across from the U-M’s Varsity Tennis Center, it is the smallest of the four complexes recently squeezed into little pockets of land previously zoned for commercial and/or office use. It adds a modest seventy-eight apartments to the more than 35,000 already in the mega-landlord’s portfolio. McKinley’s website lists units ranging from a 704-square-foot one-bedroom at $1,449 a month to a 1,726-square-foot four-bedroom at $3,199. It’s important to note that those are base prices, which exclude charges for a slew of fees and premiums. For comparison, McKinley’s website lists ten older rental properties in Ann Arbor at base rents ranging from $739 to $2,099 per month.

Centerra Pointe adds another 192 snazzy apartments to Pittsfield Township just south of town. It’s located on eighteen acres on Oak Valley Drive, with rents starting at $1,630 for a 1,060-square-foot, one-bedroom, 1.5-bath floor plan and topping out at $2,190 for the 1,405-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath model; all units include a private garage. The deveoper, Bloomfield Hills-based Oak Valley Partners, also owns a piece of the neighboring Oak Valley shopping center.

On the north side, Oakcliff Apartments enjoys a spectacular setting adjacent to the Leslie Park Golf Course. Ann Arbor’s First Martin Corporation is building 217 apartments on eighteen acres adjacent to its Traverwood Business Park. Rents for spring occupancy start at $1,195 for the 564-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath floor plan, climbing up to $1,985 for the most expensive 1,193-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath model.

Last and biggest, Packard Square will add 249 units on the former site of the Georgetown Mall. Closed just before the real estate crash, the mall’s long vacancy bedeviled neighbors in the Georgetown subdivision, but the mixed-use complex now is moving steadily toward completion. Apartments advertised for August availability range from compact 476-square-foot one-bedrooms starting at $1,169 a month to 1,480-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bath units starting at $3,649.

For those who can afford them, the new apartments will relieve a little of the pressure on housing in the Ann Arbor school district. But what about those who lack the means to provide for themselves? That domino falls heavily on benefactors like MissionA2, Avalon Housing, HUD, MSHDA, local city/county matching funds, and charities like Catholic Social Services.