Will Garcia, a candidate for state legislature, is leading the charge against Adrian's attempt to criminalize homelessness. Photo courtesy Garcia for State Rep.
Will Garcia, a candidate for state legislature, is leading the charge against Adrian's attempt to criminalize homelessness. Photo courtesy Garcia for State Rep.

Will Garcia fought Adrian’s criminalization of homelessness last fall. Though the city’s “camping ban” passed, he’s decided on a new path to keep fighting.

ADRIAN, Mich.—William Garcia has lived in Adrian all his life. The largest city in the mostly-agrarian southern Michigan Lenawee County is, for him, the place he’s meant to be. And he wants to be its next mayor. 

“There is just so much going on here that I think gets ignored,” Garcia told The ‘Gander in an exclusive interview about his run for mayor. “You can have so many different kinds of experiences, for a town of this size especially, it’s just delightful.”

Garcia, who unsuccessfully ran as the Democratic candidate for the state’s House seat representing Adrian in 2020, says his city may be small, but it’s packed with rich culture.

The sheer diversity in Adrian is one of the things Garcia loves so much about it. He talked about the amazing food culture the city has, the murals in Adrian’s Sunnyside neighborhood, and things you wouldn’t expect in a town of 20,000, like a planetarium and symphony orchestra. The mix of so many cultures among a relatively small population gives the town a unique spirit, he said. 

But no town is perfect. 

A self-described policy nerd, Garcia has long looked into the issues that have troubled Adrian. In a lot of ways, Adrian is an example of the prototypical city at the heart of a rural Michigan county—far enough from larger population centers like Toledo or Ann Arbor to have to stand on its own and support the smaller rural communities surrounding it. Those residents often travel to Adrian for basic necessities. 

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But more than anything, it was September’s passage of Adrian’s “camping ban” that motivated Garcia’s run for mayor. The ban, he explained to The ‘Gander at the time, is a way to criminalize the existence of unhoused Michiganders in Adrian, and that point largely was not contested by the city commission. 

Garcia campaigned against that ban for months in 2020, speaking regularly in citizen comments and making the town aware of what impacts the ban would have. Soon, dozens were speaking out against the ban at commission meetings. But it passed despite public opposition. 

Garcia saw problems with Adrian’s management of other key issues as well. For years, testing has shown cyanobacteria in Adrian’s water supply that could filter into the taps of residents. Adrian also has a high poverty rate, with the disparities citizens face dependent on what side of the freeway a person lives on. 

In a town with a margin of victory in the last election of only 800 votes, Garcia decided that the best solution to the problems he saw was to get involved. 

“At the end of the day, especially in a community like ours, the change isn’t going to come when we just sit around,” he said. “Over the past several years there have been several instances where there have been problems that are just too big to ignore in our community.”

And on the issue of housing, in particular, Garcia has a bold plan. 

Garcia wants to have the city assume ownership of about 400 rental housing units and turn them into municipal housing. The local ordinance would then set the rent, overseen by a housing authority. That, he argues, would create competition that would drive down the cost of rent in Adrian, encourage better upkeep of rental properties, or both. 

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“Now, all of a sudden, all of these property developers have to compete,” he explained. “So if the city can rent apartments at $500, $550, and you’re renting apartments at $800, $850, that’s gonna change the market.“

This is a model called “social housing,” and it’s a key policy Garcia wants to pursue. Crucial to the model is that these units aren’t designed specifically as a means of housing assistance, but simply as housing operated as a city utility like water services, in open and fair competition with local property developers. 

That’s one solution to make the city Garcia loves just a bit better, in his view. And those solutions are his great passion.

“There are nights where I’ll be up until 2/3 am, not during the workweek. I’ve gotten better about that, but trying to look up ‘okay, what can we do?’ What are they doing in Singapore for their housing? What are they doing in Finland?” he said. “What do we have to do to make a solution to these really big social problems?”

Garcia is the first candidate for Adrian’s mayoral election in November 2021 to formally announce his run, though it is likely the city’s current mayor, Angela Sword Heath, will run for re-election.