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Housing 'Cleanup' Pledged

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Housing ‘cleanup’ pledged

By Paul McEnroe


YPSILANTI — The city has now put its credibility on the line with the problem-plagued Ypsilanti Housing Commission, telling it federaI money will be vigorously sought “in order to clean up the projects.”

But some commission members, realizing federal dollars are becoming more scarce, are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“We’ve got to get the federal government off its duff - shake the bushes and trees if the public housing projects around here are even going to get cleaned up,” declared City Manager Stephen Shutt at the commission's meeting Thursday. “One look at them - just the conditions - tell you something is wrong."

Shutt said he will order Community Developmental Department planners to work with the commission on a comprehensive report of “financial needs along with the reasons” for The Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“My planners have told me that the HUD regional office has about $5 million that has yet to be spent...” Shutt said. “What I’m saying is that the city will help this commission go after the money. I know you need it.”

Before the arm twisting, though, some organization is needed, he said.

Shutt said that until the commission documents its needs line by line, planners won’t be able to approach HUD officials. A complete report is expected to be ready by mid-January.

The commission oversees 224 housing units in four areas of the city and admits outright that many of the units, whether because of shoddy construction or tenant neglect, are badly in need of repairs.

Mary Herndon, executive director of the commission for the last five years, said she requested $300,000 this fiscal year from HUD for modernization of the four sites. But only $194,000 came through. About $273,000 was received from HUD last year, she said.

While it has no cost estimates the commission said each housing site needs: a manager to make sure maintenance is kept up; a social worker to instruct families with poor housekeeping habits and money management problems; and a repairman to maintain the units.

Currently there is one maintenance supervisor and two repairmen to take care of all of the units and the grounds.

One social service coordinator, Mrs. Nora Williams, helps tenants with social and financial problems. She admits being “swamped.”

According to councilman Douglas Harris, D-Ward One, Inkster’s public housing program uses HUD money to staff on-site managers, social workers and maintenance workers. That city has 634 more units than Ypsilanti.

“The people in Inkster say we’re understaffed — we’ve only got nine workers - and its impossible for us to do all the jobs that need to be done. They’ve found that the HUD money has worked and I think this is the exact route we should take.”

Former councilman William P. Clay Jr., who is now vice-president of the commission, told Shutt, “This is the fifth annual meeting and council has been invited time and time again - we’ve got three of them (council members) here and there’s eight missing. I want council to be aware of that.”

No one from the public attended and John Bass, D-Ward One; Harris, D-Ward One, and Peter Murdock, D-Ward Five were the only members of council to participate. Murdock admitted he knew hardly anything about the city’s public housing situation and wanted to find out.

The commission reacted kindly towards Shutt’s suggestion of “identifying, and documenting what’s wrong and putting a price tag on the needs before going after the money.” But some members felt empty promises have be made in the past.

"I agree with everything you say,” said Clay, “but we’ve been down that road with HUD twice the last four years and they just don’t kick in the bucks.

The commission was established 25 years ago by city council. Since 1953 has expanded from 100 units at Parkridge to its present number. There are 100 units on Armstrong Drive and First Court that were built in 1942 as war housing. In 1964, at a cost of $337,000, 20 dwellings were built on Bell Street, Adams Street, Madison Street and First Avenue.

Expansion continued and in 1968 another 28 units at a cost of $447,000, were built on Washington Street, Towner Street, and Mause Avenue. The last addition was ir 1970 when 76 apartments were constructed on Michigan Avenue, Grove and Towner Streets.

Responding to Harris’ questioning about poor upkeep and an apparent lack of maintenance by the tenants, the commission had ready answers.

Clay: “We get a lot of transients who don’t give a damn about taking care of a tree or playground. They’re here five months and gone and they don’t have any emotional investment in where they live. Do you think they give a damn about a tree or a swing?”

Gertrude Francois, commission member : “What are you going to do - evict them? These people are at the bottom of the barrel and have nowhere else to go. ”