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Rent Strike In Ann Arbor: How To Create A Housing Crisis

Rent Strike In Ann Arbor: How To Create A Housing Crisis image Rent Strike In Ann Arbor: How To Create A Housing Crisis image Rent Strike In Ann Arbor: How To Create A Housing Crisis image
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L 'á? r 'Ar & ' ; J F, V F M $ L 0 I For 100,000 crazed rooters, the most important thing happening in Ann Arbor last weekend was the "big game." The organizers of the Ann Arbor Tenants' Union f had other things on their minds, however- they were planning the town's first major rent strike in fïve ye'ars,and M they wanted the fans to know. So during most of the first half, their helicopter circled above the oacked arena, trailine a banner claiming: "LANDLORDS LOVE BUCKS-RENT STRIKE SOON." Most Ann Arbor residents of modest inconie were f too busy worrying about how to meet tlieir soaring rents to scrape up the price of a scalped ticket and spend an anemoon of bread and circuses. Even those with good jobs or support from home have had to accept deteriorating housing at premium rates. Persistent efforts over the years by poliw tical eroups to rectify the situation have been stymied by well-organized and well-fïnanced opposition. The poor, as a result, are either being driven out of Ann Arbor or forceó to scoop to the bottom of their savings accounts- all because it seems that, n this town, the landlords own the law. Over half of Ann Arbor's residents are tenants, paying as much as 33 per cent of their incomes for ent. (The national average is near 22 per cent.) The vacancy rate has plunged to as low as 0.46 per cent in V the eenX tral campusdowntown área. ÍThe President's Commission on Urban Housing in 1968 called anything low 5.00 per cent "unhealthy.") No new construction of income housing is in the making, and construction has been at a standstill in the downtown area since 1969. There is now over a one year wait for the 332 low-income housing units managed by the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. And, with University of Michigan officials predicting a rise in enrollment to almost 40,000 students by 1985, despite a policy of "no growth," the worst is yet to come. The University's rapid expansión during the late fifties and sixties drove vacancy rates down in both the student and non-student housing markets. The landlords were able to fill thëexisting housing regardless of its condition, and as a result of the lack of competition were able to drive rents sky-high. Consequently, low and moderate income ,families were forced out of the city. The 1970 population census revealed a 1 3.6 per cent rise in professionals in Ann Arbor since 1950, while figures for service workers, laborers and clericals during that same span dropped almost 15 per cent. And still the city's number one landlord, the University of Michigan, refuses to accept responsibility for housing the student population- and for the housing crisis it has created. In 1926 the Universitv of Michiean Reeents adopted a policy (reaffirmed in 1958) of not using University resources to compete with local businesses. While nobody involved will admit that this has influenced the University's housing policies, ït seems to shed new light on the Rege rus recent inaction on construction of tional student housing. The University had a S5.6 million fund ■7 Are you one of those people who believes tliat the big city is a dump, and all the good houses are in the suburbs? Test your knowledge of Detroit and the suburbs by matching k these selected resiL dences to the muni& cipality in which they Wk are located. Answers W are in the lower 'TS.X right hand corner ■+ of this spread. X - -Sk. Don't peek! M NL f servation in HUD college housing subsidies which was never used. Last April, by a 4-4 vote, the Regents reiected a proposal for for building '1,000 additional units with these funds. Universitv Housine Director John Feldkamp explained that "although the additional student housing would be helpful, it was not financially realistic at this time." Others say that the decisión revealed the Regents' desire to get out of the housing market altogether, resulting from findings that show University housing is unprofitable. Still others claim that the proposal was rejected for "political reasons." Larry Cooperman of the Ann Arbor Tenants' Union (AATU) says that "many Regents are friends with the major landlords in town and don't want to créate. hard feelings." He adds that the present crisis exists because "individual bureaucrats like John Feldkamp have continually 'defended the interests of landlords." Feldkamp insists that the housing situation in town has always been tight and that the University has never attempted to house more than one-third of the student population. He says that the University considers the housing of students to be "a delibérate shared responsibility with the private sector." This "shared responsibility" reveáis a tacit settlement between the University and Ann Arbor's landlords who have taken advantage of the existing situation by passing off the exorbitant rents and poor maintenance that characterize the city's rental housing. Led by McKinley Associates, the conglomérate brainchild of Ron Weiser, a. real estáte tycoon m lus niid-thirties, the local management companies have made a rcality of the ot'ten-used analogy tliat rental housing is to Ann r Arbor % as the automobile is to Detroit. ? A recent investigation into the ings of McKinley Associates has linked Weiser with holdings in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and as far away as Oklahoma City. As of 1972, Weiser's limited partnerships owned a total of 2,293 apartment dwellings. Totalled with those his company manages, the number swells to 4,237 apartment units, the vast majority of which are located within Washtenaw County. The McKinley group, formed in 1972, is vitally connected with Matthews Phillips developers. Professional Home Bunders magazine ranks Matthews Phillips as one of the top twenty builders in the country, with developments in over ten states. (Of the one million shares of stock issued in the corporation, Gulf Oil Company holds 490,000.) A smaller Ann Arbor management company, Trony Associates, owned by Tony Hoffman and Ron Ferguson, is the most disreputable landlord in town. Hoffman, according to one source, did a nationwide study on where he could make the most money in the shortest V amount of time. He finally decided to go into the rental housing business in Ann Arbor. Voo continued on page 23 a. Hazel Park b. Southfield c. Iridian Village ( Detroit j d. Oakman Blvd. (Detroit) e. Palmer Park (Detroit )í f. Oak Park % 'o k. i 5 % 'o % ö sApts.X torn -4:30 p.m. . Stadium Nvd S" ond 'noustrkx itronc luit o( Vvottons bttoQ accepted. 1 -bedroom aptv from $1 95 2-bedroom oph. from $245 -l nÉafMiH TOWnOOttSd vthr informoS, Mr. SotQfnon. " UANE APTS. T-s two bedroom, coroctcd, , refrlgtrotor, oir concftf.4. draperv, water No Pfs of hiWreti S160 ond SIM. 429-4823. CLOSE TO CAMPUS - 2 MOrcxxns furnished. Okter building. $240 per monftv Lease. Tronv AsSOC, W4-9191. CO-OP TOWNHOUSE - Sof On bedroom. Ml txntmttM bifKtltv SIM or monttgM 594 pTHto1v. A UCA1CK - 9 KV medióte oceupoft Qftyf 5 ptfn . [ A DISCOVER FOM ing Mteilde iM OOfTTfnUTTlï. tjHP lExIt 183) H IW NN 1 rdrtxx1 kol. Oil ptn Nel ínter. li% 7i Borlo. 1 r Arbor1 Sorry Clos Arboreh NMds care Ja Couptc sought M Very low rnt. 1 aijtrfd. Phon 45-01 A2 Rent Strike continued from page 7 According to Jon Rose, an attorney at the campus branch of Washtenaw County Legal Aid, "We receive a high percentage of complaints from Trony tenants, as compared to those from other management compánies." Rose says these complaints have ranged from a rent increase exceeding $100 per month to the illegal collection and retention of security deposits. As a result of such practices, the A ATU has called a rent strike for December against Trony Associates. According to Cooperman, "We have been met by incredible response from Trony tenants who are well aware of how their landlord operates." As of last week the AATU had pledges from close to 50 per cent of Trony's tenants in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that they would withhold their December rent. This rent strike heralds a resurgence of the long dormant AATU, " which has dwindled in size since the rent strike of 1969-1971 (in which 1200 households won rent reductions and landlords all over town were scared into making needed repairs). Efforts during the past few years by the Human Rights Party (HRP) and some Democrats to alleviate the Ann Arbor housing crisis have been stymied by inadequate public support and by a wellfinanced landlord organization calling itself "Citizens for Good Housing" (previously known as "Citizens Against Rent Control" before a public relations firm changed the name). The group collected close to $100,000 over the two year period, earmarked for a publicity campaign to squelch the rent control proposals. Advertisements appearing in the Ann Arbor News and the Michigan Daily showed octopuses labeled "RENT CONTROL" strangling the citizens of Ann Arbor, causing property values to met and property taxes to skyrocket. Both rent control proposals were soundly defeated, (1974-58 to 42 per cent; 1975-63 to 35 percent), leaving tenants once again at the mercy of the city's landlords. Al Wheeler, the city's new Democratie Mayor, has shown concern for the condition and cost of housing in Ann Arbor, forming a Mayor's Fair Rental Practices Committee to gather information and look into possible solutions to the housing crisis. According to Wheeler, "For two years running we have had rent control proposals on the ballot, and for two years running they have gotten clobbered. This new committee will gather information needed to help me make some sort of decisión as to what kind of action is needed." Seated on the committee are tenant activists, bankers, landlords, attorneys and concerned citizens, giving an even balance that some believe may cause problems, once the decisión making process begins. But Wheeler explained that the committee members were chosen because each has "enough moxie to take the data and come up with a working solution." Much of the data will be coming from a proposed $20,000 survey on housing conditions in the city. At present it seems that the survey may never get off the ground, due to lack of funds. And even if the funds are found, it seems doubtful that the survey will be completed in time for the April election. According to committee member Marty Wegbreit of the Human Riglits Party (HRP), "I have heard that things like this take at least a year." But Wheeler emphasized that he is expecting some sort of interim report from the committee near the beginning of the new year, and is hoping for a final recommendation around late March or early April, so that some sort of actïon can be taken before leasing time. Although he believes that the needed survey will be funded, Wheeler adds, "Even without the survey, the committee will be able to supply counsel with adequate guidance." With no immediate action coming from the Mayor's Committee, city councilperson Kathy Kozachenko (HRP-2nd Ward) advanced a rent freeze proposal at the November 3 City Council meeting.' Her proposal was defeated 7 to 4, revealing potential Democratie support for future rent freeze proposals. "The rest of the Democrats aren't going to make any moves at least until the Mayor's Committee makes its first report," one committee member explained. Thus it seems, at least for the time being, that the only corrective action directed at the housing crisis in Ann Arbor will be coming from the public rather than from the city's elected officials. Martin Porter, an Ann Arbor-based freelancer, has worked on the Michigan Daily and the Atlanta Constitutioa