Housing is not just a commodity. Human lives are affected by the dynamics of the housing market in vital ways. The financial burden of high rents, the constant moving, the insecurity of not knowing how much longer we can live in our chosen home, in our chosen city, affects us profoundly. Rent stabilization will come too late for thousands of people who have been forced out of Ann Arbor in the last few years. But there is still time for the rest of us. The Citizens for Fair Rent campaign is giving tenants a chance to fight against the growing reality that if you're not rich, privileged, or a property owner, your days in Ann Arbor are numbered.
Why Ann Arbor needs rent control
By Ken Garber
Nina Goldstein is a keyliner at a local advertising agency. She has lived in Ann Arbor for twelve years, and in her current one-bedroom apartment for the last four. Her first two rent increases were for $20 and $25 a month, bringing her rent from $275 to $320. This year the property changed hands, and the rent jumped from $80-to $400 a month. "The landlords simply said that was what the current market dictated," says Goldstein. "They gave me three days to make up my mind. I spent a wild three days looking for an apartment, and I found that they were all high, so I decided to stay, even though I couldn't afford it." She has taken a second job as a proofreader to cover the added rent. Goldstein is faced with the need to leave Ann Arbor for good if her rent continues to rise but hates the idea. "My job is in town, my vehicle isn't reliable, it would mean an entire change of lifestyle," she says.
Jean Tomkins, a nurse's aide at University Hospital, also rents a one-bedroom apartment near downtown. Last year the rent jumped from $290 to $370 a month. "The landlord said the rents were too reasonable, that it was mismanaged by the previous landlord," she says. Tomkins has moved at least ten times during her nineteen years of residence in Ann Arbor because of rent increases. "The chief reason for my moving was always money," she says. Tomkins adds that most of her co-workers no longer live in Ann Arbor unless they are homeowners. Landlords who continually raise rents by 15-30 percent a year drive them out. "I don't know how they expect people to live in this town," Tomkins says. "You can't afford it- it's ridiculous."
Judith Atkins (Not her real name), 37, lives with her boyfriend and 10-year-old son in a two-bedroom apartment in the northwest part of town. She has lived in Ann Arbor for eighteen years. Atkins moved to her current place just under a year ago when the rent at her previous apartment jumped from $365 to $480 a month. She says she's paying that much at her new apartment, but it's better maintained. "I was getting an astronomical rent increase and it wasn't even up to code," Atkins says. "It took me nine months to find a two-bedroom apartment for under $500."
Atkins has moved at least a dozen times since coming to Ann Arbor because of rent increases. Her son has changed schools five times. He is now in fourth grade. "He's to where he's not sure from one year to the next what school he's going to," says Atkins. "He has no long-term stable bonds or friendships."
Atkins, a former bartender, and restaurant manager is currently a full-time student at Eastern Michigan University studying political science with a focus on government administration. She continues to work, as does her boyfriend of ten years. "If I had been alone without any help I don't know where I'd be," she says. "I'm fortunate that I have a partner, I have help. A lot of women aren't that fortunate." Atkins maintains, "Everybody in Ann Arbor has this problem-- everyone who rents. We just compare how much the rent is going up, and whether it will. People come to the end of their lease, they're just assuming they're going to move." her own lease comes due next month, and she has no idea how much her rent will go up. She and her boyfriend are talking about moving out of state if they are faced with another large increase.
"It makes me mad that I can't live here anymore," says Atkins. "I want a good education for my son, I like the cultural advantages of this city. I like going to the supermarket and hearing lots of different languages. I like the diversity. And the opportunities...I think it's disgusting that people who've lived here 50 years can't afford to live here anymore, or their children can't. I don't understand what landlords are doing. Eventually, they're going to price everyone out of the market. Unless that's what they intend--a little enclave for the rich here."
Atkins sees rent stabilization as a chance for her to continue living in Ann Arbor and to bring some stability to her family's life. "I can make future plans, yearly budgets, know where I'm going to be. My son will know where he'll be going to school, he'll develop a network of friendships, and we'll all get to know people in the neighborhood," She believes the ordinance is an obvious need. "I just think it's too bad we have to legalize something that is inherently the moral and ethical thing to do," she says.