ANN ARBOR- At least 150 people on Januaiy 19 attended the first ever City Council meeting devoted specifically to Ann Arbor's low-income housing crisis. The meeting was a result of the Homeless Action Committee's (HAC) takeover of a city council meeting in November and continuing pressure on the Council to address the needs of low-income people. "Poor people aren't just going to crawl under a rock and die," HAC-membeT Larry Fox told Council. While some councilmembers acknowledged that homelessness in Ann Arbor is a problem, they also claimed that the city has a serious limitation in funds when it comes to finding a solution. HAC members argued that the Council has its priorities mixed up since the city is spending severa! million dollars building new parking structures instead of building low-income housing. 'There is no excuse for building parking structures before meeting the needs of low-income people," said Laura Dresser. "It is a crisis that people are homeless. It is a crisis that people are and tripled-up in substanciare! housing. It is a crisis that long-time residen ts can no longer af ford to live here. It is not a crisis that someone has to walk an extra block to work. It is not a crisis that people would have to carpool to work." Both Democrats and Republicans refused to consider a moratorium on construction of further parking structures until Ann Arbor's housing needs are met. Mayor Jernigan said, "I ara not the least bit embarassed by any single parking structure that went up in the downtown because I am committed to the downtown." "Whatevet you say the city's role in housing is, the city and its residents are going to pay," said Fox. "The resources of the community are going to be shared with poor people in one way or another through paying for prisons, more pólice, higher insurance rates, and more crime, or through providing housing and the services that people need. In one way or another the city is going to pay; whether it builds low-income housing or not" HAC members said that City Council must assume some responsibility for developing low-income housing, because neither the state government nor private developers are willing to do so. The state of Michigan is embarking on a S 1 -billion prison construction campaign. Fox pointed out, while "Gov. Blanchard is cutting the DSS budget and mental health budget, the very things that these people need so that they won't be involved in crime, won't sell drugs, vandalize, steal and rob." 9 Other speakers described the stark realities of being homeless in Ann Arbor. "When you 're poor and you don ' t have a place to live you 're ireated like you're a bum, worthless; like it's your fault you 're in this situaüon," said Helen, a homeless women and 30-year resident of Ann Arbor. "We are herded into the shelter like animáis." Mary Teasdale, another long-time Ann Arbor resident said, 'This town is falling apart. I have moved four times in three years and I am about to be homeless in May. People can't survive without home, food, and c lothes on their backs. If you don 't have these main things in life, how are you going to live in Ann Arbor?" In response Mayor Gerald Jemigan repeatedly asserted that Arm Arbor "is a kind and generous city," and asked various city administrators to present facts about what the city actually contributes. Housing Commission Director Bonnie Newlun described the 364 (mostly federally-funded) public housing units which exist in Ann Arbor. Other admins trators described the funds that go to the shelter system and other social services. Terry Martin (R2nd Ward) said to one formerly homeless person: "Sounds like this town's not been very hospitable to you. . . Why do you stay here? ...it's time you learned what a caring city this is." HAC members in turn pointed out that there is already a two-year waiting list for public housing units, that people have been turned away firom the shelter all winter, and that existing social service programs are inadequate and underfunded. In response to what HAC members feit was an insulting and 1 acklus ter response at the public meeting, 40 protesters on Jan. 25 marched through downtown to Mayor Jemigan's office in City Hall. The mayor was not in nis of fice due to recent surgery so HAC delivered a statement to Julie Teorey, the mayor's assistant, calling Ann Arbor "a city in which low-income people can work but can't afford to live." When protesters confronted City Administrator Del Borgsdorf about the city's inaction Borgsdorf conceded that "there hasn't been any [low-income housing] constructed in a long time," and that "we need to do better than we've done." HAC continúes to occupy "Day One," an abandoned house which is set to be bulldozed this spring to make room for the next scheduled parking structure. HAC members say they are committed to stopping the construction of that structure. "For a change its nice to have a room with a windo w to look out of instead of being totally outdoors," said Helen, who has resided in the house since November. "ESpecially during the cold weather - I don't know where I would have gone. At this point I don't know where I wouldo if the house was torn down." ....
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