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Activists Seize Office Building, 14 Arrested

Activists Seize Office Building, 14 Arrested image
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The Homeless Action Committee (HAC) is turning up the pressureon local govemment and businesses to takeresponsibility for Ann Arbor's homelessness problem. Their goal this time is to convert a nearly vacant office building - the Downtown Club at 1 10 N. Fourth Ave. - back into affordable housing. Spurred on by General Assistance cut-offs resulting in overflowing shelters, HAC members and supporters, on Monday Nov. 1 8 and again on Friday Nov. 22, occupied a floor of vacant offices in the Downtown Club. In both cases they were arrested by the Ann Arbor pólice on trespass charges. In all, fourteen people were arrested, four on Monday and ten on Friday. HAC members said they were compelled to act because the night shelters have been turning people away for the past five months and the city 's emergency day shelter has been closed for renovation since July. Homeless people have nowhere to stay warm, HAC argües, at a time when the area is experiencing an early and harsh winter. On both occasions, the squatters planned to stay indefinitely, or until at least part of the building was opened up for immediate use as a temporary day shelter. On both occasions, a press conference and rally were held outside the building during the occupation. The protest on Friday drew about 70 people, all of whom at one point joined the squatters inside for a tour of the nearly vacant four-story building. The building, Ann Arbor's original "Y," was targeted by HAC because until 1983, it was a single-room occupancy (SRO) building for low-income adults. The Downtown Club housed up to 68 persons at a time and rent was $150 a month. When the owners wanted to turn the SRO into an office building they began shutting off Utilities and evicting residents (The Ann Arbor News, Jaa 15, 1983). Then, according to HAC, City Council- led by Mayor Lou Belcher - rezoned the building for office and commercial use. The building was purchased in late 1983 by Belcher and a group of associates and converted to office space. One-time Downtown Club resident David Noel was one of those arrested on Nov. 18. Noel, a taxi driver who has been homeless on and off for five years, said he was willing to be arrested because it would dramatize how "very difficult it is to find affordable housing." Noel was also part of a group of HAC members who spoke during public participation time at City Council' s Nov. 18 meeting. Draped with holiday tinsel and referring to the Downtown Development Authority's $11,000 project to refurbish downtown Christmas lights, Noel told Council: "If you are a set of Christmas lights you get attention by the DDA. If you're human, you're to be ignored. So consider me not human, take care of my frail wires andgive me some place warm to stay."The group urged the city, in cooperation with the DDA, to provide money to buy the Downtown Club and convert it back to living space. HAC members also spoke at the Nov. 20 meeting of the Washtenaw County Commissioners. When HAC learned of the county's interest in buying the building (for office space), they lobbied to have it used for a shelter or low-income housing instead. The current owners, First Y Building Limited Partnership, will not be owners for long according to building manager Edward Weberman. The building is in foreclosure and on Dec. 13 will become the property of First of America Bank.