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Ann Arbor's Good Landlord

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Editor's Note: Thís article revtstts the house at 201 W. WÜliam Street, the history qf which AGENDA has chrontcled over the last three years. In 1990 and 1991. AGENDA covered the controversy over the house when It stood on the site of the proposed Kllne's parking structure. Our focus at that time was on the confrontaron between the Homeless Action and the City oJAnn Arbor. In December 1992, qfter the house had been moved and as renovations were belng completed, AGENDA published 'Rescued House Ready for Occupation. " Thís article introduces readers to some of the house' s current tenants and to those who direct Avalon Houslng, the agency responsible for developlng the low-lncome units. Before I moved into Avalon," explains Ron Brumbaugh, "I was renting a room the size of a large closet for $300 a month down on State Street." Today, one of six residents living at Avalon Housing's 201 W. William Street apartments, Ron pays $275 month for an efficiency apartment. "Instead of having to go home, live in a closet and share a bathroom with umpteen people," he continúes, "now I go home, I have my own bedroom, my own kitchen." (from page one) Ron's story is similar in many ways to that of other tenants at the William Street property. Most of the tenants hold low-wage service jobs - including waiting tables, working at a campus-area fast food restaurant, positions in Ann Arbor's newly privatized parking lots, or Ron"s job at the Video Watch warehouse. The tenants who work typically put in 40 or more hours a week and receive no benefits. Because they earn between $4.50 and $6.20hour they find that, as Ron states, "it's just impossible to find good living quarters." The William Street apartments became available to tenants in December 1992. The house was moved from across the street to its present location in late spring of 1 99 1 to allow a surface parking lot to be built behind Kline's Dept. Store. This compromise was reached after a long stand-off between the Homeless Action Committee, which squatted two other houses that stood on the current lot site, and a City Council which was divided on how to balance the demands for parking with the demands for low-income housing. When the City of Ann Arbor issued a request for proposals to develop the William Street house, Avalon existed as a program of the Shelter Association.Seeing the absence of alocalnonprofit developer that focused on lowincome rental housing, Avalon responded to the city's cali. The renovation of the five efficiency units in the building, and the addition of a sixth, fully-accessible basement unit, became Avalon's first project. Today, Avalon owns and manages 34 units scattered in six buildings. In addition to the William Street house, Avalon has two properties on N. M?an Street and three on S. División. Avalon hopes to acquire a seventh property, with 1 4 efficiency units, before the end of this year. Carole McCabe, Avalon's Executive Director, is excited by the organization's quick growth. "Avalon's success so far is directly related to the broad base of community support we've received from places like Legal Services, the Community Development Department, the County, local lenders, and of course, all kinds of grassroots community groups," McCabe explains. "I think people have recognized that non-profit development is the only way to meet the housing needs of people on low and fixed incomes." William Street resident Paul Lambert has a particular connection to the renovated house. Paul is active in the Homeless Action Committee and participated in some of the protests that eventually led to Avalon's acquisition of the property. As is typical for about half of the tenants in all Avalon properties, Paul receives Social Security . With his Section 8 certifícate, he pays 30% of his income to live in the Avalon house and the federal govemment pays the rest of the rent. Although he could have used his Section 8 certifícate to rent other properties around town, Paul applied to live in an Avalon building. "Avalon is more of a community group than a Corporation," he explains, "and it seemed more reasonable to me to put a federal subsidy I was getting into a community group than a private landlord." "Avalon Housing is a little more conscientious about fixing things than a private landlord," Paul continúes. "When I say something is wrong, they usually send someone out in a day to two days. My experience in the private market has been weeks without retí ress often." Another William Street tenant. Bill (not his real name), was living on the outskirts ofYpsilanü while working in a home sales position . His car broke down, he lost his job and, as a result, ended up in Arbor Haven, a local shelter run by the Salvation Army. He then found a job, worked up to 80 hours a week to save money, and moved into the William Street house. There is no comparison really," between the Avalon apartment and his previous residences, Bill states. "I had a one-bedroom for $395 and I still had to pay utilities and I was only making $6 an hour." The Avalon rent of $275 including utilities is much more affordable on his current $6.20 hour job. The low rents charged by Avalon allow people who work at low-wage jobs in Ann Arbor to also live in this city. In Bill's case this make him the exception at work. He notes that most of the people he works with "either live with roommates or live in Ypsi and catch the bus in." Bill is one of three current William Street residents who moved into the Avalon-owned house after a stay at one of the area's emergency shelters. A fourth was living in the basement of a friend's house. Maggie Camacho, Avalon's property manager, receives many referrals from the area's emergency shelters. "Prospective tenants often have a history of housing problems," Camacho explains. "White many landlords see staying at a shelter as a reason not to rent to someone, we see it as one of the reasons we exist." Avalon Housing's mission is to provide housing for those least able to find decent accomodations, including low-wage and fixed-income residents and those receiving government support such as Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Persons with chronic mental illnesses, for example, often have a particularly difficult time finding and maintaining decent housing. This happens both because of discrimination and a lack of supportive services. Avalon has brought Washtenaw County government agencies, particularly Community Mental Health (CMH), together with the City of Ann Arbor to fund projects and to provide on-site support services to tenants who need them. Avalon is also exploring housing partnerships with disability advocates and with the Domestic Violence Project. At the same time, tenancy is not tied to the use of any particular services. Some Avalon tenants have few needs beyond affordable rent; others rely on a range of social services to live independently. Avalon's philosophy is that supportive services should be available to tenants who need them. Avalon's mission statement also describes a commitment to "enhanced management" that avoids eviction by connecting tenants with community services beiore a crisis develops. Avalon manages to keep rents low with financial support from a varíety of sources. Much of the funding for Avalorfs projects has come from the City of Ann Arbor's Housing Trust Fund. This Fund is capitalized with money received by the city through the federal govemmenfs HOME program and general fund allocations. Other funding has come from local banks, the Michigan Housing Trust Fund, the Federal Home Loan Bank, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Avalon currently rents a variety of units ranging in price from $200 for for a single sleeping room to $275 for a one-bedroom or efficiency apartment. Not surprisingly. there is already a waiting list for Avalon Housing units. Nevertheless, low-income persons who need affordable housing are encouraged to cali at 663-5858. Michael Appel is a Development Specialist for Avalon Housing. Maggie Camocho, Avalorís property manager, receives many ref erráis Jrom the area's emergency shelters. "Prospective tenonts ojien have a history qfhousing problems, " Camacho explains. "While many landlords see staying at a shelter as a reason not to rent to someone, we see it as one of the reasons we exist "


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