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April 17, 1969 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1969-04-17

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Thursday, April 17, 1969

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

THE ICHGAN AIL~aae FiI

.

The

quixotic

adventure

of

Frank.

Harar

Or how land speculation and city hall's neglect
have contributed to Ann Arbor's low-income housing shortage

By DANIEL ZWERDLING
WALK THROUGH the North Cen-
tral area, North Main and Fifth
and Fourth, Ann Arbor's faded and
grimy scrapbook of the old days when
the working class muscle lived by the
railroad tracks with the whistle of
locomotives hauling freight to Chica-
go and the screams of hogs butchered
in the now defunct Peters Sausage
Plant.
The blacks live here in Ann Arbor's
ghetto, rows of rotting wood Ameri-
cana, crumbling wood porches, rusted
screens and carcasses of 1957 Fords.
The blacks live here. The majority
(75 percent) rent their homes, and in
many cases white businessmen reap
the profits. Since 1965. when the Re-
publican city administration started
. talking urban renewal, the blighted
area has become potentially one of
the most profitable areas in the city
-a target for a handful of speculat-
ing realtors who know that when the
local junkyard goes and the apart-
ment developments start coming in,
the areas' proximity to downtown and
campus could make it a real estate
bonanza.
The chief figure in the property
drama is Frank Harary, University
math professor and highly reputed
graph theorist. Harary is a realtor by
avocation: since 1965 he and his wife
Jayne have acquired over $200,000
worth of old houses throughout Ann
Arbor.
"Their pattern is to buy old houses,
divide them into apartments, main-
tain them as poorly as possible, raise
the rents," says a Human Relations
Commission study made in 1967-and
chalk up scores of building code vio-
lations (including six condemned
houses in the past two years).
Harary, says the study, "has a repu-
tation of being a typical 'slumlord'."
With already a sizeable assortment
of old houses to his name, Harary be-
gan in 1965 methodically buying ev-
ery property possible on two dreary
blocks sandwiched between North
Main, Fifth and Fourth streets.
Using real estate agents Charles
Reinhart, (a former Republican City
Chairman) and Bernice Schreider,
Harary approached almost every
home offering a fast sell, lures of cash
and sometimes, a property trade. .
And suddenly, in 1966, the com-
munity began to realize what was go-
ing on: a professor from the Univer-
sity owned 10 lots (six with houses),
over $100,000 in property, and was still
trying to get more.
The fear: that outsiders were grab-
bing property from residents to ex-
ploit for apartment development at a
huge profit, forcing land values to
skyrocket beyond the financial reach
of poor blacks to whom the shabby,
but cheap houses offer homes which
other sections of the All-America city
would deny them.
"The people here a r e poor," says
Russell 'Howard, a long-time resident
of Ann Arbor and a member of the
Workable Program Committee. "A lot
of them are elderly, many of them are
widows-and they're usually in debt."
A model cities program proposal
prepared' by the city last April des-
cribes the mood bluntly: "Fear and
apprehension are presently a major
factor confronting the neighborhood."
PROPERTY SPECULATION is not
illegal, and of course residents in
the area, don't have to sell if they
don't wish to. But when high pressure

salesmen dangle offers of cash or pro-
perty trades, it's hard for the poor to
resist what seems like a once-in-a-
lifetime chance to move from their
bleak but secure homes to better sur-
roundings.
And then some residents-especial-
ly the elderly-fear that high pres-
sure white businessmen have enough
dollar power to uproot people with-
out their consent.
"I'm worried to death," says Mrs.
Gene McIntyre, an elderly widow who
has lived for years at 709 N. Fifth St.
"When my husband died realtors just
went for me and tried to t a k e my
property-it was disgusting.
"I can't sell now. Where would I go?
Let the people have peace while they
live here."
Bettie Garnett is another widow,

house if I had waited," regrets How-
ard. He says his present home is not
much better than the one he left.
Reinhart insists he uses honest, ev-
eryday business methods, and denies
he has ever pressured residents to sell
against their will.
"I would call it 'encouragement,' to
find better property," Reinhart ex-
plains. "I have felt a commitment to
help minority peoples in the area find
better housing."
Some residents whom Reinhart has
approached for Harary disagree. Mr.
J--, for example, was serving a pri-
son sentence in 1965 when Heinhart
wrote him a letter-with a contract
enclosed, already signed by the Har-
arys-urging him to accept a 100 per
cent cash offertfor $4500, "no mort-
gage or anything."
When Mr. J---- ignored the offer,
Reinhart sent another signed con-
tract for $500 more, adding, "We no-

most of the people think he is a
"front" for a more powerful, promi-
nent group of businessmen who, as
one prominent lawyer in town says,
"don't want to get their hands dirty."L
THE HARARYS discount such re-
ports, saying they have been ma-
ligned. "We have been the object of
fantastic rumors that we want to ex-
ploit the area for profit," laments
Mrs. Harary.
The Hararys say they became inter-
ested in the North Central Area only
in 1965, "when there was a lot of talk
about the poor Negroes and what to
do with them, and nobody did any-
thing. So we said 'Let us see if we can
do something to help them'."
Their first chance came when Rein-
hart listed a house for sale on N.
Fourth; the Hararys bought it. Har-
ary says now he told Reinhart, "al-
most jokingly, if I could buy every
property on the whole block, I could
build high quality, low-rent non-pro-
fit housing-and help the poor people
find a better'place to live."
So the Hararys, Reinhart and Mrs.
Schneider began combing e v e r y
house on the two blocks for quick

And Harary points out he hasn't
bought any property in the area since
1966-which is true.
"We finally came to our senses two
years ago, and realized it would be
better all around for everybody if we
didn't buy any more, and sold all the
property," says Harary.
But this hasn't kept him from try-
ing to busy more. In the past few
months Harary has approached David
Scott of 709 N. 4th (Scott says he'll
sell if the price is right), Clara Davis,
who owns 318 Beakes, and he has sent
Mrs. Schneider looking at 700 N. Main.
All these properties are adjacent to
Harary's present holdings, and would
turn them into huge blocks of land if
he bought them. Apparently, he can't.
"We can't afford to buy any more
property," says Harary, who has ex-
tended himself thin throughout the
city
"We would develop with what we
already have," he claims, "but the
bottom fell out of the mortgage mar-
ket, and a builder has told me I have
enough land yet to make development
possible."
At the moment, the North Central
Area is quiet. Harary hasn't develop-

of how many violations of any single
landlord in Ann Arbor.
They also demonstrate how land-
lords can perpetuate housing viola-
tions, avoiding both compliance with
city demands and the penalties re-
quired by law for failing to do so:
* Four of Harary's houses-all with-
in one block of each other on N.
Fourth-were condemned and evacu-
ated by the city in September 1968.
At 633 N. Fourth, the inspector or-
dered Harary to replace the floors,
the walls and the ceiling and com-
pletely rewire the entire house. ("Can
you imagine that?" Harary asks in-
credulously; "that would have meant
replacing the whole house.")
After he evacuated the houses,
Harary failed to board them as re-
quired by law (to prevent people from
wandering in). The city issued a war-
rant and set a date for a trial in
court.
But on the day of the trial Harary
didn't appear, forfeiting his bond, and
forcing the court to issue a bench
warrant for his immediate arrest.
Harary finally paid a $27.50 fine for
each house.
o A year earlier, inspectors found
619 N. Fifth, around the block, was
"unsafe for occupants" and ordered
Harary to "vacate the dwelling at
once." Among the problems: electrical
fire hazards, plumbing health haz -
ards, and rotting walls, ceilings and
floors. The tenants had paid the
Hararys $125 per month.
* Harary had been renting a house
for a time at 1024 Gott - when the
February 1965 building and safety de-
partment charged it had major viola-
tions. The electricity was under code.
The plumbing was under code. The
railings, ceilings and stairways were
under code. And instead of one fam-
ily, two were living in the house in
violation of the zoning ordinance.
By April, Harary told the building
and safety department that contrac-
tors had been hired, and 'the work
(was) to be done (as) soon as pos-
sible." The city relaxed-and took no
further action.
But Harary had corrected no re-
pairs by August-so the city issued a
warrant on Aug. 10 and scheduled a
trial on Sept. 15, The case never
reached the courtroom. For according
to the city attorney's files, 1024 had
been "sold to a new party who is put-
ting the premises in good repair."
Harary had agreed to sell his house
to Elsie Doggett, a w i d o w on sub-
sistence income. He was selling the
house on land contract-meaning In
gradual payments. This way, he ap-
parently had rid himself of responsi-
bility for fixing the house, and was
getting paid for it at the same time.
In January 1967, however, an in-
spector found most of the old viola
tions still uncorrected - but with a
subsistence income, Mrs. Doggett
could scarcely afford to bring the
house up to code.
The city attorney intervened. Since
Harary still held legal title to the
house (Mrs. Doggett was still making
payments) the attorney charged it
was still his responsibility to fix the
violations. His ultimatum: "either
bring the house completely up to
code immediately," or the city would
take action in Circuit Court to de-
molish it.
No repairs were made, the house
was not demolished, and Harary was
not prosecuted. Instead, Mrs. Doggett

and her tenants left, and Harary be-
queathed ownership of the house, and
all future responsibility for it, in a
quitclaim deed to his brother, Ray-
mond.
Now the house is condemned and'
boarded at the city's demand-and it
remains Raymond Harary's financial
burden.
These examples do not comprise a
complete account of Harary's build-
ing violations-houses at 307 S. Divi-
sion, 114 and 108 Third (there was a
fire here), 705 N. Fourth, 907 Wildt
have also emerged recently in city
files with major violations. The city
in fact has sent Harary about 30 dif-
ferent letters and warnings so far to
try to get them up to code. But it has
not prosecuted Harary for any of
them, nor has he paid any fines.

Hararys allowed them to live in the
houses until the city could find other
homes. The house at 705 N. Fourth is
such a case.
"We just wanted these properties
for the land value," claims Harary.
"We wanted to move the tenants out."
"But we don't want to see the ten-
ants in the streets," adds Mrs. Harary.
City Council talks a lot about ways
to enforce the housing codes, but
nothing much is ever done. It took
Councilman LeRoy Cappaert (D-Fifth
Ward) singlehandedly to spur the city
into action on the 619 N. Fifth and
1024 Gott houses; .otherwise, they
would not have been inspected or
condemned.
Cappaert was so angered by hous-
ing conditions that he wrote Council:
"Such -landlords risk the lives of ten-
ants in order to make money; they re-
quire of building inspectors, city at-
torneys, administrative officials and
many others hours and hours of cost-
ly work with their delaying tactics."
Meanwhile, the residents in the
North Central area are unhappy with
HararN's condemned houses, because
they are ugly. "We want to know
when the city is going to make Harary
tear these eyesores down," says Rus-
sell Howard of the Workable Program
Committee (they have stood unin-
habitated since October).
"We asked one of the assistant city
attorneys what was going on with the
houses a few months ago, and he
spoke for two hours- and told us ab-
solutely nothing."
Harary claims he tried to have the
buildings wrecked as far back as Oc-
tober-"but then the winter freeze
set in, and no one could demolish
them," he says.
Frank and Jayne Harary are con-
cerned with their public image. Resi-
dents throughout the black ghetto
distrust them, and officials in the city
government condemn their rental
property dealings as "slumlording."
"Most people have a reputation to
maintain," says Mrs. Harary, 'but we
have a reputation to undo."
The worst of it is, they say, they
never would have bothered with real
estate if they hadn't simply wanted
to help the poor. "We've wanted to
help poor blacks find better hous-
ing," claims Mrs. Harary. "But we've
taken the rap again and again. If we
had known all this would happen, we
would never have gotten into it."
The Hararys have long been free to
sell their property. That is what they
promised' Councilman Cappaert two
years ago-when iaccording to Cap-
paert, Harary asked him to abstain
from criticizing his property dealings
in Council because he was planning
to "go out of the business soon."
But now, apparently, 'Harary Is
serious about selling his property.
"We would like to sell all our prop-
erty in the North Central area as a
unit, .to some reliable group who is
stronger than we are, and who would
like to do something good with it,'
says Harary.
Most important, says Harary, "Put
this on the public record: We will sell
the property below market price and
without any money down."
If Model Cities planners accept
Harary's offer as he means it-as an
open invitation for anyone to buy it
-then the North Central area may
finally rid itself of fear of exploita-
tion by private interests, and at last
regain control over its own com
munity.

THE FAULT for Ann Arbor's housing
woes lies not so much with the
landlords as with the city. For those
landlords and others who evade laws
out of signple neglect or for financial
gain will always be in the community;
but the structures which allow them
to maintain poor housing conditions
do not have to be.
"For one segment of the Ann Arbor
community (the city's) virtues seem
a mockery," declares the administra-
tion's application for a Model Cities
grant. "The poor and disadvantaged
see new housing cutting into the sky,
but each month finds it more diffi-
cult to locate safe, low-cost housing
for themselves."
Housing is in crisis all over the city,
but the problems in the North Cen-

tice that (your) property cannot pos-
sibly be rented, that vandals are
wrecking the building. Perhaps, be-
fore it gets in worse shape, you would
consider a sale."
Then, Mr. J---- wrote Reinhart a
letter, bluntly telling him he was not
interested in doing business under
any circumstances. This time, the pri-
son warden approached him and urg-
ed him to sell-on behalf of Reinhart.
Reinhart recalls he sent the letters,
and "may have called the warden"-
but this was merely a "technique used
to ascertain if there was communica-
tion," he explains.
Mrs. Edward Neff of 712 N. Main
angrily remembers the pressure two
realtors have exerted on her in the
past two years-"One of them said
'We can have your place condemned
if we want it bad enough," she recalls.
But Mrs. Neff doesn't know who the
realtors were-"they had no business
cards and didn't give their names like
reliable businessmen do-and I was
too mad at them to find them out."
All of this, says Reinhart, is unfor-
tunate. "I think there are families
who should be encouraged to move up
into better housing," he says. "Some
of them have made a mistake by stay-
ing there."
FEARS OF a property takeover had
spread so fast, by February 1967
that the Human Relations Commis-
sion distributed leaflets to every door
warning "Your property is near the
University and downtown, and is zon-
ed for apartments-these things may
increase the value of your property.
DON'T SELL IT IN A HURRY.
"Unless you really want to sell it,"
warned the pamphlet, "Keep it!"
And block clubs sprang up. The
North Central Neighborhood Organi-

-Daily-Sara Krulwich

sales, sometimes with offers of cash,
sometimes with offers of property
trades. In many instances they made
return visits to encourage resistors to
change their minds.
"We didn't even intend to make a
profit on the rents once we develop-
ed apartments," claims Harary. "We
did have in mind, though," he adds,
"that by the year 2000 the investment
might be a nice estate for our grand-
children."
His property could become a nice
estate. Realtors estimate that once
the city moves Lansky's junkyard and
a few other sore spots, land values
may triple from the current $1.25-
$1.50 per square foot to $3.50 or more.
Because the community is only
three blocks from Ann Arbor's cen-
tral business district, potentially it is
an apartment developers dream.
And.that is what puts the commun-
ity in a bind. Residents would like to
move the junkyard, possibly even

ed, and few people are buying and
selling. Ben Burkhart, local printer,
and realtor William -Bush each own
some properties, and contemplate us-
ing them in the future (Bush says he
wants to build offices) but otherwise,
property activity is dead. Which is un-
fortunate,, according to Reinhart.
"The area has become stagnant,"
Reinhart says. "There is no real es-
tate activity, and Harary isn't de-'
veloping. I'm sorry, tdo - the area
needs an inflow of xisk capital."
Residents and community leaders
agree-but they want an inflow of'
capital under their control, not the
control of - an outside businessman.
The North Central Neighborhood Or-
ganization has asked City Council to
declare a moratorium on all building
in the area until the Model Cities
Planning Board gets into gear and
starts assuming ' authority for the
area's development.
Council has not vet taken action.

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