The Michigan Daily-Saturday, June 17, 1978-Page 9
But change does seem to be coming. While outsiders burn
to live in Birmingham, the residents pay incredibly high
property taxes. The lack of (developable space) is much
like Ann Arbor's - except that it is worse in some ways.
The city has a great lack of parking spaces, and many more
hungry meters than are in Ann Arbor.
"We seem to be going towards becoming a great big city,
and we neither have the land, the roads or the sewers to
support the kind of crazy development that there has
been," said Dorothy Conrad, one of the recalled com-
missioners and ex-mayor of Birmingham. "It also changes
the feeling of Birmingham. You can have development
without changing the whole feeling of the city. But we seem
to be getting away from our town image," she added.
IN MANY ways, the lack of housing for senior citizens
has been one of the city's largest headaches in years. A sur-
vey taken in 1970 indicated that many senior citizens in the
Birmingham area requested housing, and the 1970 census
showed a great number of these seniors to be in the lower-
income or very-low income bracket. A 1978 Housing Com-
mission survey stated that around 200 elderly residents of
Birmingham had requested housing, and had an annual in-
come of under $4,000.
With the need established, and groups increasingly
speaking up for senior citizens, the city formed the Bir-
mingham Housing Commission in 1973, to seek out a site to
build a project for low-income elders. In conjunction with a
department store chain, the commission bought land in the
downtown area with"general tax funds later that year. The
city approved the purchase of land.
After the land sale had been cleared, the housing com-
mission began to screen developers for the contract to build
THE BATTLE over senior citizen housing began. The
company selected by the city commission in an open
meeting, a Birmingham church group known as Baldwin
House, was given the contract, according to ex-
commissioner Conrad, because they had submitted the best
design, a 152-unit home which provided the best use of land
and which made plans for an underground parking lot,
allowing more space for the home itself. None of the other
seven developers had made provisions for so much parking.
The only member of the city commission who opposed
giving Baldwin House the contract was Robert Kelley. "We
had some real good bids, from established developers and
builders, people with a record, people with a bank account,
people who could go ahead and build us a building," said
"I have no objection to a church group running the thing,
maybe, but they should not be doing the stone and mortar
work," Kelley explained.
Mayor Robert.Kelley, a veteran in Birmingham politics
and the only man who remains from the city commission
that sat before the housing proposals were defeated, denied
the need for any lower-income housing in Birmingham. "I
think people are getting screwed up in this country when
they got the idea that the only people in financial need are
just the sepior citizens," said Kelley.
"I know of no requests. People are just 'interested' in it
(low-income housing) ... they want a retirement home,
they want a Sun City, Arizona," Kelley said.
There is a sizable slice of the Birmingham pride within
Robert Kelley. He was a man born in the south who never
received a college education, and after serving in the Navy
in World War II, spent years in Detroit working in the
medical supply business. Bespeckled and grandfatherly,
Kelley is symbolically a superb choice for the mayor of
Birmingham - a friendly person who speaks warmly but
who can be embarassingly blund. His is the honest success
story, the fabled tale of up-by-the-bootstraps.(Today Robert
Kelley is an executive for the Global Steel Corporation.)
Once the voters of Birmingham had approved of the con-
struction of the downtown site with a contract to Baldwin
House, the city applied to the Michigan State Housing
Development Authority (MSHDA). It is the function of
MSHDA to allocate state funds to pay for the construction
and certain other costs of low-income housing in Michigan.
MSDA approved Birmingham's contract with Bald-
win, and hammered out a program which would
have the state paying for 90 per cent of the cost of construc-
tion, with the other ten per cent coming from holders of the
private stock that Baldwin would sell.
PLANS FOR the construction could not be carried out,
however, because of the unavailability of certain money
from the Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD). Where MSHDA would pay to the city costs incurred
from building the home, HUD was responsible for sup-
plying rent subsidies to the Baldwin House, to supplement
the amount of rent the elderly tenants were able to pay.
HUD rent subsidies are not given only to elderly low-
income citizens, but are handed out on a scale determined
by a person's income bracket.
Generally, federal housing money is funnelled to cities
through their counties. In Oakland County, which includes
Birmingham, the allotments of rent subsidies and the
qualifications for living in low-income housing are deter-
mined by the county's total median income. A per:son
qualifies for both rent subsidies and low-income housing
subsidies simultaneously in Oakland County by earning less
than-80 per cent of the total median income. If one earns
less than 50 per cent of the median, he qualifies for very-low
income status, which earns higher subsidies.
However, just because one has qualified for the subsidies
or the housing does not mean they will get them.:In the case
See BIRMINGIIAM, Page 14
Illness as Metaphor, by Susan Sontag. Frarrar,
Straus, and Giroux, New York.088 pp. $5.95.
By Robin Heywood
D URING THE PEAKING tumult of the Vietnam
War, Susan Sontag wrote "the white race is
the cancer of human history." Therein, a complex
issue is made abruptly clear. The use of cancer as a
metaphor has a force which implies necessity of ac-
tion and severe measures. Both cancer and war
have urgent and fatal qualities. War terminology is
often used in connection with illness; healty cell in-
vaded by distorted cell.
The myth of cancer as an epitome of evil provides
a handy vehicle to project attitudes about our un-
satisfactory social condition. Illness as Metaphor
explores the analogies of political disorder to
illnesses. From Plato's time until now, Sontag of-
fers a neat account of mythology reflecting the
temper of the times.
The classical and political idea of balance sup-
ports the phenomenon of disease mythology in
society. Illness comes from unbalance. this
enables the reality of illness to become the dump
spot for personal fears, societal paranoia and
general ignorance. The author states that such a
situation causes death to be extra ugly. It further
prevents action based on a comprehension of life
processes. Problems of growth are avoided while
balance and the eradication of disease is worked at
through the study of disease itself rather than the
SONTAG BELIEVE that illness has always been
used to emphasize the corruption of societies. The
current-day cancer-prone character is described as
one being laden with emotional blocks. Cancer is, in
the current view, a "steady repression of feeling."
In the original form of the fantasy the feelings were
sexual. Sontag disagrees with Wilhelm Reich's
definition of cancer: "following emotional
resignation, a bio-energetic shrinking, a giving up
Sontag succinctly exposes the rich store of disease
mythology as such. She does not reject the con-
sistent manner in which illness has been seen as
metaphor; the reasons for these views are real. But
they fade next to the reality of real illness.
To resist metaphoric thinking, according to Son-
tag, is "the most truthful way of regarding illness
and the healthiest way of being ill."
Susan Sontag certainly knows. Her own cancer
was positively diagnosed twoyears ago.