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July 23, 1976 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-07-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A2's public housing snare

By LARRY LEMPERT
r "ENANTS IN ANN ARBOR
public housing got some
bad news in the mail a few
weeks ago.
One mother, who lives with
her three children in a five-
bedroom unit, is now paying $96
per month. "Please be noti-
fied," her form letter from the
Ann Arbor Housing Commission
stated, "that your rent will be
$177 a month, beginning Sept.
1, 1976."
For other public housing ten-
ants, the news was worse. If
the increases planned by the
Commission go into effect, rents
for many families will be three
times greater than now, and for
some, more than four times
greater.
The specter of the increase
has sparked many questions
among tenants who wonder if
they are getting their money's
worth, even at current rent lev-
els. It has also fueled concern
about the receptivity of hous-
ing administrators to tenant
problems and about the red
tape morass that threatens to
trap, rather than assist, low-in-
come tenants.
The immediate problem is
that the 1974 amendments to
the National Housing Act are
coming to town. Enacted by
Congress in 1937 and overhauled
periodically, the Act provides
funds for low-income housing,
to be built and managed by
local authorities under federal
guidelines.
The 1974 amendments bear
the mark of the "new federal-
ism" of recent vintage, the
trend toward shifting responsi-
bilities from federal to state
hands. HIere, the issue was state
welfare payments earmarked
for housing costs. The rent of
public housing tenants receiv-

Legal Aid Society attorney John
Coyne, "every month they're
living from hand to mouth."
Excluding senior citizens, who
will not be affected, Coyne es-
timates 80 per cent of the city's
public housing tenants are re-
ceiving DSS assistance. Most
are in the Aid to Dependent
Children (ADC) program, which
is intended to assist children
who lack sufficient parental sup-
port.
With the assistance of Legal
Aid attorneys, leaders of the
Public Housing Tenants Organi-
zation (PHTO) have been fight-
ing to delay and possibly block
the rent increases. PHTO Pres-
ident Albert Johnson offers
these examples of families who
will be hit hard if the rent is

the past has been that "tenants
have not been consulted in de-
cisions about public housing."
And the tenant organization,
which technically includes all
public housing tenants, "has not
been as active in past years
as it might have been."
There is plenty of concern
and activity now. The five-per-
son Housing Commission, ap-
pointed by the mayor with the
approval of City Council, man-
ages 352 units housing about 700
people. Some residents are on
home-ownership plans, purchas-
ing from the Commission, but
most simply rent their units.
Interestingly, the section of
the federal law that mandates
the rent increases also defines
the "low-income housing" that

Thelma Wallace, who is paid
a part-time salary from the
Commission "tenant services"
budget to act as a PHTO con-
tact person for tenants, says
the complaints are typical of
other sites as well. "I'm a ten-
ant aide," she says, "and I'm
also a tenant. I get those com-
plaints. I get them all the
time."
City Council, too, is express-
ing concern about the quality
of public housing. Early in
June, Council voted unanimous-
ly to conduct a review of the
program. "Many of the public
housing units and sites are be-
low the health, safety and sani-
tary standards required by the
city code," the Council resolu-
tion stated. "These conditions

Many people wish that Ann Arbor could simply start over again
with its public housing program. Says one tenant ... "If I had
my way, I'd put a stick of dynamite under them and blow them

down.
raised.
One three-person family, ac-
cording to Johnson, will see an
increase from $79 to $175 per
month; another, from $126 to
$204 per month. One family of
seven, he says, will see the rent
jump from $34 to $160; another,
from $43 to $182.
The PHTO has been success-
ful in delaying the changes, so
far. New rent was originally
intended to be effective in May.
The PHTO and Legal Aid turn-
ed to the regulations of the
Dept. of Housing and Urban De-
velopment (HUD), the federal
agency overseeing public hous-
ing programs, and argued that
requirements for notifying ten-

The Michigan Daily
Edited and managed by Students at the
University of Michigan
Friday, July 23, 1976
News Phone: 764-0552

should be provided: "decent,
safe, and sanitary dwellings
within the financial reach of
families of low income."
As far as Ann Arbor tenants
are concerned, the section con-
tradicts itself. If the increases
are enforced, many say they
will be forced from public hous-
ing, although low-cost alterna-
tives in the area are hard to
come by.
Further, many tenants say
their units and sites are not
decent, safe, or sanitary. Sev-
eral weeks ago at South Maple
Park, one of five sizeable pub-
lic housing sites in Ann Arbor,
a tenant standing outside her
apartment saw her neighbor
come to the door. "Elmira,"
the first woman said, "the gen-
tlemen are asking if we have
complaints about our apart-
ments."
ELMIRA COLLINS looked cyn-
nically at PHTO President
Johnson and the reporter next
to him, and said, "How much
time do you have?"
It took several hours to re-
cord the complaints of South
Maple tenants. They spoke of
a severe cockroach problem; of
bad drainage on the 30-unit site
and, as a result, leaky base-
ments; of broken closet doors
and raggedy screens; of poor
exterior and grounds mainte-
nance; of inadequate outdoor
lighting and of units easily bur-
glarized; of slow response to
maintenance requests; and of
the Commission's failure to en-
force basic sanitation require-
ments against a small number
of tenants who make sanitation
difficult for the larger number.
A Commission maintenance
man concurred in the com-
plaints about inadequate main-
tenance, and said that 95 per
cent of the residents were "very
conscientious" about taking
care of their homes.

have led to increased tenant dis-
satisfaction and also to deteri-
orating relationships between
tenants, staff and commission.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Gene
Warren heads a regular
staff of twelve responsible to
the Housing Commission. He be-
lieves many of the maintenance
and repair complaints have
more to do with poor communi-
cations than with poor mainte-
nance performance.
But Warren acknowledges,
"Generally speaking, a lot of
complaints I hear in public
housing are valid." For one
thing, he says, "Those units
weren't built like units in the
private sector."
As far as that statement goes,
"amens" ring out from tenants
to public officials across the
city. Most of the projects are
six to eight years old. "If units
had been constructed up to code
then," says Commission Vice-
President T. R. Meadows, "we
wouldn't have the problems
we're having now."
R o g e r Bertoia (R-Third
Ward), a member of the four-
person Council subcommittee
looking into public housing, ex-
presses the same sentiment:
"Largely, the units were bad
when they were built. That's no
particular secret in this town."
The program has had its ad-
ministrative difficulties as well.
Directors have worn out faster
than dwelling units. Meadows
says, as a result, it has been
difficult to get long-range plans
moving.
Staff members assert that
prior administrations have been
irresponsible about budgeting,
record-keeping, and handling
funds. HUD's supervisor for this
area, Tom Jones, acknowledges
that "over a protracted period,
there has been room for im-
provement" in the Ann Arbor
operation.

Warren says the program has
been cleaned up considerably
since his arrival in January,
1975. Meadows has been a mem-
ber of the Commission for sev-
eral years, and he agrees: "The
Commission has a duty to op-
erate efficiently. At this time,
we are certainly operating at
that level."
Not all concerned are ready
to say that administrative prob-
lems have been alleviated. John-
son, for one, openly doubts that
the Warren administration
knows where it is going. "I
seem to see no goals or time-
tables," he says. And in April,
the Commission president, Jona-
than Bulkley, resigned, citing
"a lack of mutual confidence
between the director and my-
self."
AT ANY RATE, if poor con-
strutction and administra-
tion have been problems in the
past, Warren says the biggest
limitations on the program now
come from BUD.
The watchful federal eye is
felt most keenly when it comes
to dollars. With respect to hous-
ing owned by the Commission
and leased to tenants, the Com-
mission's umbilical cord is the
HUD operating subsidy, intend-
ed to cover the difference be-
tween income (mostly from
rent) and expenditures (mostly
administrative and maintenance
expenses).
"Many of the pub-
lic housing units
and sites are below
the health, safety,
and sanitary stand-
ards required by
the city code . ,
t e s e conditions
have led to increas-
ed tenant dissatis-
faction . .." -- part
of a City Council
resolution, J u n e
1976.
Under a "performance fund-
ing system" instituted in the
'75-76 fiscal year, HUD will
provide only what it determines
a well-managed program need
to operate efficiently. Its deter-
mination is based on national
and regional surveys. For better
or worse, Commission expendi-
tures have to be kept with the
See A2, Page S
Larry Lempert, a former
Daily Editor, is a University
law student.

ing such payments could be no
less than the amount earmark-
ed by the state, Congress said.
N WASHTENAW COUNTY,
the Dept. of Social Services
(DSS) allows families up to $155
per month for shelter costs, and
up to $62 more for utilities.
These are maximum levels un-
der state DSS guidelines.
Until now, most rent pay-
ments have been far less than
$155. Families juggle any left-
over shelter dollars into food
stamps, clothing, or other cate-
gories. Even with that juggling,
according to Washtenaw County

ants and getting tenant input
had not been fulfilled.
1UD AGREED. Coyne says
the increase can now be
effected no earlier than Octo-
ber. Substantive legal challeng-
es are being considered as well,
and the PHTO is also involved
in negotiating a new lease for
use in public housing.
All this tenant "input" - to
use a polite word - is new for
the 11-year-old public housing
program. Says Michael Bixby,
former director of Legal Aid,
one of the biggest problems in

Bly
Pete Schneeberger
and
John Guillean

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