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July 23, 1976 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1976-07-23

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Friday, July23, 1976 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Po9e Five

Friday, July 23, 1976


Poge Five

A2's public housing snare

(Continued from Page 4)
HUD-mandated limits.
Furthermore, Warren insists
Ann Arbor public housing is not
going to a "Ma and Pa" opera-
tion. Rather, he says, "we're
going to be a solid manage-
ment company."
To Warren, this means fol-
lowing set procedures, sticking
to a tight budget, and respond-
ing "to the needs of the ma-
jority rather than thetminority.
My responsibility is to all the
tenants," he says. "I cannot
address myself personally to
all situations."
His firm stance is ironic, be-
cause tenants complain that fol-
lowing set procedures and dele-
gating authority are precisely
what Warren has failed to do.
Johnson says a procedure for
recording maintenance requests
by signing dated work orders,
for example, has not been fol-
lowed. And as one who is con-
stantly bringing problems to the
attention of the staff, he asserts,
"If one or two people are not
around, nothing gets done."
Johnson's and Warren's
perceptions points to one of the
mot serious problems in Ann
Arbor public hosing - cor-
munication. Tenants, staff mem-
bers, and observers all agree
that communication failures are
making difficult problems even
more difficult to solve.
Says Johnson, "Tenants are
in communication with some
commissioners, but we have
completely lost contact with the
Warren, the director, says
"We try to communicate as
muchtas humanly possible with
tenants." But the PHTO, he
claims, tends to arrive on the
scene after the fact and criti-
cre, "If it's not a mutual thing,
there's no way in hell we can
live up to the expectations of
A meeting last week captured
the essence of the communica-
tion gap. HUD regulations re-
quire that the staff make itself
available for comments and
questions from tenants before
instituting new rents or a new
lease. Tenants at North Maple
Park, a 20-unit site, were noti-
fied, the staff says, that ques-
tions would be fielded at a
meeting there from 9:00 to 10:00
Friday morning.
Of the four tenants who came
during the course of the hours,
Johnson and Wallace were ac-
tive in the PHTO and another
tenant was a resident manager
from another site. Only one resi-
dent attended who was uncon-
nected with housing manage-
ment or tenant services. The
meeting, Johnson and Wallace
said, was set at an inconvenient,
perhaps impossible, time for
most tenants.
Johnson, himself, arrived close
to 10:00, just after, Deputy Di-
rector Pauline Summerfield and
Project Manager Dwight Robin-
son had discussed, at some
length, the rent increases and
utility allowances.
Within minutes, Robinson and
Johnson, who had never dealt
with each other before, were
at each other's throats. Rob-
inson said Johnson had no right
to come in "at the end, on the
attack." Johnson, at one point,
JULY 23, 1976

said heatedly, "Don't give me
any orders. You can't order me
to do anything."
However, after 10 or 15 min-
utes, it became apparent that
the two men agreed on the ma-
jor issue - that with respect
to utilities, tenants would bear
the brunt of yet another com-
mtnication gap, this time be-
tween HUD and the state DSS.
'tHE UTILITIES snare is a
perfect example of the way
low-income residents - the peo-
ple that all the agencies are
trying to help - get the short
end of the bureaucratic stick.
As nearly as can be determ-
ined from discussions with ten-
ants, attorneys, and staff mem-
bers of the Housing Commission
and the county DSS, the prob-
lem is this: under the new rent
plan, if effected, tenants will
pay utility expenses that state
welfare payments are intended
to cover, while the welfare pay-
ments themselves go the Hous-
ing Commission.
Numbers speak louder than
words. To use a hypothetical
offered by Robinson, suppose an
ADC family is charged $155 for
rent, the full DSS shelter allow-
ance. Suppose, too, that the
family gets a $50 utility allow-
ance from DSS. The federal law
requires, Robinson and other
staff members say, that the
Commission charge the family
$205 as "contract rent," since
that amount is earmarked by
the state for housing needs.
The tenant can choose to pay
his or her own utilities, or can
arrange for the Commission to
pay utilities. (This option, John-
son maintains, has not been
clearly communicated to ten-
If the tenant pays them, the
Commission will turn to a HUD
utility allowance schedule and
will deduct the amount man-
dated by HUD from the $205
contract rent. The HUD amount

might be $30 - $20 less than
the amount designated by DSS
for utilities.
The disparity arises because
HUD bases its determinations
on the size of the dwelling,
while DSS bases its determina-
tions on the size of the family.
Ralph Carnegie, deputy direc-
tor of the county DSS, says the
average disparity is $13.50 per
The PHTO and Coyne of Legal
Aid say they have data to show
that HUD allowances are unreal-
istic, and Commission staff
members agree. But HUD's
Jones insists the allowances are
adequate if families employ rea-
sonable energy conservation
SUPPOSE, AT ANY rate, that
the tenant's utilities costs
for the month are $40. The $20
by which the DSS allowance ex-
ceeded the HUD allowance has
gone to the Commission as rent.
But the tenant is the one who
has to pay the $10 by which the
actual utility bill exceeds the
HUD allowance. The tenant
pays $175 in rent ($155 plus
$50 minus $30) and $40 in utili-
ties, or $21S.
The tenant cannot escape this
trap by arranging for the Com-
mission to pay for utilities di-
rectly. Again, suppose the con-
tract rent is $205, and the util-
ities bill is $40. The Housing
Commission pays only $30 of the
utilties bill, because it must
charge any amount in excess
of the HUT allowance back to
the tenant. The tenant pays $205
in rent ($155 plus $50) and $10
in excess utiltiies, or $215.
"The tenants have a legiti-
mate gripe," says Robinson.
"It's a bureaucratic thing that
all of us are locked into."
According to Carnegie of DSS,
both the Houst.ing Commission
and DSS are "stuck at the local
level." Yet all agree that

change at higher levels is
complicated .and time consum-
ing. Changes, if they come, are
likely to drag behind rising
members who have been
studying public housing have
had few encouraging words to
say. The subcommittee was to
report back to Council in 30
days - that would have been
July 7. A report is now likely
Aug. 2, says subcommittee
member Bertoia, and he sug-
gests Council might take action
Aug. 19.
What action? There has been
plenty of talk; talk of expand-
ing the Housing Commission to
make it more receptive to ten-
ant concerns; talk of abolish-
ing the Commission and bring-
ing the program under the city
administrator's office; talk of
firing Warren.
Subcommittee member Eliz-
abeth Keogh (D-First Ward),
for one, would like to investi-
gate the matter more thorough-
ly. But she says she is wor-
ried about tenants who need
and expect immediate help.
"You can either take the
cosmetic route," placating peo-
ple temporarily, she says, "or
you can seem to be intransig-
ent about it." Expanding the
commission, she believes, would
be a cosmetic gesture,
Meadows, of the Commission,
says the Council study is a
good sign - especially if it
means the city is ready to make
a greater commitment to pub-
lic housing in terms of services
and funding.
Council in May allocated
$100,000 of federal Community
Development Block Grant (CD
BG) funds for exterior improve-
ments at most of the major
public housing sites. The allo-
cation came six months after

money: it took that long for
Council decide, to spend the
Couneil and the Housing Com
mission to ::gree ,00en an ac
ceptahle Wreakdow' ,of expendi-
The Commissior'. proposed
budget for fiscal '/6-'77 contem-
plates ordinary maintenance
and operation expenses of $91,-
440, so the additional $100,000
is a definite boost. Another
$100,000 is on thse hori.;ort for
next year.
But this is nowhere near the
kind of money that Commission
and staff members '-v is nec-
essary t work significant clan-
ges in the qut.lity xrf housing.
Warren says the program will
apply for ten times that amount
in modernization *mds from
HUD. It is hard to say, how-
ever, if or when HUD wilt ap-
prove such funds - or how
much money Ann Arbor could
actually get.
Many people wish that Ann
Arbor could simply start over
again with its public housing
program. Says one tenant at
South Maple Park, "If I had
my way, I'd put a stick of dy-
namite under them and blow
them down." He isn't the only
person in town who feels that
way -- Bertoia's choice was
a bulldozer.
These people know, however,
that Ann Arbor has to work
with what it has. And Meadows,
at least, sees rising tenant
awareness as another good
sign. "We have a strong tenants
organization putting pressure
on the Commission, the city,
and on HUD," he says. "That
works to our benefit."
The first successful ironworks
built in the United States was
at a site 10 miles north of Bos-
ton in the 1640s. It produced
about 150 tons a year.


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