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Assembly discusses possible repeal of city housing ordinance

BY GIACOMO BOLOGNA
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 5, 2012

At the first meeting following its November election last week, the Central Student Government Assembly initiated the nine new representatives in attendance with a two-and-a-half hour meeting that included the discussion of five new resolutions and the passage of four old resolutions on Tuesday night.

The main topic of discussion, however, was potential repeal of the early lease signing ordinance in Ann Arbor which prevents leases on rented houses from being shown or signed until 70 days after the current lease has begun. The ordinance is meant to prevent students from signing leases increasingly earlier each year and to give more time to freshmen to decide their living situation. It was first enacted in 2006 and was amended in 2008 to specifically say leases are not allowed to be signed until 70 days of the current lease have passed.

Law student Jeremy Keeney, the rules committee chair, and LSA senior Lukas Garske, the student general counsel, have met with city officials regarding the issue and the Assembly formally voted to allow the duo “to negotiate on behalf of CSG and the student body regarding Ann Arbor’s early lease signing ordinance.”

During the meeting Keeney said he might look into whether CSG could conduct a poll to gauge student awareness of and opinion on the issue.

Business junior Michael Proppe, the speaker of the Assembly, extended time twice for questions following a speech by Chris Heaton, a local landlord and a member of the board of directors of the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association, which advocated for the repeal of the ordinance.

Heaton argued that despite the 70-day grace period, students still go to rental properties, scout potential homes and join waiting lists for properties.

“Students still do what they want,” he said. “And they go in droves, you know it, you see it, all you have to do is walk around campus and you see people out banging on doors.”

Heaton said if the ordinance is repealed, it would allow realtors and landlords to properly and safely show properties to interested students. He said residents are currently opening their houses to random people during the 70-day grace period, which provides theft opportunities.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged before starting to take questions that members of the Assembly are less than enthusiastic about repealing the ordinance.

“I am sure that there are people in this room that vehemently disagree with me,” he said.

Rackham representative Patrick O’Mahen attacked the argument that unsupervised people trying to tour houses on their own can lead to theft, asking Heaton for crime statistics from the past five years.

“You’re throwing the safety angle at us tonight, right? You’re suggesting that this has lots to do about renter safety,” he said.

O’Mahen instead pointed to information released by the University under the Clery Act, providing the number of burglaries — or incidents of theft that occur in conjunction with breaking and entering into a property — reported in neighborhoods near campus was 43 in 2007. In the years following, the number of burglaries has been 18, 24, 25 and 22 each year, from 2008-2011 respectively.

“If what you’re saying is true about safety, wouldn’t we expect to see an increase?” O’Mahen said. “You’re making an argument that this ordinance would actually increase burglaries and yet we don’t see an increase of burglaries.”

O’Mahen also alleged that Heaton didn’t present evidence supporting the notion that repealing the ordinance would lead to crime.

“You haven’t given me any data that would convince me to go otherwise,” he said. “I think your safety argument is completely bogus.”

In addition to discussing the early lease signing ordinance, the Assembly passed a resolution that shortens the time of guest speakers from 30 minutes to 10 minutes and also encourages guest speakers to bring handouts in attempt to increase meeting efficiency. The resolution allows the speaker to give the guest speaker 30 minutes if he or she feels they need the time.

Another resolution passed allotted $1,000 for a “Finals Survival 101” event which will provide food, blue books and help from the Sweetland Writing Center, Mathematics Laboratory and the Electrical Engineering and Computer Session on Dec. 13. The resolution’s author, LSA representative Michael Dalton, said the event is meant to give students the final push at a time when additional help is hard to come by.

“Basically, all the academic resources close the last day of class, and that’s usually when students need them the most — during finals week,” Dalton said.

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