Flyers and chalkings advertising Michigan Student Assembly candidates are impossible to miss on campus, but the advertising for another issue that will be decided in the election is less ubiquitous – a $1 increase in funding for the Ann Arbor Tenants Union. Students who vote for their representation as the election concludes today also have the opportunity to weigh in on this question, which could affect how the union will help tenants in the future.
If the proposal is approved by the student body, the University Board of Regents will decide whether AATU would receive $1 of each student’s tuition every semester. Currently, the union is funded by MSA like other student groups.
The increase would allow AATU to better pursue its goals of educating tenants on their rights and helping them deal with legal issues, Executive Director Amy Kullenberg said.
Students now pay about 37 cents per semester to AATU, she said. By approximately tripling that amount, the proposal would allow the union to deal with most of the 3,000 requests for help it receives annually. With its current budget, the organization can only manage a fraction of those complaints.
“We’re very lucky right now if we can answer a third of (requests),” Kullenberg said. “I can speculate that if we have the dollar increase we could at least make contact with 95 percent of them, and we would be able to do the kind of preventative education that we need to do.”
The union is almost totally dependent on University students for its money, she said. Of the $31,000 in funds received this year, $26,000 was from MSA. In contrast, half of the requests for help the union receives are from non-students.
Kullenberg defended using student money to help other Ann Arbor residents by calling attention to how one person’s victory against a landlord can help others.
“Any successful experience that any tenant has in this community … is a benefit for every other tenant in this community. Even someone who is not a student who’s making the climate more tenant-friendly … is benefiting students.”
LSA sophomore David Goldman, who chairs MSA’s Budget Priorities Committee, said he supports the resolution in principle but it has been proposed at the wrong time. Students approved a $1 increase in student fees last fall to support student groups, and if this proposal is also passed the regents will be voting on two increases.
“If we have to go up there asking for a $2 fee increase, I don’t know the feasibility of that and how the regents would look on that,” he said. “I just don’t think (the AATU fee) is very likely to get passed by the regents.”
In favor of the proposal, Goldman said, is the fact that it would increase money for student groups to use because it would end AATU’s dependence on MSA. The union currently makes up 5 to 10 percent of the assembly’s budget.
“That’s a huge drain on our finances and it takes away a lot that would go to student groups,” he said.
Kullenberg said freedom from MSA will lead to more consistency by AATU.
“There’s a high turnover rate in MSA,” she said. “From year to year under the MSA funding situation we don’t know what we’re going to get.”
The union could reach more people if the proposal passes, she said, adding AATU would ideally pay weekly visits to residence halls. This would allow the organization to better target freshmen and sophomores in order to “teach them how it is you engage in an adult contractual relationship … and just make them smarter consumers.”