Imagine having the police come to your
house because you had a handful of kids on the front porch enjoying
rare, pleasant evening weather. Imagine your house being banned
from having parties, when you’ve been having similar parties
for last several decades without your neighbors raising a peep.
Imagine having a neighbor circulate a petition seeking to place you
as a public nuisance for living the way you have for years and
years.

Ari Paul

This is the state that the Michigan Cooperative House on North
State Street is in. Since last year, the co-op has received 11
noise violations, called in by a handful of local homeowners, one
of whom is a part of the Old Fourth Ward Association. And this is
definitely something new. Christine Crockett, chair of the OFWA,
said, “I have lived in this neighborhood for 24 years, and
until quite recently I have never had a problem with the
co-ops.”

While the OFWA has been generally conciliatory, one activist in
particular, David Rausen, a graduate student and OFWA homeowner,
has been the bane of Michigan House’s existence. He has been
known to personally make sure that the house is cited even for the
most minor civil infraction, said Andrea Hunwick, the co-op’s
president, which has impeded the house’s ability to
operate.

“We want to cooperate, we want to have a good
relationship,” Hunwick said. Not only that, but
representatives of the house went out of their way to attend a
meeting with police officials, Crockett and a representative of the
Inter-Cooperative Council at the dispute resolution center near the
Courthouse to hammer out compromises with the neighborhood.

But despite the efforts to appease Rausen, nothing seems to be
good enough. Even the co-op’s treasured public garden is a
point of contention. Some have speculated that the pressure for the
co-op to reform is an attempt to raise property values in the
area.

This is only an extreme case of the bigger threats student
housing is facing.

“I think it’s fair to say that (the OFWA) represents
a very specific point of view that’s not necessarily hostile
to all students or renters but definitely favors homeowners,”
said Julia Lipman, an Engineering graduate student and a resident
of the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.

Lipman, who is involved with the city’s Cool Cities task
force said, “neighborhood associations in general should have
less power — if city government is really concerned with
making Ann Arbor cool and holding on to that 20 to 34 demographic,
they should balance the viewpoints of groups like (the OFWA) with
those of students and younger residents, who don’t generally
have that kind of organization.”

Why don’t we have this kind of organization? For one,
because the city wards are gerrymandered so that students
can’t have a unified voice that would be represented on the
City Council. Furthermore, the Michigan Student Assembly
effectively dissolved the Ann Arbor Tenants Union, the only housing
resource students could take advantage of.

Affordable housing is simply becoming more and more inaccessible
to students. It is those that want to raise property values who
keep granny flats, small apartments rented out in the basement or
the back of a single-family home, illegal in the city. Because
these units are typically rented to students in more modest
financial situations, the intransigence of associations working to
increase property values is just making our “Athens of the
Midwest” that much more economically exclusive.

And this is all happening while suburban sprawl is quite
literally strangling the city from the outside and high demand for
downtown housing due to a lack of University housing helps the
landlords keep the rents up. While the University’s new
housing director, Carole Henry, says she is eager to develop new
residence halls, it may be too little, too late, as the University
has let the housing crisis climax at a point when the budget is
severally crippled.

Fellow students, our way of life is in danger. Our financial
ability to maintain a campus-area community is in the crosshairs of
the suburban resistance to the one institution that puts this town
on the map. They want to take our student culture away and impose
their way onto us. And they want to make sure we pay through the
nose just to have a place to sleep at night.

So this is Ann Arbor. Tolerant, liberal Ann Arbor.

Paul can be reached at
“mailto:aspaul@umich.edu”>aspaul@umich.edu.

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