In 1958, University officials and The Michigan Daily
acknowledged an impending housing crisis. It was widely known that
enrollment was going to increase through the ’70s (and
further), and Ann Arbor simply did not have the capacity to handle
such a dramatic influx of students. Residence hall living, while
appealing for first- and second-year students, had fallen out of
favor with upperclassman. At one point, the University planned for
incredible growth on North Campus, even attempting to create a
Fraternity Row. So the University administrators did what they
thought was best: They stopped building residence hall living that
appealed to the student body, leaving Ann Arbor’s brightest
to defend themselves in the jungle that is off-campus housing.

So with that background, many of our classmates now live in
sub-standard shelter — which, naturally, is three times the
cost of an apartment at any other college town in Michigan. Horror
stories of black mold, leaky ceilings and electrical conditions
that could make a mother cry are as commonplace as blue books and
hangovers. In the past few months, three fires ravaged housing all
over campus, threatening the very lives of Michigan’s
students. So the city of Ann Arbor took action against the obvious
culprits: our upholstered acquaintances which adorn our
ever-crumbling porches.

Unfortunately, it’s not just students directly affected by
this blatant disrespect for the quality of living. One landlord in
Ann Arbor allegedly poses as a devoted husband in order to purchase
housing zoned, but not yet converted, for student living. After
purchasing the unit, sometimes deeply entrenched in a residential
neighborhood, it is then converted into tenement-style housing and
packed chock full o’ students. What better way to endear
yourself to the neighbors then to offer them the “welcome to
the neighborhood” beer bong?

As your elected student representatives, the responsibility to
organize around tenant issues falls upon us. In the past, the
Michigan Student Assembly “outsourced” this
responsibility to the Ann Arbor Tenants Union. At first, the
relationship was kismet, but according to my predecessors, the
service at the turn of this century left much to be desired.

There are a few things you can do to ensure that you have the
best tenant experience possible. First, utilize the new Housing
Review website at
“http://www.msa.umich.edu”>www.msa.umich.edu. By posting
feedback on your current landlord and searching feedback on
one’s potential property owner, the loop of communication
will encourage rental from only the most attentive landlords.

Next, take advantage of the resources currently in place.
Student Legal Services offers free legal counseling for everything
from abusive contracts to mold, and is conveniently located on the
second floor of the Union. MSA is also proud to announce its plan
to work with SLS Director Doug Lewis to increase the staff to
include a dedicated housing attorney. Such a program derives from a
’70s initiative that influenced local housing legislation.
Expect further updates in upcoming weeks on how to encourage this
change.

Lastly, MSA is going to unveil a “housing hotline”
that will be staffed during normal business hours and will help
students unlock the abundant resources recently available. This
housing hotline will also help students file complaints with the
city and will record statistics on specific landlords that will be
featured on the website. This pilot should hopefully be available
at the beginning of next semester.

The overriding theme is that the tools for successful
landlord/tenant relationships are snowballing — increased
through the efforts of MSA and various members of the
administrative community. Coalitions of residents, students and
landlords are working through the multi-stakeholder “Campus
Neighbors” group to develop programming and resources for all
the residents of Ann Arbor. Furthermore, this means that students
need to make an effort to integrate into their communities,
specifically if there is a large percentage of nonstudents. Knock
on your neighbors’ doors and introduce yourself, offer to
rake the leaves or mow the lawn (if you’re ambitious). At the
very least, please be respectful of the needs of your
neighborhood.

MSA shares the excitement about the new residence hall replacing
the decrepit Frieze Building, and applauds the University for the
preservation of the Carnegie Library. Gradually, it seems, the
University is recognizing the need for cheap, effective and quality
student housing both on and off campus.

Have a question or suggestion? Want to be a member of the newly
formed Student Legal Services Oversight Committee? Want to get
involved? E-mail
“mailto:msa.housing@umich.edu”>msa.housing@umich.edu.

MSA: We’ve got you covered. Check out our meetings at 7:30
p.m. on Tuesdays on the third floor of the Union.

 

Mironov is a Business School senior and president of the
Michigan Student Assembly.

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