A group of students living in Ann Arbor’s Fifth Ward has banded together to address community concerns for student renters, landlords and other tenants in an area not known for student involvement.
The New West Side Association, formed last month by Rackham student Dale Winling and a handful of other students, operates primarily through the community, with limited interaction planned with the University or the Michigan Student Assembly.
The association plans to help students and renters organize and develop a voice in local issues by giving their issues attention through blogs and meetings. The New West Side currently consists of a small number of students and renters, but the organizers plan to expand and become a registered association in the city.
“The mission of the New West Side Association is to provide a forum for communication among students and renters,” Winling said.
After the proposed couch ban that the Old Forth Ward Association brought to the Ann Arbor city council last summer, many students began discussions on blogs and other websites to counter the idea that house fires are related to the couches many students and renters keep on their porches. Because homeowners in the ward have been organized, they have been able to promote their agenda in the community. But since students and renters have in the past been highly disorganized, they have normally only associated with one another through school programs, not through neighborhood associations — giving them limited capacity to voice their concerns for the neighborhood itself.
Christine Crockett, chairperson of the Old Fourth Ward Association said she was happy to see student involvement in residential politics.
“It sounds like this organization is aimed at good living accommodations, and I think that’s a positive thing — I love it when I see young people getting involved. I think it’s positive whenever people educate themselves, get involved, get interested and try to make the world a better place to live in,” Crockett said.
The New West Side is also working toward legalization of accessory dwelling units, sometimes called “granny flats.” The association said these add-ons could be rented out, creating affordable means of living and a source of extra revenue for the homeowner.
Crockett said the New West Side would have to work hard to get the units approved in single-family neighborhoods.
“This issue came up in relation to the neighborhoods that are essentially single-family neighborhoods and it was defeated. I think it would be a real selling job in the neighborhood with single-family housing,” Crockett said, adding that the units have not been an issue in family neighborhoods.
In the long term, the New West Side would like to see a public transit system developed in Ann Arbor to create density and help increase the potential quality of life.
Students and renters are able to communicate using blogs created and utilized by many of the participants of the West Side, including arborupdate.com and goodspeedupdate.com, as a tool to get informed about local issues and get their opinions heard by other students, renters and leaders of the community.
“These tools in no way replace seeing our neighbors on a regular basis. They serve to augment and improve these relationships,” Winling said.
West Side’s first call to action is its endorsement of a counter-proposal to a bill introduced by Rep. Chris Ward (R-Brighton) to the Michigan House that could potentially limit the ability of cities to have house inspections. Ward’s bill would change the Ann Arbor’s current inspection policy, which mandates inspections every two years, to a minimum of one inspection every five years and a maximum of one every three years.
“This merely loosens protection on the poor,” said Dan Faichney, LSA senior, and West Side member. Representatives from West Side said if Ward’s proposal passed, it could decrease the frequency of follow-up inspections to make sure houses are up to code, causing houses to remain dilapidated for much longer than they would under current limitations.
Winling said when he moved to Ann Arbor he learned to act on important issues himself, rather than wait for someone else to get an initiative rolling. Winling has sought outlets for promoting this idea by reaching out to the Ann Arbor community.
“One major goal of the association is to get students registered to vote in Ann
Arbor,” he said.
By getting students registered to vote, introducing and promoting blogs, organizing more local and neighborhood events, Winling said he hopes West Side will become “a catalyst in local issues instead of a reactor to the outcome of those issues.”
Winling said that since students make up one-third of Ann Arbor’s population, their attendance and participation at the polls in local elections and issues can have a significant impact on the results. Because of this, Winling said he wants the views of renters and owners to be promoted equally.