Ann Arbor News Quotes Opinions Rather Than Facts

Dear Khalil Hachem, Ann Arbor News

What you wrote in your article about Ozone House and supportive housing was not true. (December 10, 2003) You wrote “the organization (Ozone House) did not propose a change in the usage”, as if that was a fact. It wasn’t. It was the opinion of Ozone House staff and their attorney that there was no change in use. You should have quoted that statement as coming from Ozone House and that it was their opinion. And please, don’t blame the copy editors for goofing this up. That dog won’t hunt.

Someone should have checked the facts before the story was published. Because you stated this as a fact, it gives the impression the city is trying to get Ozone House by just willy nilly deciding who can locate downtown.

Far from it, it was city officials and local citizens that suggested other locations that would be better for this use. But Ozone House wanted to force a incompatible use in the downtown and then attacked the mayor and others for standing up for their community.

Local citizens felt that locating in a R-2 or R-3 would be a better location and even suggested locations that were currently available for purchase or rent by Ozone House. Several of these were even less cost then purchasing the downtown property and then rehabbing it.

Instead Ozone House wanted to have two apartments for homeless disabled youth ages 18-20 that Ozone House characterized as having serious and significant mental, drug and or alcohol problems. Youth that have never lived on their own except out on the street. Instead of locating these youth in a safe residential neighborhood, Ozone House wanted to locate them in a busy downtown, one block away from liquor stores, numerous bars and night clubs, a strip club, and in the middle of many other distractions such as negative influence peers, drug abuse, alcohol, crime and prostitution.

All things that these kids are trying to escape from. Ozone House wanted to put them right in the middle of it. That just doesn’t make sense.

Worse, Ozone House would provide no on-site support for these kids after 6pm Friday night and Ozone House staff would be gone until 4pm the next Monday afternoon. Oh sure, staff would be on call, if the police had a problem, they were to call the hotline in Ann Arbor. So now we have left the babysitting to the police.

There would be no assistance, guidance, or monitoring of the behavior of people that have never lived in an apartment before for almost three days. Ozone House also did not want to agree to implement one-strike and your are out policies like we do for other public housing. Ozone House did not want to require no drug or alcohol possession by these minors in the units. In fact the proposed Lease Agreement from Ozone House attorney’s violated a number of city and state laws for housing agreements.

Ozone House has never run this type of housing before, they have never been a landlord, and they also have never rehabbed an old building for residential living in a historic district. Ozone House is extremely frustrated with the city over zoning. Yet they are purchasing a building right in the heart of the historic district. Citizens tried to tell Ozone House that you don’t want to take on rehabbing a historic building in a Nationally Registered Historic District. Ozone House staff and director were told that the guidelines, hurdles, and costs are significantly higher then locating outside the historic district. But Ozone House didn’t want to listen, they just kept bulldozing forward trying to run over anyone that stood in their way, including folks that were trying to help them.

How can what Ozone House is proposing be considered safe housing in a downtown business district? It isn’t.

Knowledgeable professionals at HUD, the County and other homeless youth support agencies across the country all will tell you, that given a choice, it is better to locate supportive housing in a neighborhood rather then in a downtown business district, if that option is a available. That option was available to Ozone House, yet Ozone House decided to not take it and instead attacked the city, the community and then when they couldn’t get their way, they launched a suit against the city. So Ozone House is using public funds and donated private money from places like the United Way to sue the city that is already in tough financial times. How is that a good use of anyone’s money?

Ozone House claimed they didn’t have the money to locate in a residential neighborhood, but they have the money to sue the city.

If you asked Ozone House if they tried to locate housing elsewhere in the city, they will tell you no. Citizens in the community even offered to help, for free, to review finances and budgets to see if there was a way that Ozone House could afford to locate in a neighborhood that would be safer for the people Ozone House says they are trying to help. Ozone House refused and instead went on the attack.

What is a fact is Ozone House applied for a special use permit and it was denied. What is a fact is that Ozone House failed to disclose the nature of the services they were going to provide and omitted the nature of their services in the application to the city, written correspondence to the city, and testimony before the city boards. Ozone House said that this proposed housing was just like every other apartment in the downtown. Ozone House said that they were going to spend $300,000 renovating this old building and fixing up the apartments.

In fact that is far from the truth. If you look at the HUD grant application, less then $100,000 of the total over $1/2 million dollars proposed to be spent on this project was going towards renovating the property. Just 10% of the $360,000 HUD grant would go to rehabilitation of the building. The rest of the money, almost $400,000 was going to pay for supportive services for Ozone House Staff and programs. You can’t fix the façade on the building for $39,000 much less rehab the entire building including two apartments. I know, I used to own the old Kresge building. I know what sort of quotes I was getting for roof, façade, windows, and things like boilers, plumbing, and updated electrics.

This entire grant is almost 25% of Ozone House’s annual budget. So this grant money is a major portion of Ozone House’s budget for the next several years. Yet, much of this grant money was not even going to be spent in Ypsilanti.

What Ozone House was proposing was a three (3) year, $513,000 project to house two people. How come no one wrote anything about that? Do the math, that is over $7,100 a month for each person living in each apartment. That is $237 per night. You can put them up at the Campus Inn in one of their most expensive rooms for less than $200 a night and they can have maid service and clean sheets and towels every day. And you still save over $80,000 to spend on other projects.

Ozone House says these apartments are just like any other apartment downtown. Besides the fact that I don’t know of an apartment in downtown Ypsilanti that are $7,000 a month, I don’t know of any other landlord in the downtown that provides this type of social services for their tenants that Ozone House is proposing or that has the restrictions on tenancy that Ozone House is requiring. So it isn’t fair to say that this is just like any other housing in the downtown and that no change in use was proposed by the applicant. The facts don’t bear that out.

All you had to do was look at the HUD grant application and the County application to understand what Ozone House told city officials and the ZBA and the Planning Commission was very different from what they told HUD and the County.

It was the opinion of the ZBA, Planning Commission, Ozone House neighbors, City officials and others in the community that this was a change of use. Ozone House disagrees and they are suing. You should have said in your article that it was opinion not fact about the change of use.

The current use is unrestricted commercial rental housing which requires the current owner to abide by the Fair Housing Act, City Ordinances and the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Ozone House proposed use was to restrict the housing to young adults, 18-21 that are homeless with significant disabilities, as defined by HUD and Ozone House in the grant application.

The proposed housing is restrictive by its nature and criteria for tenancy. It may also be in violation of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, an ordinance that some Ozone House past and present staff members and board members supported and fought to get approved several years ago. Khalil, could not rent one of those apartments from Ozone House, but if the current landlord put up a rent sign, they could not deny you based on your age, ethnicity, or occupation.

So the proposed use is clearly different from the existing. And there are many other differences as well. Now Ozone House is saying that the Non-Discrimination ordinance should not apply to them. You can’t have it both ways and demand that other landlords must abide by the non-discrimination ordinance and then have Ozone House acting as ‘just another landlord’, their words not mine, and yet they are exempt from the non-discrimination ordinance.

Ozone House argues that they shouldn’t be held to the same rules as everyone else. That because they are a social service agency, the city ordinances including a ordinance that says you will not discriminate based on age, should apply to Ozone House. Ozone House claims that a master plan that says that social service agencies should not be located in a downtown district should not apply to them. Ozone House argues that a use not defined in the zoning plan which requires a special use permit should not apply to them.

In fact, in their testimony by Ozone House’s attorney they argued that if the city granted an exemption to Ozone House, the city would in no way give up the right to regulate other applicants that also wanted to locate supportive housing in the downtown district at a later date. The zoning ordinance is quite clear on this. If the city allowed Ozone House to locate downtown, every other social service agency would then argue that their proposed use is no different from Ozone House and that they should be permitted downtown as well.

The problem I have with your story is your are confusing facts with opinion. Ozone House gave you their opinion on their definition of the use. It is fair to report that opinion as it makes the story meaningful. But you should have stated that it was their opinion and that the ZBA and Planning Commission disagreed with their opinion and the ZBA and Planning Commission felt the proposed use was different.

The story was not fair and balanced and it did not cover both sides of the issue as it should.

If you write about this story again, I hope you will take the time to get the minutes and review the testimony both written and oral from both the ZBA and Planning Commission from all meetings. I also encourage you to get complete copies of grant applications and other documents that Ozone House submitted to HUD and the County. And get them from HUD, not Ozone House. The copies Ozone House provided the city had been redacted and were missing key pages that to this day they will not provide. Then talk to folks like the owners of the Restaurant and Dry Cleaners next to Ozone House on Huron. That way you will get a broader view then just Ozone Houses on this issue.

All I ask of any reporter is to report on the facts, be fair, and get the facts right. Unquoted opinions give the reader the impression that an item is a fact. If someone gives you an opinion, then you should make it clear to the reader that it is an opinion and then quote the source.

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