Beal announces Thompson Block tenant for Depot Town

September 27, 2007 by  
Filed under News

Click picture to view photo albumBeal unveils plans for the beleaguered Thompson block in Depot Town

(September 27, 2007) Stewart Beal announced yesterday that he had signed a long term anchor tenant for the Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. The new tenant is Broughton Music owned by Laurie Jarski, a cellist, guitarist and composer, who currently has stores in Northville and Kalamazoo.

Jarski signed a 10 year lease with two 10 year options taking the corner spot and 25% of the first floor space. “This is a great vote of confidence for the Thompson Block redevelopment project, the Depot Town area, and the entire City of Ypsilanti,” said Stewart W. Beal. “We are optimistic we will secure the remaining tenants we need to get the construction started soon.”

Beal also unveiled drawings for the long anticipated project. The plan calls for 16 loft apartments on the upper two floors. The third floor units will have walk out porches on the back (East) side. Beal announced in August 2007 that he expected to have the loft apartments ready for move in by September 2008. Prices for the loft apartments range from $700 to $1,200 with most around $1,000 a month.

Beal said in August that he had about 60% of the first floor with signed leases and needed one more tenant before he can proceed with bank financing.

Editors note: Broughton Music’s website is currently not working. Broughtons’s web hosting provider, Website Pros, Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida has redirected the page to an ad-generated website and is offering the domain name for sale.

Ypsilanti Housing Commission fails city rental inspections

September 21, 2007 by  
Filed under News

(September 21, 2007) Despite repeated assurances from the Ypsilanti Housing Commission that their properties are safe and comply with all federal and local laws, a recent report from the City of Ypsilanti paints a very different picture. According to the City of Ypsilanti, 70% of Housing Commission properties have failed the city inspection required for all rentals units in Ypsilanti.

Click picture to view photo album
Over 70% of Ypsilanti Housing Commission Properties have failed City inspections and do not have certificates of compliance from Building Department.

In the report sent to City Council last week, 89 of the 125 units failed not one, but two inspections this year with substantial issues still needing to be repaired. Six more units failed their first inspection and are scheduled for a second inspection this fall. In addition, 30 more units at Paradise Manor on Michigan Avenue have failed inspections and are not scheduled for re-inspection until site work is completed including fixing drainage and grading problems, fixing steps, and installing new sidewalks.

The Ypsilanti Housing Commission has said they do not have the money needed to fix the problems at Paradise Manor and are looking to the County, State, Federal government, private donors, and foundations for grants to raise the money to effect repairs. Meanwhile over 30 families continue to live at Paradise Manor in almost squalid conditions. (See Photo Album of YHC properties)

The Ypsilanti Housing Commission (YHC) has 179 units subject to city rental housing inspection program. Of the 179 units, only 38 have current Certificates of Compliance (COC) issued by the City of Ypsilanti. Another 16 units have Certificates with stipulations for repairs such as paint or posts needed at dumpsters.

That means a total of 125 units do not currently have Certificates of Compliance. Ninety-five of the 125 have been scheduled for a re-inspection by the city this fall. The city charges $35 for each re-inspection. With 89 units now needing a third inspection this year and 6 others requiring a second inspection, it has cost the Housing Commission an additional $6,440 in re-inspection fees just this year after already paying for and then failing the initial inspections.

City ordinance prevents landlords from renting a unit that does not have a valid certificate. While the city has said they would not kick out existing tenants except for serious health and safety code violations, the city ordinance prevents any new tenants from moving into units that do not have current certificates of compliance. Yet the Housing Commission continues to place new tenants in units that have repeatedly failed city inspections, a clear violation of the City Rental Housing ordinance.

The City has identified hundreds of items needing repair before Certificates can be issued. They include: no permits for newly installed water heater, electrical panels unlabeled, missing or damaged interior doors, missing screen door handles, carpets and stairs that are trip hazards, painted GFI outlet, missing or broken downspouts and gutters, excessive lint and dirt in vents and furnaces, missing window screens, damaged walls and paint both interior and exterior, missing or damaged exterior trim, missing or damaged exterior siding, floor covering missing or damaged, leaky toilets and sinks, caulking needed around tubs and sinks, and much more.

Paradise Manor fire, February 2007 (Photo Courtesy Detroit News)

In February 2007, a fire consumed 5 units at YHC’s Paradise Manor on Michigan Avenue. Three children were killed in the fire and four families were displaced. None of the units in the fire had current certificates of compliances. Six months later, the burned out shell of the building remains, a daily reminder to the residents of the tragedy and deaths from last February’s fire.

The Housing Commission has been battling with city staff and attorney’s for years over the rental inspection program and bringing their units into compliance. The Housing Commission even retained outside legal council last year, spending thousands of dollars, to respond to demand letters from the City to bring YHC properties up to code and into compliance. The Housing Commission board of directors, appointed by the Mayor of Ypsilanti, have held numerous closed session meetings with the Housing Commission Director, staff, and attorney’s to discuss possible legal strategies to fight the city.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber, who sat on the Ypsilanti Housing Commission board for 10 years and was YHC board chair for over two years before becoming mayor, has repeatedly refused to comment on this matter referring all questions to the Housing Commission director.

Walter Norris, Jr., Director Ypsilanti Housing Commission

Walter Norris, Director of the Ypsilanti Housing Commission, was at Ypsilanti City Council in August asking for city inspections to be waived by the Council. Norris argued that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development already inspects the units and the double inspection is wasting money that could be better spent on maintenance of the units.

We called Norris on Wednesday at his office for comment on this story. YHC staff said he is out of the office until Monday. Norris has previously declined to comment on the ongoing inspections of YHC property by the city saying it was a legal matter.

HUD, as part of their Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC), performs annual inspections of fixed unit public housing using outside contractors. According to REAC, HUD has nearly 4 million families living in subsidized housing units nationwide and inspects about 20,000 units annually. Norris said in public testimony that REAC inspects all Ypsilanti Housing Commission properties every year and due to passing grades for past inspections, YHC is now on a two-year cycle for REAC inspections.

The City of Ypsilanti Building Department inspects all rental units in the city every two years. After initial certification, the rental re-inspection fee is $38 which is also good for two years. The Housing Commission was grandfathered into the inspection program and according to City officials never had to pay the initial inspection fee of $44 per unit.

The total cost to the Housing Commission for 185 certificates is $7,030 or $3,515 per year. Norris said during his testimony in August that the Housing Commission will spend over $17,000 this year in inspection fees with the city. Norris later admitted that the majority of that money was for re-inspections by the city after failing the bi-annual inspections.

If Norris’ figures of $17,000 are correct, it would mean the City conducted over 500 re-inspections of the 185 Housing Commission units. Charles Boulard, Building Inspector and Department manager at the City of Ypsilanti, was not able confirm the total number of re-inspections but said he thought $17,000 figure seemed high.

Eric Temple, Ypsilanti Housing Commission

Norris and YHC staff member Eric Temple told the City Council in August that YHC properties including Paradise Manor were “substantially” in compliance with both federal and state statutes.

Residents have shown YpsiNews numerous health and safety problems at Paradise Manor and other Housing Commission properties, but only on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation or eviction by housing commission staff.

Since October 2006, YpsiNews has documented numerous problems at Housing Commission properties. We have seen windows with broken handles that will not open, including windows in bedrooms that cannot be opened from the inside. Screens are also missing from windows and residents have shown us documentation requesting new screens going back three years. The City rental ordinance requires all windows to have working screens. Since most of the units do not have air conditioning, without screens, it is impossible to cool an apartment without letting bugs in.

Flooding also continues to be a problem at Paradise Manor with basements that routinely flood each time it rains. Some sidewalks at Paradise Manor are impassible when it rains and mud is a chronic problem. Numerous gutters and downspouts are broken, and in one unit the sump pump dumps water into a grassy area outside that has turned into a mosquito ridden green slimy swamp. When the sump pump problem was brought up in August 2007, Norris told the Housing Commission board that he had just instructed his staff to fix the sump pump plumbing so it drains further away from the building.

Graffiti and trash continue to be a problem and trees have not been trimmed and rub up against buildings damaging outside walls and roofs. At Paradise Manor, roof trusses have been stored on the site for over two years presenting a significant hazard to kids that play in the area. After YpsiNews asked about the trusses and other problems at Paradise Manor in August, the trusses were removed and a long standing broken gutter was finally repaired.

Under federal law, housing commissions must comply with all state and local housing codes and inspection programs. However, Norris says that HUD will not reimburse the Housing Commission for the City inspection fees.

HUD officials said that they will not allow federal housing subsidy money to be used to reimburse housing commissions for fees charged by local units of government for rental inspections. However, HUD officials confirmed that it is possible to pay for such rental inspection fees through other operational money given to the housing commission. HUD officials repeatedly stressed during interviews that housing commissions, in general, must comply with all state and local building codes and inspection programs, as long as those inspection programs apply to all housing in the area.

Lana Vacha (prounounced va-ha), Detroit Field Office Director for HUD, said the Ypsilanti Housing Commission and the City of Ypsilanti signed a “Cooperative Agreement” many years ago that would exempt the Housing Commission from the rental inspection fees. HUD recently wrote a letter to YHC regarding this issue, however we have not yet seen the cooperative agreement or the recent HUD letter. Vacha would not disclose the contents of the HUD letter to the YHC without a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request.

Long time Ypsilanti landlord Marvin Gerber has been a frequent critic of the Housing Commission and the City for not fairly enforcing the rental inspection program. Gerber owns 63 units in Ypsilanti and says the City and the Housing Commission should abide by the same rules that any other property owner in the city must follow including not renting units that have failed City inspections.

College Place street closing is dead

September 17, 2007 by  
Filed under News

EMU Pease Auditorium

EMU backs out of controversial plan

(September 17, 2007) Eastern Michigan University has notified the City of Ypsilanti that EMU is withdrawing support of the closing of College Place in front of Pease Auditorium. In a letter to the City of Ypsilanti, EMU told city officials they were deferring commitment to the project until EMU completes their own Campus Master Plan.

The closing of College Place was very controversial and had been opposed by business owners on Cross Street as well as residents of the both neighborhood associations bordering the planned project. It was also opposed by a number of EMU faculty as well as EMU student government.

City officials said that they were not surprised by Eastern pulling out of the project and said that other street scape improvements on Cross Street would continue. One project still moving forward is the new ‘historic’ street lights along Cross Street which are expected to cost nearly $100,000 in taxpayer money.

Brian Vosburg, DDA Director, said there were a number of other projects planned for the area. In the Depot Town district new stamped and stained concrete crosswalks are to be installed, planters are to be removed and replaced with rain gardens, and a pedestrian gate at the railroad crossing is to be installed. Vosburg said along west Cross Street from Depot Town to EMU, new crosswalks with stamped and stained concrete are to be installed as well as new parking lane bump-outs.

$50 parking tickets anger local residents

September 10, 2007 by  
Filed under News

City of Ypsilanti issues $50 parking tickets to local residents.

(September 10, 2007) Welcome to Ypsilanti, have you met our parking officers recently? In the past two weeks, many residents and returning students have and they are not too happy about it. There is a steady stream of people at city hall each day that have run afoul of Ypsilanti’s onerous parking regulations.

Neighborhoods close to Eastern Michigan University have restricted permit only parking on city streets. Offenders have to pay a $50 parking ticket if caught without the correct permit. The program, put in place two years ago, was championed by both City Council members from Ward 2, Bill Nickels (Dem) and John Gawlas (Dem). However, most of the tickets are being handed out in Ward 1 and Ward 3.

In the past, Ypsilanti City Police had put warnings on vehicles during the first two weeks of school to remind residents about the parking regulations and to give new residents time to go to city hall and get a permit. However, this year, there were no warnings, the tickets were just written.

The $50 ticket is one of the steepest parking fines in the state. Once a resident gets a ticket, they can’t get a permit until their ticket is paid. Yet, it can take up to two weeks for the payment to process through the city’s contractor so residents can’t get a permit immediately, further frustrating residents.

Local residents and homeowners are also angry as the City did not send out notices to current permit holders reminding them to get a new permit. In the past, the city had sent out notices reminding current permit holders to renew their permit in August. During the public hearings on the permit plan, city officials had promised residents that there would be no renewal fees and reminders would be sent and notices put on windshields. In past years, the city also posted notices on the city’s website and sent word out through neighborhood associations. The city did none of these things this year.

There is no charge for a neighborhood parking permit renewal, however residents must come in person to city hall to pick up the permit. One homeowner, William Allen on North Adams, wrote a scathing letter to the City, Mayor and Council, calling the $50 ticket his “permit renewal notification”.