Council to consider tax break for developer Tues. Nov. 19
“This is nothing but white supremacy to the max”—community activist
By Terrence Ellis
November 18, 2013
DETROIT – Are wealthy out-of-town developers, in collusion with HUD and non-profit housing placement agencies for the poor, using federal tax dollars to displace largely Black senior and disabled tenants in downtown Detroit in favor of a young, upwardly mobile mainly white population?
The Detroit City Council will vote Nov. 19 on a “Commercial Rehabilitation [tax] Exemption Certificate, on behalf of 1214 Griswold Apartments, LLC.” during its regular full meeting. The LLC recently purchased the historic 127-unit, 12-story building, designed by famed architect Albert Kahn and located on Capitol Park. The Birmingham-based Broder & Sachse real estate firm, which is described as a “property management” company on its website, formed the LLC.
The developers told the current tenants they will have to leave by March 31, 2014 after the building’s Section 8 subsidy expires. Sachse Construction has done renovation on downtown co-czar Dan Gilbert’s newly-acquired buildings, but Paula Silver, a spokesperson for Gilbert, said he is does not own or have any plans to own the Griswold building.
The developers plan to re-do the building into upscale apartments with a minimum monthly rent of $1,123.
“There’s all this hubbub about a ‘new Detroit,'” said Griswold resident Recardo Berrien, 58, in a May 3, 2013 article by Bill McGraw of Deadline Detroit. “I was born and raised in Detroit. For us not to be part of this ‘new Detroit’ is absurd. We don’t see ‘us’ in none of this. No elderly and poor. We are nowhere in the plans of anyone down here.”
McGraw noted in his article that the residents had a May 15 meeting scheduled with the non-profit United Community Housing Coalition “to explore their options.”
Griswold Apartments has long housed low-income seniors and disabled individuals, under Section 8 provisions allowing them to pay 30 percent of their income in rent. It has also been one of the few buildings in Detroit that accepted individuals with no income.
The building is in walking distance of many new amenities provided for downtown residents as the area gentrifies, including free jazz concerts at Campus Martius Park, Hart Plaza events, the Winter Fest, and new restaurant and retail start-ups.
At a Nov. 14 meeting of the Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting, a representative of 1214 Griswold, LLC sat side by side at the Council table with Ted Phillips, Executive Director of UCHC, and Marilyn Mullane, executive director of the non-profit Michigan Legal Services (MLS).
They jointly touted a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) reached between the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) and the developers, in which NSO said it is collaborating with UCHC on re-location of the current tenants. NSO did not have a representative at the meeting. Click on 1214 Griswold MOU 2 to read full MOU.
The MOU provides for only five current residents to remain on extended Section 8 vouchers, with only one year guaranteed. HUD would make up what the five residents cannot pay of the minimum rental cost in “extended” vouchers.
“The NSO memo has been signed,” Phillips told the Council. “We have met with residents who want to relocate, which is the majority. They are supportive of the relocation benefits. We’ve talked with NSO and will work cooperatively with them. Nothing limits any legal rights residents may have beyond what’s here.”
He added there is some dissatisfaction among the residents regarding the fact that only five are being allowed to remain.
Mullane said there are “more than 5” residents who would like to stay and suggested devoting an entire floor to Section 8 residents, a proposal the developer said was unacceptable.
Council members James Tate and JoAnn Watson expressed concern that the deal will lead to further “hemorrhaging” of residents from Detroit and ended up moving the proposal out of committee without a recommendation. Phillips said he has a list of about 100 currently available Detroit Housing Commission units which he hopes the residents “will find acceptable” so they can stay in Detroit.
UCHC recently received a HUD Tenant Resource Network grant of $480,000, in which MLS, the Michigan Poverty Law Center, and the University of Michigan are included as partners. That grant is funding the non-profits’ participation in the 1214 Griswold project.
“The Tenant Resource Network is designed to help working families who are at greatest risk of being priced out of their rental market,” HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Housing Carol Galante said in a release. “The whole purpose of this program is to empower families living in HUD-assisted housing, giving them the information and options they need to stay in their homes.” Click on HUD AWARDS 5 MILLION THROUGH NEW TENANT RESOURCE NETWORK for full release.
An email was sent to a representative of HUD regarding the project, but had not been answered by press time.
Joyce Moore, a former Charter Commissioner and long-time community activist, who is herself a senior, said, “I absolutely believe this is nothing but white supremacy to the max. The mindset white people had during 400 years of slavery has not changed to this day.”
She added, “Are the non-profits using their title as a front and betraying their original mission? Is the tax money we provide to HUD being used against our own people?”
Cornell Squires of We the People for the People, a human and constitutional rights organization, joined in Moore’s objections.
“This is nothing but a smokescreen for the takeover of Detroit, where the poor people are supposed to lose everything,” Squires said. “It’s part of what Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder are doing, giving housing and every other necessity away to the corporations. All these non-profits are in cahoots, and the majority of them are run by Caucasians.”
The MOU signed by NSO provides for the developer to reimburse that non-profit for its expenses on “assessments” of the residents, housing searches and inspections, amounting to a total of 640 hours.
It says the owner will pay a total of $157,000 for NSO expenses, security deposits for residents in their new locations, moving costs, utility deposits, packing assistance, and replacement of furniture deemed not usable due to bedbug infestation.
The agreement appears to assume that many of the residents are not fully capable mentally, indicating they will be assessed for their ability to live independently, under the PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) Program.
PATH is described on Detroit Central City Community Mental Health’s website as “an outreach program which links homeless, mentally ill adults to on-going mental health services while securing short and long-term housing. The populations served by PATH does not avail him/herself of services in a traditional manner. These persons have usually experienced difficulty remaining in traditional mental health settings.”