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Senior Citizens At Ypsilanti Apartment Complex Say They're Being Forced Out

Senior citizens who live at the Cross Street Village apartments in Ypsilanti, the former site of Ypsilanti High School, are concerned they may have to leave their homes.  A regulatory rent control agreement that has provided affordable housing for them is expected to expire on August 31st.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan has been following this story and brings us this special feature.  

The YpsilantiSchool District sold the property to American Community Developersin 1997 who agreed to offer affordable housing to seniors citizens for 99 years as part of a tax incentive deal.  That agreement was made with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, also known as MSHDA, and not with the City of Ypsilanti.  As part of the deal, after fifteen years, the developer is allowed to re-finance with MSHDA or opt out and put the property up for sale.  If it does not sell in one year they could start charging market value for their units but no longer receive a tax credit.  

"Residents there are use to paying extremely affordable rents.  Well below what max tax credit are for their qualifications.  Well below," says Blake Hunter.

Hunter is vice president of Independent Management Services, the company that manages Cross Street Village.  He says the 104-unit complex is struggling.

"The operating costs are increasing and the capital needs are also increasing.  And the property does not generate enough revenue to support what's needed," Hunter says.

71 year-old Lewis Riggs has lived there for four years.  His rent recently went up from $750 to $830 and was told it could increase even more after signing his lease.  Riggs fears he may have to move out of his one bedroom apartment.

"I have looked at probably two-hundred places, internet, in person, calling, they either have a year waiting list, four year waiting list, they have a waiting list, they have a closed waiting list.  Their apartments are much smaller than what we've got so you have to get rid of things.  There's a lot of worries for us old people," Riggs says.

Chris Finney's 95 year-old mother has called Cross Street Village home for over five years.  He hasn't told her about what's going on because he says she would be devastated.

"My mother lives on $1,400 a month social security.  Her rent is now $855 so you can see there is not a lot left over for medical expenses, groceries and other living things," Finney says.

The property's management company has informed tenants they will have a grace period if the complex is no longer considered affordable housing.  

Blake Hunter explains:

"The current residents that live there are protected by a three year tenant protection period which kind of is an extenuating circumstance of the MSHDA tax credit program.  So these residents, there rent will not be increased above the max allowable tax credit rent for their unit and income type," Hunter says.

But tenants say another problem is that they're not being informed just how much their rent could increase during those three years.  And they don't like the idea that the rate could be influenced by Washtenaw County's Area Median Income which is over $65,000.  

Beth Ernat is the Director of Economic Development for the City of Ypsilanti.  She explains why rent at the complex has increased even before the affordable housing agreement expires.  

"Vouchers are issued at either 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent AMI.  The developer was choosing to accept a 20 percent which is the lower number, when the property became for sale, he started to change the rents and was able to collect up to the 40 percent which resulted in significant increased for the residents.  Do we know about how much increase for residents?  I've heard as high as $120 a month.  Reporter asking questions: But this is all legal right?  They're not doing anything illegal right?  They are not at this time," Ernat says.

Tenants have reached out to Washtenaw County officials for help.  That includes State Representative Ronnie Peterson from Ypsilanti's 54th District.  Peterson hosted a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti to address the issue and invited MSHDA, but they did not attend.  Some of the residents wanted the meeting off-site because they said they felt intimidated when they held a meeting at the apartment complex to discuss the situation.   Mike Witt is the Asset Management Director for MSHDA.

"The meeting was off-site which was difficult for seniors and less abled tenants to attend.  The owner and his reps were not invited to the meeting, so MSHDA didn't believe that this would lead to a very constructive discussion," Witt says

More than 30 of the seniors who live at the complex did attend the meeting.  State Representative Peterson informed those in attendance about a conversation he had with a representative from the MSHDA.  

"They basically said, well, you're taking them off campus, this is our dialogue on the phone, well when did they become students of a university?  They have the right to go any where they want to go and this is what they chose as a venue close to the Cross Street Village," Peterrson says.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority encourages tenants to contact them if they need help addressing their rent situation.  Meanwhile, State Representative Peterson plans to ask Governor Rick Snyder to intervene to get answers for the seniors.Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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