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Tenant Victory

Rent raise rescinded.

by Eve Silberman

From the March, 2021 issue

Anxious residents of Courthouse Square are savoring victory since the new owners of the downtown senior high-rise walked back rent increases scheduled for March 1. In a letter slipped under tenants' doors on February 15, new managers KMG Prestige apologized "for the confusion the former notices have caused."

In late December, at least forty tenants on federal "Section 8" housing vouchers were told to sign lease amendments that increased the monthly rate for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,131. Tenants say current rents vary, but are in the $800 range. (Tami Bastien, the regional administrator for KMG, did not respond to the Observer's emailed requests for comment.)

Section 8 tenants pay 30 percent of their income toward their rent; the federal program covers the rest. KMG's letter said that only the "monthly assistance payment" would increase. But while some residents signed, others called Legal Services of South Central Michigan, where attorney Libby Benton assured them that their leases with previous owner Wickfield Properties remained valid. They also got help from Jennifer Hall of the Ann Arbor Housing Authority, which issued many of the vouchers.

Behind the scenes, Hall negotiated with both KMG and the building's new owner, Texas-based Redwood Housing. And a group of residents also began Zooming with the recently revived Ann Arbor Tenants Union.

Courthouse Square residents not on vouchers supported the activists--and many worry their turn is next. Under terms of the tax credits that financed the building's conversion--it was originally a hotel--residents can earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income, and many live entirely off Social Security. If rents increase significantly, says one, "I'll have to live with my brother in a trailer."

Some Section 8 tenants struggle with physical or mental limitations and "can't stand up for themselves," says one resident. Benton credits those who did for the reversal.     (end of article)

[Originally published in March, 2021.]


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