Lots 17 to 33, West Liberty Heights

800 South Maple Road


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Lots 17 to 33 were part of a package of lots sold to the City of Ann Arbor.  Benjamin Steinman sold Lots 17 to 33 and 43 to 55 to Alois and Margete Spring and Eugene Rathbone Dale and Edith Dale on January 21, 1957.  On June 17, 1968, Margarete (Margete) Spring (1540 Greenview) conveyed her undivided half interest in the property to Edith L. Dale (1801 Coronada) for $17,500 (signed by Malcom W. Dale, Administrator).  On the same date, the property was conveyed from Edith Dale to Holiday Holding Co. (3750 Washtenaw) for $45,000. On June 12, 1968, (earlier than the date above?) Holiday Holding Co., a registered Michigan partnership, 3750 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, sold the property to the City of Ann Arbor for $60,000.  Phil E. Spear of Ann Arbor Associates, Inc. was a real estate broker involved in the sale.  Lots 17 to 33 became the site of the Maple Meadows public housing apartments.

First, I would like to provide the historical background during which the construction of Maple Meadows and other public housing came about.  This was the time of the "hippie generation" and "flower power."  The Vietnam war was happening, and people were protesting against it.  Woodstock, the three-day music festival, took place in August, 1969.  The late 1950's and the 1960's were also important times in African American history.  On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African-American seamstress, was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man.  Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a bus boycott which lasted 381 days until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Alabama, was illegal.  In July 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin and empowered the federal government to enforce desegregation.  The Voting Rights Act which prohibited literacy tests, poll taxes and other tactics that had made it difficult for many African Americans to vote became law in 1965.  While Dr. King favored nonviolence in civil rights efforts, others did not.  The Black Panthers, founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, believed that confrontational methods were the only way that blacks could gain equality. In 1967, major race riots broke out in such cities as Newark and Detroit, spurred on by incidents of police brutality against blacks, along with frustration over high rates of poverty and unemployment in African-American communities.  It was on April 4, 1968, that Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  See the History Channel's website for much, much more.

It was during this time that the process that brought about the sale of Lots 17 to 33 and 43 to 55 began.  The Ann Arbor Housing Commission was established in 1965 and moved forward in 1967 with a plan for the construction of public housing.  This brought about the event that most changed the character of our subdivision--the development of the Maple Meadows public housing complex at 800 S. Maple Road. 

The original plan called for the construction of 142 units on seven sites and the acquisition of 58 apartment units.  Thirty-nine units were proposed for the Maple Meadows complex.  There was huge neighborhood opposition to the proposed plan.  The Ann Arbor Public Library has loose-leaf notebooks containing clippings from the Ann Arbor News, filed by year.  The following information was obtained from those books.

On January 11, 1968, 250 local residents filled the Abbot School gymnasium for two hours, at a meeting called mainly to oppose the Housing Commission's plans for building public housing.  The group holding this meeting was the Fifth Ward Association for Permanent Progress (FWAPP), headed by J. Dale Boyd.    FWAPP was most concerned with the three largest sites, on which the commission was considering construction of 39 public housing unts.  They were:  4.5 acres at the northwest corner of Maple and Dexter Roads., six acres at the southwest corner of S. Maple and W. Liberty, and four acres near W. Liberty and W. Stadium, between Vinewood and Thaler.

The chief reason given by speakers at the meeting for opposing the three proposed sites was fear of their impact on Abbot School.  Racial issues were not mentioned in the article, but it did quote Mr. Boyd as follows:  "Boyd noted that the three largest proposed sites have been strongly opposed by Albert H. Wheeler, state chairman of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)."

A "positive alternative" to the Housing Commission's proposals was  favored by FWAPP-- the same as that recommended by  First Ward Councilman H. C. Curry and Wheeler--to develop low-income housing for "scattered sites."  The ideal "scattered site" method would be to provide a single family house to each family who applied.

On January 16, 1968, the Ann Arbor News reported that the City Council had set the date for the first public hearing on the public housing site issue, and that they expected the Council Chamber to be packed to overflowing. 

The weekend before the January 22, 1968, meeting, FWAPP distributed nearly 3,000 one-page pieces of literature objecting to locations of the four west side construction sites proposed by the Housing Commission.  Some of these were distributed door-to-door in the Fifth Ward that Sunday evening by children.  Two hundred also went to homes in the Fourth Ward, location of one of the proposed sites (Maple Meadows was in the Fourth Ward at that time), and several were given to merchants along Maple Rd.  The fliers urged west side residents to speak at the hearing, and also stated that FWAPP had written to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission "to inquire about method of filing complaint in belief that proposed plan will lead to segregation," and that a formal complaint "may follow."

"Public Housing Plan Rapped at Hearing, Position of Council Appears Unaltered," was the headline for the article that appeared in the Ann Arbor News on January 23, 1968, the day after the hearing.

The article stated, "An audience estimated at more than 400 persons -- one of the largest ever to attend a public hearing here -- turned out last night to let the council know they oppose the program as presented by the Housing Commission."  Only three people voiced unqualified support for the program; five others voiced general support, but favored further scattering of the sites.  Most of the residents who opposed the plan said they supported public housing, but not the concentration of 117 units within a one-half mile radius on the west side. 

Dr. Albert H. Wheeler, state president of the NAACP and chairman of the county poverty program committee, said he was concerned about the high concentration on the west side.   "Admitting that he found himself 'in strange company,' Wheeler said such a concentration would carry certain penalties and a certain social stigma for the low-income housing residents.  'You're proposing a 40-year ghetto in another part of town,' he charged." 

The article said that "the 'ghetto' theme was hit hard by speakers .  . ., as well as the claim that the present program smacks of discrimination and segregation." And also, "During the evening, both conservatives and liberals termed the proposed program so poor that no housing at all would be a better alternative." 

In the end, the hearing did "little if anything to persuade those favoring the present proposal that their stance should be changed."

On January 24, 1968, the Ann Arbor News reported that State Representative Thomas G. Sharpe (R-Howell) had written the Civil Rights Commission "that the proposed plan of locating 142 units on seven sites, 'will not only perpetuate but actually intensify racially segregated housing patterns.' "  Representative Sharp was quoted as saying, "The segregation resulting from this type of public housing tends to be double segregation, both economic and racial." 

At the January 29, 1968, City Council meeting,  the Ann Arbor News reported "Some 110 persons braved cold and rainy weather . . . to picket for 45 minutes outside City Hall in opposition to the present [housing commission] recommended program.  Picket lines were formed by a group calling itself 'Fair Play for People.' " 

The NAACP distributed a statement to councilmen at this meeting which said, "It has continually urged the commission to develop a truly scattered site plan of no more than 20 families per site." and,  "The NAACP is convinced that some individuals and organizations are working under cover to prevent the development of any housing for low-income families both for greedy economic purposes and also to preserve that character of Ann Arbor which limits and isolates the Negro residents."  and also, "We warn that undue delays and timid local official action will provide bigots with opportunities to scuttle the entire program." 

A February 2, 1968, article, "Housing Unit Likes 'Turnkey' Funding, Site Plan Change also Indicated," stated that 24 units were planed for the Maple Meadows site, down from the original 39. 

The second public hearing on the public housing issue was held on February 13, 1968.  The Ann Arbor News headline for that meeting stated, "Low-Income Housing Vocal Opposition Dwindles."  About 300 people were in the audience for this meeting "most of whom just listened and offered occasional applause."  The majority of people who spoke were in favor of the revised proposal--constuction of 135 units on nine sites, with no more than 24 units on any site.  Dr. Albert H. Wheeler of the NAACP said that the revised proposal was "remarkable progress," but that "much more could be done."

On March 12, 1968, Ann Arbor housing officials, Mrs. Joseph D. Mhoon, Lyndon Welch, Joseph W. Edwards, Guy C. Larcom, Jr., and Raymond D. Martin, met with the federal Housing Assistance Administration (HAA) in Chicago.  At this meeting, HAA imposed a cost limit of "approximately $3.5 million" for the 200 proposed Ann Arbor public housing units."  Mr. Welch and Mr. Edwards were quoted in a March 14, 1968, Ann Arbor News article, "HAA officials 'jumped on us for our low densities . . .There's nothing they'd like better than for us to squeeze all 200 on the sites we have."  Mr. Welch, however, believed that he and Mr. Martin were "successful in persuading the HAA officials that Ann Arbor should receive federal help in 'shooting for public housing indistinguishable from the neighborhoods they're in.' "

"Public Housing Moves Ahead" was the headline for a May 1, 1968, Ann Arbor News article reporting that the Housing Commission had "received and approved a proposal from Sharp Construction Co., of Flint to build 135 public housing units on nine sites, and to rehabilitate 52 units in three existing apartment buildings, for a total of $3,442,543.53."  ($2,762,658 specifically for the 135 units on nine sites)

On May 9, 1968, "Housing Start Seen in June," was the headline for an Ann Arbor News article reporting the results of two days of negotiations between Mrs. Joseph D. Mhoon, Lyndon Welch, and HAA officials in Chicago on May 1 and May 7.  The Chicago meetings resulted in the HAA granting approval for the nine proposed sites, and for the designs and distribution of units on the sites proposed by Sharp Construction Co., of Flint.  Mrs. Mhoon and Mr. Welch thought that  "groundbreaking for construction of 135 public housing units on nine sites can probably take place during the first half of June--if the building trades unions are not still on strike at that time."

On May 17, 1968, the Ann Arbor News reported "Units of Public Housing for City Hiked to 206."  The number of units proposed at Maple Meadows was increased from three acres with 24 units to six acres with 42 units.  This change was agreed upon during the two days of negotiations with the HAA in Chicago.  Lyndon Welch said that "the changes at Liberty-Maple were insisted on by HAA officials in order to bring total dwellings in the program, and densities, to an average cost per unit of $19,300."  The article went on to say that "At the insistence of Commission Chairman Henry V. Aquinto, the commission's official minutes will state that 'two realtors' are helping the commission look for a 10th site elsewhere in the city for the 18 added units, with the aim of holding the Liberty-Maple site to the original plan of three aces with 24 units, as approved by City Council last Feb. 13."

On July 29, 1968, the Ann Arbor News reported that Aubra E. Sharp, president of Sharp Construction Co., of Flint, expected that they would begin construction on 204 public housing units between September 1 and September 15, 1968.  Sharp increased the cost of designing and constructing the public housing units from $2,762,658 to $2,878,291.08 after the building trades strike was over. 

Construction still had not begun by October 25, 1968, and negotiations with the Sharp Construction Co. were still going on.  An Ann Arbor News article on that date said that the construction company had agreed to build 151 public housing units for the amount of money available to the commission--understood to be $2,701,516.26.

The year 1968 ended with no contract signed with Sharp Construction Co.  On January 10, 1969, the Ann Arbor News reported that Mrs. Joseph D. Mhoon, Housing Director, resigned during a "sharp debate" at the previous evening's Housing Commission meeting.  She had been the Director since December 1, 1966, and had resigned previously during a September 26, 1967, meeting.  The debate concerned who should initiate the formation of a tenants' association.  Mrs. Mhoon had invited tenants to meet on December 23 "as the initial step in forming an association."  Albert H. Wheeler, state chairman of the NAACP said, "A month ago we talked in our public NAACP meeting about the need for a tenants' association and here we have the initiative coming from the Housing Commission."  Lyndon Welch, Commission Chairman, said,   "We would like to have some communication with the tenants.  They may wish to elect spokesmen.  Everything has been done with the best of intentions to meet your goals and ours." 

Mr. Wheeler then added, ". . . if the commission is going to take the initiative (in encouraging formation of a tenants' association) some of us are going to form a counter one.  It is going to be more aggressive and demanding, and do things we don't want to do."  Mr. Welch said, "It is my belief that the tenants have organized.  You're not a tenant.  You can organize anything you want to." 

Mrs. Mhoon then said, "I would like to tender my resignation effective Jan. 31.  I'll put it in writing . . .  I'm accused of doing all these things.  I can't work and take a lot of abuse from the commissioners and the public."    An January 14, 1969, an Ann Arbor News article reported that she had decided not to quit. 

Democrats on City Council criticized the Housing Commission for proceeding "incredibly slowly," in a January 21, 1969, Ann Arbor News article.  They blamed  the Housing Commision for the delay stating, "The commission developed its 200-unit program as if it were blind to the desperate urgency of the need and to the new trends in public housing.  It was deaf to the recommendations of the council's housing committee that the sites be scattered.  Many months were wasted as the commission planned a two-site poverty enclave enclosed by a chain link fence."

Democrats at this meeting set forth proposed standards for housing,  " '[L]ow income housing in Ann Arbor should be indistinguishible from other housing,'  units should be scattered, tenants should participate in administrative decisions, social services should be expanded and tenants should be granted an option to purchase." 

On February 12, 1969, the Ann Arbor News reported that the "Public Housing Contract May be Signed Tomorrow," at the $2,701,516.26 price agreed upon in October.

February 28, 1969, brought an announcement in the Ann Arbor News that the housing plan had changed.  "A change in the location of six of the 151 public housing units planned in Ann Arbor was authorized for technical reasons."  The change involved a reduction from 12 to six at the Washtenaw and Glenwood site and an increase from 24 to 30 units at the W. Liberty and Maple Rd. site (Maple Meadows).  (What happened to the six acre, 42-unit plan for Maple Meadows in the May 17, 1968 article?  Did I miss something?)

The change in number of units was recommended by Gene Terrill, Sharp's architect, because a soil boring report from Atwell-Hicks suggested that the Washtenaw-Glenwood site would bear no more than 1,000 pounds per square foot.  This meant that the six-unit buildings planned at that site would need concrete footings under the walls 36 inches wide instead of the 20 inches called for in the original specifications.  The cost solution was to move one of the six-unit structures to Liberty-Maple.  There were also zoning issues involved in the decision.  While zoning requirements for density would have allowed 12 units at Washtenaw-Glenwood, the buildings could not have been arranged to accommodate 70 feet between buildings and 17.5-foot side yards, and the 25-foot set back from the street, as required.  Moving one building to Liberty-Maple would solve the zoning issues.  The article stated, "The city owns six acres at Liberty-Maple, with half assigned to public housing and half designated as a future park. "

In what was described as a "historic moment," a "pre-contract agreement" between the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and Sharp Construction Co., of Flint for the construction of 151 public housing units on nine sites for $2,680,158.49, was signed during a February 13, 1969, six-hour meeting, the Ann Arbor News reported.  They hoped for a groundbreaking in April and completion of some of the units by the end of 1969.  The actual construction contract would be signed at a later date, after which it would have to be approved by the HAA.  While terms of the actual construction contract were agreed upon in the meeting, it could not be signed because Sharp's architect, Gene Terrill, had not completed final plans and specifications for the 151 units.  The price was reduced to $2,680,158.49 from $2,701,516.26 because the Housing Commission decided not to use brick siding for the second floors.

Possible delays in beginning construction reported in the March 14, 1969, Ann Arbor News included two issues:  Federal officials wanted Sharp to provide an additional $23,000 for items such as enclosed garbage containers and the use of cement block instead of dry wall for basement walls.  They also wanted more information from the city attorney regarding whether the competitive bidding process had been followed.  Housing Commission Chairman Lyndon Welch did not view these issues as insurmountable.

More problems.  "City Public Housing Cost in Question," headed an April 1, 1969, Ann Arbor News article.  Sharp was now saying that items specified by the FAA including wider sidewalks, cement blocks for walls within basements, doors with screens, and enclosures for garbage containers, would cost $64,774.34, not the $27,000 discussed in the March 10 meeting with Sharp and federal officials.  It was hoped that this could be settled in an April 21 meeting with federal officials. 

The City Planning Commission approved the plans for the 151 public housing units on nine scattered sites on April 14, 1969. 

After a meeting with Ann Arbor housing and federal officials on April 21, the Ann Arbor News reported that plans to start building 151 units in about 30 days are still tentative, but not changed.  The main remaining obstacle was the inclusion of additional items specified by federal officials totalling $64,774.34. 

In an address to the Woman's Republican Club of Ann Arbor on May 1, 1969, Lyndon Welch praised public housing tenants, the Ann Arbor News reported.  Mr. Welch's term as housing commission director would end the following week.  Mr. Welch said, "Many think of public housing tenants as a monolithic group of not very desirable citizens, but it's not true."  He went on to say, "Most tenants in the commissions 53 apartments and 36 leased dwellings have the same desire for privacy and pride in their homes as other local residents, and several are currently planting grass and painting,"  and added, " 'social misfits' are a small minority among public housing tenants, although possibly a larger percentage in that group than 'you might find in a cross-section of society as a whole.' "  "Because we do have some social misfits, some groups that thrive on publicity regard this as ready-made material for attacking the 'power structure.' "  "Sometimes this results in damage to public housing units, nonpayment of rent and slander to commissioners and the staff." 

The Ann Arbor News reported on May 7, 1969, that negotiations between Ann Arbor and federal housing officials were going well in a two-day meeting in Chigago.  Federal officials had agreed on May 6 to allow an additional $500 per unit, leaving a gap of only $25,000 between the previously agreed-upon price and the cost of the additional items the federal agency wanted to include.

Robert P. Weeks was named Housing Commission Chairman on May 8, 1969, after Mr. Welch's term ended. 

"Housing Pact Signed; Start Expected Soon", was the headline in the a May 27, 1969, Ann Arbor News article.  "Groundbreaking ceremonies may take place as soon as next Monday for 151 public housing units . . . ," Aubra Sharp of Sharp Construction, announced.  The contract amount was $2,744,957.  Approval by federal officials was expected "with no new hitches" in a Chicago meeting on May 27.

However, approval was not received due to "minor administrative details, and groundbreaking is still expected Monday," reported Louis C. Andrews Jr. of the Housing Commission in a May 28, 1968, Ann Arbor News report.  Federal officials were still waiting for their superiors in Washington to approve the $75,000 increase in total project costs, and wanted some rewording in the contract related to administrative details during construction. 

"Housing Units Now Official," was the headline for a June 6, 1969,  Ann Arbor News article with an accompanying picture of  the groundbreaking ceremony which took place at the Dexter-Maple site.  The total estimated cost was $3,095,500, or approximately $20,500 per unit. 

"Housing Director Offers Resignation Again," reported the Ann Arbor News on July 20, 1969.  She had held the position since December 1, 1966, and had previously offered to resign three other times.  The offer was accepted by housing commissioners July 23, 1969, to be effective August 18. 

"Trouble Besets Housing Project," headed a June 15, 1969, Ann Arbor News article.  Despite having gone ahead with the groundbreaking ceremony, final federal approval had not been received yet for the 127 units.  Another problem involved the city's inability to obtain one of the sites (Winewood-Thaler--long, involved story of its own).   

"Success at last, in Ann Arbor's bid for federal approval of a construction contract for 127 public housing units on eight sites," reported Robert Weeks, according to the Ann Arbor News on June 18, 1969.  City Council approved the contract on June 23, 1969.

Ollie D. Webb, 31, was appointed to the position of Housing Director, reported the Ann Arbor News on August 18, 1969.  Mr. Webb had been director of the Muskegon Heights Housing Commission since January 1968.  The acting director, Mrs. Eleanor Woogmaster, was quoted in a September 11, 1969, Ann Arbor News article as saying, "some of the 127 units under construction may be ready for occupancy in 'a couple of months.'  Those on which the most progress has been made are 20 single-family four and five-bedroom houses at Maple and Dexter roads, and 24 units of various sizes near Maple and W. Liberty."

A November 2, 1969, Ann Arbor News article reported Mr. Ollie D. Webb as saying that construction of all 30 units at the W. Liberty and Maple Rd. site . . . "continues at a rate that makes occupancy appear possible by the end of this year." 

Ollie D. Webb, the third Housing Director since the Housing Commission was established four years previously, resigned.  His "abrupt and almost entirely unanticipated resignation" was accepted by the Housing Commission on January 21, 1970, reported the Ann Arbor News.  He was described as a "quiet-spoken administrator not inclined to offer opinions unless asked."  He reportedly had said to someone a few weeks after coming to Ann Arbor, "I feel like I walked into a buzz saw."  Mr. Webb telephoned Mr. Weeks at home at 5:30 p.m. on January 21, 1969, from Denver, Colorado, and said "he will never return to Ann Arbor."  He said that "a personal problem" in addition to his numerous responsibilities led to his decision.  Donald L. Johnson, 35, was selected as the next Director on June 24, 1970.  He had served as assistant relocation supervisor in Flint's Department of Community Development since 1965. The Housing Commission named its new chairman on July 8, 1970--Fred M. Cox, an associate professor of social work at the U of M since 1964.

The Ann Arbor News reported on July 12, 1970, that tenants had moved into the completed single-family homes at the Maple Rd. and Dexter site.  In a December 10, 1970 article, the Ann Arbor News reported that Donald Johnson, Housing Director, confirmed that 121 of the 127 public housing dwellings were completed.   They were originally supposed to be ready for occupancy in July of that year.  The completed units included Maple Meadows.  The article went on to say that 40 of the completed units were not yet occupied, but 23 had been offered to applicants who had 10 days to reply.  Fifteen were not ready because appliances had not yet been installed.  Mr. Johnson said that the waiting list contained 326 applications. 

The first year that residents of Maple Meadows were listed in the City Directory was 1971.

I will end this history narrative at the point at which Maple Meadows was completed and tenants had moved in.  There were pictures of the groundbreaking and move-in at the Dexter-Maple site, but not of Maple Meadows (at least in the 1968-1970 books at the library).

The controversy over low-income housing in Ann Arbor continues, along with problems at the public housing sites.  Last summer brought complaints about Maple Meadows to the public's attention in articles which appeared in the Ann Arbor News.   On May 17, 2007, residents living near Maple Meadows told "city, police and public housing officials that they are fed up with chronic drug dealing, gambling, fighting, noise and other problems" at Maple Meadows.  In an October 15, 2007, article Ann Arbor police reported that they were making a difference in a public housing complex on South Maple Road, "despite the claims of a handful of upset residents about ongoing problems with drugs and other illegal activities." 

As I have said before, I live five lots away from Maple Meadows, and have been relatively unaffected by the problems there.  I realize (and even more so after doing the research recorded here) that a lot of people do not want to live near public housing.  Whether this is because of fear, racial issues, life-style issues, or whatever, I do not know.  I know that property in our subdivision became less desirable, resulting in lowered property values, after Maple Meadows was constructed.  Thus, Habitat for Humanity was able to purchase the property on Bens and Russell Streets at relatively low cost.  This brought more low-income housing into the subdivision.  Even though these are single-family homes owned by their occupants, they still carry the stigma of "low-income" housing. 

Add to that the presence of more low-income housing at the Pine Lake Cooperative, and the recent addition of a 10-unit apartment building at 900 S. Maple, and one can see why the entire S. Maple neighborhood could be characterized as a low-income area. 

I personally enjoy the diversity in my neighborhood and feel very safe here. 

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