held captive in michigan

Hopefully no one our there in the audience who owns a home in Michigan wants to move anytime soon. Houses don’t seem to be selling anywhere. Thanks to the recent closing of the Pfizer global research facility, even Ann Arbor is feeling the pain. (Despite valiant efforts to keep the 2,150 Pfizer scientists gainfully employed here, an overwhelming majority are packing up and leaving.) If you’ve ever dreamed about moving to Michigan, now’s the time. It’s a bad thing, but it occurred to me today that maybe we could use it to our advantage somehow. I can see how it might work against us, but how about an ad campaign aimed at prospective home buyers in Silicon Valley that says, quite bluntly, “The Michigan economy has never been worse. Now’s the time to buy.” I’m picturing an image of a family being evicted from their home with the caption, “Their loss could be your gain.”

Speaking of foreclosures, I just read today that Michigan has moved into the top three. Here’s a clip:

…Michigan ranked third with 13,979 foreclosure filings in July, up 39% from June and a 130% increase from July 2006…. “While 43 states experienced year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity, just five states — California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Georgia — accounted for more than half of the nation’s total foreclosure filings,” said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio…

Who knows, maybe it’s ultimately a good thing for communities? I have no evidence to back this up, but might it not be possible that the booming real estate market is at least in part responsible for the corrosion of our local communities? Sure, cheap gas probably deserves more of the blame, but the real estate market has to have contributed. People, even within the same town, are constantly jumping from home to home to home. A few years into one home and they’re selling and moving to another, slightly bigger home in a slightly “better” neighborhood… which isn’t exactly conducive to putting roots down. Maybe now that we’re all stuck in this boat together we’ll become more engaged in civic life and considerably better neighbors… Call me the eternal optimist.

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted August 22, 2007 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    So I’ve developed a few issues I’m passionate about (if I have the copacity for passion). In no particular order:

    -Bottled water
    -Tax equity
    -The moral distance of the stock-market
    -Communities as commodity

    Community, is potentially, one of the greatest givers of happiness. But, communities, like all else, have become an investment opportunity (i.e., buy low, sell high, fuck community.)

    Personally, I don’t want a bunch of outta-staters gut-rushing Michigan for sweet deals they can ride until the next land-of-opportunity peaks its head and calls them to cash in for greener.

    Sappy, sure, but let’s be a community that sticks through sickness and health, boom and bust, pawn and profit. Let’s get married.

    I have glorious neighbors. Folks growing potatoes in my yard. Loving my daughter. Borrowing my chainsaw. People willing to shoot other people for me. (No kidding.)

    And, really, what other happiness could I hope to buy?

  2. egpenet
    Posted August 22, 2007 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Actually, the bad rap Ypsilanti has had over the years has done two things.

    It has rid us of a lot of folks who weren’t open-minded, freedom-loving types. They’ve all moved to condos and McMansions in the townships or far far away.

    That left a lot of cool historic homes and groovy old buildings downtown and in Depot Town available to bikers, gays, artists, poets, hipsters, t-shirt gurus, veggie growers, chainsaw borrowers and some very excellent rappers and guitar players.

    And you want to advertise to the folks we just got rid of?

    My idea is to “officially” put the word out … like on YouTube … that Ypsi really is down the toilet. We’ll show repeats of Fallon, the Water Tower leaning and re-run stories about John Norman Collins. That should KEEP those folks away for good and maybe evn make room for more cool folks looking for some “edginess” in their lives.

    Huh? Put THAT in your 20/20.

  3. mark
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t suggesting that we sell the soul of our city to carpetbaggers looking to make a quick buck. I was more thinking that there might be people out there, who for whatever reason, have thought about moving here. I know it’s unlikely, but I suppose it’s possible that someone out there in the MM.com audience, might like what he or she reads here about our little city. I think that we offer something unique. And, I’d rather have a new, engaged person living next door to me than an empty house. I do, however, get the point that you’re both trying to make… And I was, at least in the first paragraph of this post, joking. I don’t really want to start an ad campaign featuring distraught Michiganders having their houses taken from them. That, I think we’d all agree, would be disgusting.

  4. Posted August 23, 2007 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    It’s great to have nice neighbors like I do on East Cross, but there also is somewhat of a down side to living in a depressed economy in Ypsilanti. My wife and I own a house across the street from the softball field next to the church that’s across from Hollis. There is a nice batch of woods that is to the left of the softball field, adjacent from our house. When I go outside and look around, I have a very nice view of the field, which backs to woods, the nicely groomed church, and the other small wooded area.

    Habitat for Humanity aquired the small wooded area next to the softball field and wants to graze the area and put up a housing project for low income people.

    I have mixed feelings about this. I know that less fortunate, low income people have to live somewhere, but it just sucks that it might be across the street. Why? Because it will make my property value go down. I can’t ignore that fact. My wife and I need our house value to increase slightly or stay the same. We saved our money for a long time to make a down payment. We work hard to pay the mortgage each month. We’ve put tons of sweat equity into the house – we redid all the floors, painted, ect. We’ve lived here for three years and our first baby will be born in about 10 weeks, where she’ll live for at least three or four years.

    So what do we do? Why should I get punished by potentially losing thousands of dollars on my home value? Would this happen in Ann Arbor? Why doesn’t Habitat build a housing project in Burns Park in A2? THEY can afford it!

    The reality is, affluent people have no interest moving to Ypsi. Poor people have interst in moving to Ypsi. A lot of times this increases crime. Makes it so there’s hookers and crack heads walking down the sidewalk past our houses (which still happens on East Cross but not NEARLY as much as when I lived on Hamilton and Emmett). Poverty is a scary thing, and a scary problem.

    Call me crazy, but I would rather raise my daughter in Ann Arbor, in a safe neigborhood and an excellent school district. I’m sure the community there would be plenty nice enough.

    But then again, my wife and I love Ypsi and we’re still undecided as to what we’ll do. There’s still that allure and charm that makes it a great place despite it’s downfalls.

    As for neighbors on my street, they’re awesome. Everyone knows each other and helps each other out. It really is a commodity, but so is safety and financial security.

  5. Ted
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve built several Habitat homes. Three of them are in Ypsi. I worked on my first one 15 years ago. I still drive by them on occasion. They still look great. As far as I know, the same families I worked with on them still live in them. (Habitat requires that the families put in a certain number of hours working on the home.) As I recall, they were good, hard-working people. You really need to educate yourself on the program and their requirements for participation. These aren’t flop houses.

  6. Citizen Blogger
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    *sniff sniff* What’s that smell? *sniff* Smells like NIMBY to me!

    We saved our money for a long time to make a down payment. We work hard to pay the mortgage each month. We’ve put tons of sweat equity into the house…

    And isn’t this exactly what Habitat for Humanity does?

    Honestly, how can you harsh on Habitat for Humanity?! “hookers and crack heads”?! Right. Because the average person walking around with their mind blown out on crack is going to be able to qualify for a mortgage and put in the sweat equity that Habitat requires. Sure. Whatever you say. Habitat = crackheads.

    If Habitat wanted to build a house next door to me, I’d be out there working on the house every weekend. For the chance to get a hard-working, committed family into a stable home where they can build equity? Sounds great – that’s exactly the family I want next door to me.

    Cousins Vinyl, if your comment above is your idea of being “neighborly”, I’ll gladly chip in $20 towards the cause of helping you leave. So sorry that Ypsi is such a bad place to live. See ya.

  7. egpenet
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    It is so much fun to create a tinge of defensiveness in you, MM. You are so deeply sincere and “on it,” that you are honestly such a great guy.

    OF COURSE. we are doing EVERYTHING to make Ypsi a great place to live. The economy will get better. Downtown will fill up. Depot Town is going great guns. Grasdens, Homes, etc. We’ll dig ourselves out.

    I just don’t want all that yuppie, yippie, old guard noses-in-the-air crowd BACK HERE. If you tell everyone it’s SAFE to come back … they’ll come.

    I have attracted several friends and others to come and invest here by telling them it’s the best kept secret in Michigan.

    I’m old enough to have lived through many such movements in Minneaplois/St. Paul, Providence, R.I., NYC, Detroit … as soon as the word get out … we have to pack up our facepaint and move. I DON’T WANNA MOVE! So, shut up!

  8. k
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Wow. I thought people knew better than that about Habitat. Here’s a link to a property value study that might make you feel better.


    You talk about putting sweat equity into your home, and that’s the very basis of a Habitat house. Before houses are even started the families that will live in them have put in time on other builds and doing work for Habitat. You presume that the houses will be unattractive or uncared for, I think, because they are low income residents. You don’t even have to be that low-income, for one thing, to qualify for a Habitat house. Nobody gets a house unless their credit is good and they can make their mortgage payments. Yes, they have mortgage payments just like you, they just work their downpayment off. There’s a neighborhhod of Habitat homes on the corner of Jackson and Wagner in Ann Arbor that is very cute. Ownership of a home is what makes people care about and take care of a neighborhood, not how they got their downpayment.

    Here are the qualifications, and if you go to http://www.h4h.org you can find out more about your local Habitat.


    You must be a U.S. citizen or have permanent residency status (green card).
    You must not have gone through a bankruptcy in the past three years, or have any legal judgments of more than $2,000 against you.
    You must have lived or worked in Washtenaw County for the past 12 months.
    Your income must be 30-60% of the median income for Washtenaw County (by family size). As an example, the median income guideline for a family of four in 2007 is between $2,058-$4,116/month before taxes.
    You must be willing to partner with Habitat by fulfilling a minimum of 300 sweat-equity hours per adult family member on the construction of your (or another) Habitat home.

  9. egpenet
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Grasdens (sic) ??? … gardens!

  10. Posted August 23, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink


    Sorry if I offended anyone about Habitat. They don’t want to build houses or a house, they want to build multi-unit “condos”.

    I guess I do need to educate myself better, and I will. But am I wrong in worrying that this will cause my property value to decrease? It’s just a worry – and uncertainty is part of what the problem is with the economy and housing.

    Citizen blogger, man, that’s pretty harsh! Chipping in 20 bucks to see me leave Ypsi? It’s so easy to say things like that on a mesage board, but I’m sure if you knew me or looked me in the eye you would have different feelings.

    And the hookers and crack heads – I did not mean to directly reference Humanity reseidents! I meant that Ypsi attracts poverty stricken residents and that as a result, these things show up – which they do. And it directly affects me and the community and my family.

    In any event, I appologize and I will look into Habitat more before rushing to judgement.

    Another thing Citizen blogger – I’m not sure if good neighbors ask people to leave by stating an opinion on a meaningful community issue, regardless if you disagree or misinterpret.

    I’m not alone on this issue. Many people on my street and surrounding blocks protested and the township is trying to prevent this from happening. People are arguing that Habitat should fix homes in the neighborhood that have been foreclosed instead of building a multi-unit complex -and that I would support. For the record, I didn’t show up to protest because I didn’t feel it was right to try to prevent this. I do have concerns, and that’s only natural.

    But, I am probably wrong in some of my assumptions and I will learn more about it. I appreciate the info.

  11. Posted August 23, 2007 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Here’s the A2 New article:


    Note that the Ypsi Township Planning committee opposes this, saying it’s not harmonious with the neighborhood.

  12. Thoreau
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. As if one were to wear any sort of coat which the tailor might cut out for him, or, gradually leaving off palm-leaf hat or cap of woodchuck skin, complain of hard times because he could not afford to buy him a crown! It is possible to invent a house still more convenient and luxurious than we have, which yet all would admit that man could not afford to pay for. Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less? Shall the respectable citizen thus gravely teach, by precept and example, the necessity of the young man’s providing a certain number of superfluous glow-shoes, and umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for empty guests, before he dies?
    Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box
    In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the best, and sufficient for its coarser and simpler wants; but I think that I speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the air have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. I do not mean to insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but it is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to hire. But, answers one, by merely paying this tax, the poor civilized man secures an abode which is a palace compared with the savage’s. An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars (these are the country rates) entitles him to the benefit of the improvements of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and paper, Rumford fire-place,(5) back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper pump, spring lock, a commodious cellar, and many other things. But how happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a savage? If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man — and I think that it is, though only the wise improve their advantages — it must be shown that it has produced better dwellings without making them more costly; and the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An average house in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the laborer’s life, even if he is not encumbered with a family — estimating the pecuniary value of every man’s labor at one dollar a day, for if some receive more, others receive less; — so that he must have spent more than half his life commonly before his wigwam will be earned. If we suppose him to pay a rent instead, this is but a doubtful choice of evils. Would the savage have been wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on these terms?

  13. Citizen Blogger
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Cousins Vinyl,

    It may be that you did not mean to say that Habitat residents were themselves hookers and crackheads. However, you did clearly say in response to the idea of Habitat construction that you did not want low-income residents moving in across the street, because poverty is “scary”, and you then went on to discuss hookers, crackheads, and fear for your children. I’m hoping that you can see how that string of statements led me (and others) to think that you were drawing a link between habitat residents and crackheads.

    My tone was harsh, yes, and intended to shock. Fortunately, others provided you with responses intended to educate. It is to your credit that you’re willing to respond by agreeing to look further into Habitat.

    Yes, poverty is “scary” – but so much more so to the people living in it than to you or I, who at least know where we’ll be sleeping next week. If we are to be a “community” worth the name, I think we need to embrace organizations like Habitat, which have good track records of helping people escape poverty. I’m sure reasonable concerns can be stated about this particular proposal – but I don’t think hookers and crackheads have a place in those concerns. (They are perfectly reasonable concerns for other times and places, yes.)

  14. egpenet
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    The Ypsilanti Historic District has a vast array of architecturee from tiny cottaghes and shotgun-type houses to true Victorian mansions with brick carriage houses. There are lots available of all sizes for “compatible” new construction. And there are homes for sale across the spectrum … some available a “bank sale” prices.

    Jimmy Carter is the best ex-president wee’ve ever had and I applaud Habitat’s every effort to build solid homes for their constituents. Before you build, dear people, consider putting some sweat equity into an affordable property in the Historic District. Many people are, as I write, taking abaondoned or “problem” properties and polishing the jewels for what they are … homes!

  15. Posted August 23, 2007 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit though that when one becomes a victim of a crime or worse, a repeated victim of small crimes, it becomes easy to start wanting to move far away from the poverty that breeds the crime. And like it or not, crime rates are much higher in impoverished areas. Since someone tried to steal a car I was borrowing last night and since I had to miss work so I could wait around hoping that it might get fixed today, I have had a lot of time to today to ponder such things as poverty and crime and the low housing values in Ypsilanti.

  16. mark
    Posted August 23, 2007 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Poverty and crime are linked. It’s true. But you can’t escape crime in a “nice” subdivision. Your chances might be a bit better, but bad stuff still happens. My aunt witnessed a neighbor of hers being murdered, and she lives in a very nice community. She might not have prostitutes walking in front of her house, but people around her, I suspect, are still doing drugs, frequenting prostitutes, and all the rest of it. Here it’s just closer to the surface… Still, the idea of fleeing is tempting on occasion.

    As for Habitat, I put in a lot of hours there myself, both in Atlanta and here in Michigan, and I’d be happy to talk with you about it, CV, if you want. Like everyone else, I don’t see much cause for concern. I’d much rather live next to a few Habitat condos than a single family home owned by one of our city’s more infamous slumlords… As for how Habitat homes impact property values, I’m sure someone in academia has studied it. I think, however, that all bets are off right now. I recently heard of a home selling for $80K in Ypis that had previously sold for $160K. I haven’t verified that yet, but, if it’s true it had nothing to due with Habitat.

  17. Ol E' Cross
    Posted August 24, 2007 at 7:48 am | Permalink


    Didn’t mean to suggest I don’t want new folks moving to town. Like you, I’d just like to see folks move here because it’s a great place to live, not turn a quick profit.

    I do think it’s a positive if the housing market isn’t the highest return investment out there.

  18. Posted August 27, 2007 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    A buddy of mine from HS and undergrad (in Michigan) just got his PhD in EECS from Berkeley. Two years ago he was saying he was never going back to Michigan because of the weather and the economy. Now he’s getting married, will be on the job market, and has started looking around at CA housing and realized unless he becomes a tech millionaire (a possibility) he won’t be able to afford to own a home there. I saw him this past weekend and talked up Michigan and he was more receptive than I’ve ever heard him to moving back here. His fiancee works on nanotechnology and fuel cells. Would love to get them at U-M and living in Ypsi.

  19. egpenet
    Posted August 27, 2007 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Clean water … did you mention that? That over 25% of the planet’s fresh water is HERE? Huh? Water. Water. Water.

    The Pacific off San Jose, Sanata Clara … you can’t drink that stuff. “Water evrywhere, and not a drop to drink.” Even much of the Central Valley’s “clean” water goes to slake old people in Phoenix.

    After the Anasazi left because there was no water and it was too damn hot … you’d think the gringos would “get it!”

  20. Posted September 6, 2007 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I realized what Ypsi needs — YouTube videos.

    The Ypsi fare on YT is pretty weak, as you might expect, though this is an interesting attempt: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Pr9PZNFOqdU

    The gold standard for comic intro videos is still Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Your Studio and You” from the mid-90s.
    Pt 1:
    Pt 2:

    2020 Task Force, your mission is clear.

  21. Ed
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I’m envisioning an open casting call for John Norman Collins and Orange Taylor lookalikes, and lots of gratuitous slow-motion reenactments.

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