So long to the wreckage of Happy’s Pizza. [photo]
South Fifth Avenue, from Liberty to Library Lane, was closed to traffic as several fire engines and emergency vehicles responded to a car fire in the underground parking structure. Shot taken from the roof of the Fourth & William parking garage shows people milling around, waiting for the all-clear sign so that they can get to their cars. [photo] [photo]
House next to Mr. Roof on Ellsworth is actively on fire. Lots of responders on the scene. [photo] Added after initial publication: Apparently it is a training exercise, according to random firefighters we met elsewhere.
Ann Arbor housing commission meeting (Jan. 15, 2014): Transitions for Ann Arbor’s public housing will continue in the new year, even while the housing commission is also dealing with the aftermath of a major fire in one of its complexes.
At their first meeting of the year, commissioners were briefed about the impact and aftermath of a Jan. 8 fire at Green Baxter Court, a public housing complex on Green Road next to Baxter Park on the city’s east side. They heard from Joan Doughty, executive director of Community Action Network, which operates a community center at that complex under contract with the city. CAN staff are helping AAHC provide support for families who were displaced by the fire.
At their Jan. 15 meeting, board members authorized up to $9,000 in extra funds to help pay for that emergency work. CAN is also seeking additional donations from the community.
In separate action, the board amended Chapter 14 of its housing choice voucher administrative plan to include a preference for families that have been involuntarily displaced due to a fire, natural disaster or any other reason. The vouchers would be used to subsidize rental housing, if no units are available in the city’s public housing system.
The Jan. 15 meeting also included an update from Lori Harris, vice president with Norstar Development, on a major initiative to upgrade the city’s public housing units. Specifically, she presented Norstar’s recommendation for an equity partner to purchase low-income housing tax credits awarded by the state to AAHC late last year. The board approved the recommended firm, Red Stone Equity Partners.
Investors had responded positively to Norstar’s request for proposals, Harris said, with higher-than-expected offers. “You have a very, very good story here, and it’s played very, very well in this process,” she told the board. The tax-credit transaction will provide the majority of funding for renovating five public housing complexes: Miller Manor, South Maple, Baker Commons, Hikone and Green Baxter. These properties make up the majority of public housing units in the AAHC portfolio – 248 out of a total 326 units.
However, AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall told the board that additional funding will still be required. As part of that, the AAHC is requesting $600,000 from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Hall said she expects the DDA board to make a decision on that by March or April. The DDA previously gave the housing commission a $300,000 grant for capital improvements at Baker Commons, which is located within the DDA district. That approval came in March of 2013. And in October 2012, the DDA had provided a $260,000 grant primarily for replacing the Baker Commons roof.
In other action, the AAHC board approved a 3% cost-of-living adjustment for Hall, in line with other COLA increases given to city employees. The board also authorized changing the way its minutes are kept in order to begin using the city’s online Legistar system. The new approach will be less detailed in reporting deliberations, and will primarily provide a report on the outcome of action items. Currently, AAHC board minutes and board packets aren’t part of Legistar, but are provided on the AAHC page of the city’s website. Minutes from the AAHC board meetings are also attached to the city council agenda as an item of communication.
And near the end of the meeting, commissioner Marta Manildi reported that she is not seeking reappointment. Her term ends this spring, but she has offered to step down early. She was praised for her work in helping lead the AAHC through a difficult transition several years ago. Speaking during public commentary, Doughty said Manildi “really led the charge for a turnaround that’s been amazing to witness.”
A week later, at the Ann Arbor city council’s Jan. 21 meeting, mayor John Hieftje nominated Daniel Lee to serve out the rest of Manildi’s term. A confirmation vote is expected at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting. Hieftje described Manildi’s service on the commission as profound and beneficial.
When it is dark, when it is cold, that is the time of year when we spark a fire we hope will burn through the next year, and even though it never does, hope smolders still.
In the history of the human species, I imagine that surely dozens or even hundreds of words have already been written about the special magic of fire. So I will add a few of my own.
I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana a few houses down from a family that went all in for outdoor Christmas light displays – the kind that every year other people drove into our neighborhood to see. Whatever you might think of such displays, it’s uncontroversial that they bear witness to the intervention of a human hand: Some person went to the trouble to string those wires and screw in all those little tiny bulbs.
In Manchester, Michigan – a village in the corner of Washtenaw County, about 25 miles southwest of Ann Arbor – electric Christmas light displays coexist peacefully with candles. This year marks the 34th year of the Manchester Luminaria – a community tradition that involves placing candles inside paper bags weighted with sand, spaced evenly along the street. Residents who participate in the tradition purchase enough bags to line the street frontage of their property. The candles are lit at dusk on Christmas Eve.
I learned about this tradition because last week The Manchester Mirror reported that sales of the sand-filled bags with candles would begin from the vacant building on the northwestern corner of Manchester’s Main Street and M-52.
So how is a paper bag, lit from within by a candle, different from an electric light display? It isn’t the mere imprint of a human hand, because that much they have in common. But a glowing paper bag filled with fire bears witness to a certain immediacy of that human intervention: Some person only very recently set that candle aflame.
And if you let your eye wander down that line of evenly-spaced luminary bags, counting them off as you go, your gaze might land on one where there’s a human figure still crouched over it applying a miniature torch to the candle. And when you see a series of a dozen unlit luminary bags, a dark segment wedged into the light, you can stand and wait, and know that a person will emerge to light those candles.
In the Manchester Luminaria, you can see the imprint of a human hand in a way that is far more visceral than in an electric light display.
I wish I had a more visceral way to convey traditional seasons greetings to Chronicle readers. But all I have is the electric light display that we call the Internet. In that spirit, I’d like to wish Chronicle readers a merry Christmas, happy holidays and a happy new year.
After the break are some additional photos from a Christmas Eve excursion to Manchester.