Non-profit organization looks for new Ann Arbor location due to forced move off Washtenaw County property
A brown, nondescript building on the Washtenaw County Service Center campus at Hogback and Washtenaw doesn’t look like much — no more than an afterthought among a few mismatched old buildings that remain on the property.
In fact, it’s believed the small building was an old utility shed constructed by adding walls to a covered pavilion.
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
But for the occupants of that building, which has served for years as the home of the “House by the Side of the Road," it has been ground zero for giving clothing and other necessities to county residents who need it.
The organization has been told it needs to move off the County Service Center property because the county needs an access road for its construction project that includes expanding the county jail and creating a new 14A-1 District Court building.
“The county is doing so much reconstruction, they need this space and they are going to tear down this building,” said Frances Arnett, director of the House by the Side of the Road.
On July 23, the House by the Side of the Road plans to close its doors and move out, Arnett said. “At the moment, they don’t know where they’re going to move it to,” she said.
What really bothers Arnett and others involved in running the organization is that, when it first opened its doors, the county signed a covenant agreeing to provide housing for the House by the Side of the Road if it kept itself up and running on its own.
At the time, a growing number of mothers were having trouble providing clothing to their children and found they couldn’t get help from other organizations when they needed it. So they marched in the city and negotiated for a new kind of organization, which would have regular hours and would never sell the donations, Arnett said.
However, Arnett said, there just isn't space for it on county property now.
"My understanding of the covenant said the county said they could stay on the property for as long as it exists," said County Administrator Verna McDaniel.
Moving the organization has nothing to do with how the county values the work it has done, McDaniel said.
"The House By The Side of the Road has been with us for a long long long time. They have done a wonderful job, and they never presented any problems whatsoever," McDaniel said. "It's been a wonderful service for us."
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
McDaniel said the county wants to honor its agreement to support the organization as best as it can. She assigned Dave Shirley, the county's operations and maintenance manager, to work with the organization to find it an alternative space and to help pay for the organization's move.
"It is my hope we can work something out," she said.
But to actually pay to house the organization off county property wouldn't appear fair to other non-profits throughout Washtenaw County, McDaniel said.
County Commissioner Kristin Judge said she's heard from many supporters and has been trying to help find a place for the organization.
It's unfortunate the county doesn't have the resources, but it is doing both the prudent and fair thing by trying to help the organization find a new home, Judge said. Technically, a board resolution can change the county's original agreement, she said.
So far, Arnett said, suggested alternatives would require the House by the Side of the Road to move much farther away from its current location, which could make it more difficult for both recipients and volunteers from around the county to get there.
Cathy Freeman, treasurer of the House by the Side of the Road's board of directors, said the change will require the organization to have a new model for keeping its door open and re-focus much of its efforts on the skill of fundraising.
“Our plans are, we will move to a new location, hopefully near this area for the people who know us, and go about our business of helping people,” Arnett said. “We’ve had 40 years of association with the county, and that’s hard to break.”