You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, May 22, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

North Main demolition: Opinions mixed as 6 boarded-up houses come down in Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton


The remains of one of six houses being demolished on Ann Arbor's North Main Street this week.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The long-awaited demolition of a row of boarded-up houses along North Main Street in Ann Arbor began in earnest Wednesday morning.

Three of the six houses facing the wrecking ball were demolished by noon, and workers onsite from Den-Man Contractors said all six houses would be down by the week's end.

Walking by on his way to a Rotary meeting, Ann Arbor resident Don Faber stopped to literally applaud the crew doing the demolition work.


Three homeless people, at left, told the demolition workers at right about memories of squatting in the houses.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I've been walking by here a lot. What a blight to the city," he said of the homes being torn down, only wishing it were done sooner. "Just to see them go down is just so gratifying."

Not everyone is happy to see the homes coming down, though. Three homeless people who watched from the sidewalk on Wednesday shared memories of squatting in the houses.

"I used to sleep in the one on the end. It was called the Dirty Squat," said a man who identified himself only as Pig Pen, a self-described train hopper and hitchhiker who's originally from Ypsilanti but has traveled all over.

He said they sleep out in the woods now, but at different points each of them stayed in the houses being demolished.

"That was the one I stayed in last year," said a man who goes by the name Pooh, pointing to another of the houses. "I met my fiancee and we stayed in that one for two weeks."

Pooh, who is originally from Denton, Texas, said he travels all over the country and he's been coming to Ann Arbor since 2003. He said he's sad to see the houses go.

"All of these houses are perfectly good houses," he said. "People could renovate them."

The city is taking action to demolish the blighted structures, which the city deemed dangerous, following the failure of the Near North affordable housing development.

The houses, which originally were expected to be demolished by developers to make way for a 39-unit apartment project, were allowed to fall into a state of disrepair over the years while the developers tried to line up financing for a project that isn't going forward now. The project no longer qualified for needed federal funding after flood map revisions extended the floodplain into the property.

The city has stepped in to clean up what many consider an eyesore along a prominent gateway into Ann Arbor.

The city secured state grant funding for the demolition last year, but lost the money after it wasn't spent by a March 15 deadline.

The new funding source is a dangerous building fund — also known as the city's "blight fund" — that was established by the City Council in February 2012. The city will try to recoup its costs by placing liens on the properties for the cost of the demolition.


The scene on North Main as it looked on Wednesday morning.

Ryan J. Stanton |

City Administrator Steve Powers said last month the demolition and restoration of the site could take about nine weeks. The estimated cost for the demolition and site restoration is $90,000.

Karma, a Lansing native who was with Pig Pen and Pooh, said she was assaulted in one of the houses and she's not sad to see that one go, but she lamented the loss of the rest.

"My personal opinion is they should really keep these," she said. "If they're condemned and about to collapse like the one on the end is, yeah, probably tear them down. But if they're perfectly good and could be fixed up to live in, they should donate it to the city of Ann Arbor."

Karma said it seems like the options for homeless people in Ann Arbor who prefer not to stay at the Delonis Center homeless shelter are becoming fewer.

"I don't know what they're doing right now, but it seems like they're trying to clean up the whole town and they're clearing people out from underneath Fuller bridge, all the parks, and they're getting rid of every place for the people who have no place to go," she said. "It's a problem."

Mayor John Hieftje and Police Chief John Seto could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Faber said he hopes to see "decent housing" built on the site — something that would enhance the North Main corridor.

"This is kind of my neighborhood and I want to see the best for it, and I want to see the best for the city," he said.

The property where the houses are being demolished is owned in partnership between Three Oaks Group and Avalon Housing. There are eight boarded-up homes in total, but only six were declared dangerous buildings by the city. The two southernmost houses will remain.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Fri, May 24, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

It's good to see those structures removed as they posed a serious safety hazard, along with being an eyesore. The fact the writer chose to interview homeless people touched on some nerves it seems.I have to agree with some of the other posters that there's a definite looking down one's nose at those unfortunate to be homeless. Homelessness is not an enviable state, and to further add insult to injury to these folks is cruel and lacking in any compassion. As one poster mentioned, where will you go if you find yourself unfortunate enough to have lost your job, home, possessions? Most of these people lack a safety net and more often than not suffer major mental illness. I know of many people who work while living homeless, so it's not as simple to say people are lazy or unwilling to work. How many people do you know living on unemployment? If it weren't for that safety net, many of those people would find themselves in the same boat. Ann Arbor is not the same city I once loved. I feel it's more like Birmingham these days.

Ian Fulcher

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

On Thursday, the 11th of November 2004, I saw Kimya Dawson play at "The Totally Awesome House" (the now-demolished house pictured at the top of this article). There were tons of musical acts brought in over the years in which it operated as a living venue. Three of the house founders -- noteworthy local musicians Jason Voss, Patrick Elkins, and Dustin Krcatovich -- they tirelessly filled that space with worthwhile sounds from all over, but also included a wonderful bunch of local music. It was there that I first heard and met Fred Thomas as well as scores of other wonderful human beings / musicians. It's a shame that it's gone, but the memories of 724 N. Main have inspired all sorts of folks and institutions, perhaps most notably Totally Awesome Fest, which started in that house and has grown and been celebrated every year since. Just please remember that a handful of people with drive sustained a hub of community in one of those houses. Whatever we build as A2 denizens/taxpayers, it must be remembered that affordable, sustainable places in which artists may work, thrive, and flourish have to exist. Otherwise we'll be left with whatever the University or the high-end venues pull in ...or hopping over to Ypsilanti for music with any hope of authenticity.

Paul Wiener

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

My many fans will be disappointed to learn that words fail me when it comes to commenting on the sheer idiocy of this news story.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 5:30 a.m.

I ate ribs at that house....dead give away, dead give away.

pooh bear

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

Ryan, Do you if any of the materials were recycled?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

Properties owned by Capital Fund Services Inc - and they owe the city money for taxes... Function, Activity: Housing Support Services Assets: $10,227,620 Income: $704,273 Contact Info: Elizabeth A Hunter 1000 S Washington Ave Lansing, MI 48910


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:18 p.m.

"But if they're perfectly good and could be fixed up" Wow they are not only homeless but must have construction skills and engineering backgrounds. Sounds like they could get a good job somewhere. The construction industry always needs folks that show up everyday and work hard for 8 hours.

John Q

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

Have you been in the houses?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

I think what ResidentA2 said is the most pertinent comment. Ever since I moved to Ann Arbor 40 years ago, I've noticed that the "North Main Corridor" is a shambles of "mixed use" quasi-industrial bad planning. The main access to Ann Arbor from the North is a junky introduction to Ann Arbor for everyone entering town on North Main. Consider: some of the visitors are coming from Lansing to the Northwest and others are coming from Detroit and its northern suburbs to the Northeast. All of these visitors get their first- look impression from this haphazard corridor. Frankly, what can be seen of our city from that perspective undermines Ann Arbor's image statewide, nationwide and internationally. All concerned parties, the city government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority - all should be coordinated to work on upgrading North Main as a unified, long term project. Piddling around and interviewing homeless people isn't getting the job done.

Terry Reilly

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

About time. What an eyesore.

Denise Heberle

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:28 a.m.

I always tell myself not to read the comments, but I do. Tomorrow will be another day I'll go out and wonder if the person walking near me wrote one of these hateful, ignorant pieces of "I've got mine" trash.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

Were those some of the deleted comments? I don't see anything that quite matches your description. I do see some some disparagement of the three homeless people who were quoted, but could that have been because of what they opined rather than what they are? And a person can dislike seeing homeless people living under bridges or squatting in an abandoned house in his neighborhood without being hateful or ignorant, can't he? Does anybody really think having a large population of homeless people in A2 is a GOOD thing, whether he's sympathetic toward them or not? The terms 'hate' and 'hateful' seem to be increasingly used in reference to expressions of opinion or attitudes about members of particular groups (the homeless, illegals, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, e.g.) that merely differ from those of the speaker/writer. It troubles me--lockstep thinking and characterization of opposing opinions as evil are potentially dangerous. Please disagree with me if you like, but please don't tell me that I hate anyone, because I don't. In turn, I won't tell you how you feel about anyone.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:46 a.m.

Different day, same hate. Just say no Denise.

Resident A2

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:37 a.m.

I am so happy to see these properties come down. It is pretty much the first thing you see as you exit from M-14. My sister visited me from Rochester and couldn't believe that this was Ann Arbor. That block is a gateway to downtown and she just saw house after house condemned.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

I agree with GatefulReb. Opinions mixed? NOT! Only my gray matter is mixed as I rattle in on one of the many third world roads that make up our (call it what you will) city and observe the surrounding blight. You go Demo Gang! Keep going north on Main--both sides of the street--until the City Council realizes what your're doing and tells you to stop. You'll be in Whitmore Lake by then!!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

Karma said it seems like the options for homeless people in Ann Arbor who prefer not to stay at the Delonis Center homeless shelter are becoming fewer. "I don't know what they're doing right now, but it seems like they're trying to clean up the whole town and they're clearing people out from underneath Fuller bridge, all the parks, and they're getting rid of every place for the people who have no place to go," she said. "It's a problem." GOOD! Keep up the good work! In a year or two all of the homeless people will get the word out that A2 is not the place to go and they are NOT welcome. GOOD RIDDANCE!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

I wonder, JBK, where you think your neighbors, friends and relatives should go when they become homeless? Those are the people who are homeless in our community. Less than 5% of people in our community who are homeless come from outside the community. Should we put everyone on a bus to some other community? Which place would YOU choose?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:21 a.m.

So the most salient feature of this action, after all this time and controversy, is that "opinions are mixed"? Seriously?? Mixed at the rate of 999 to 1 maybe.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

Right. Karma is upset (see below). :)

Dirty Mouth

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:04 a.m.

Hmm, all this waste could've all been avoided had City Council properly vetted the Developer for the now defunct Avalon Housing Project, including his finances. Now we're going to have six empty lots, one abandoned, albeit colorful gas station, and seedy Liquor Store welcoming folks to Ann Arbor. Well-played High-rise Hieftje. Well played.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

"I don't know what they're doing right now, but it seems like they're trying to clean up the whole town and they're clearing people out from underneath Fuller bridge, all the parks, and they're getting rid of every place for the people who have no place to go," she said. "It's a problem. It's not a problem, you're the problem. Go free load somewhere else pig pen, pooh, and karma.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:28 p.m.

Yeah, heaven forbid they stay at the homeless shelter.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 9:50 p.m.

Get them bulldozed , plant some grass and move forward. They were a huge problem and not good for the people down the street that are paying for their homes to have squatters as neighbors. That's this Ann Arbor taxpayers opinion, for what it's worth. Now we have some mixed opinions.

only in A^2

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

" Not everyone is happy to see the homes coming down, though. Three homeless people who watched from the sidewalk on Wednesday shared memories of squatting in the houses." Not even a whiff of irony, award winning Journalism. Headline should have read " 75% opposed to demolitions"

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 9:26 p.m.

In other wrecking ball news, a demolition permit for the Georgetown Mall was issued yesterday (5/21/13) by the city, which means the old mall could come down any day now.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:44 a.m.

I'll believe it when I see the wrecking ball hit the kitty litter walls.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

Yay! Those excavators are looking hungry :)

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 8:09 p.m.

Some have asked about the tax situation with the property. The county treasurer tells me the property at 626-724 N. Main where the eight houses have stood (and where six are being demolished, and two will remain standing) is one combined parcel with the name Capital Fund Services Inc. showing as the taxpayer, and 2011 taxes owed in the amount of $8,877. It is forfeited, which means it faces tax foreclosure by the treasurer in 2014.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:55 p.m.

Good Bye Punk Week! Hello Progress!

Peter Baker

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

What do developer-abandoned properties have to do with punk week?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

Bye Bye Punk.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

I can't help but wonder if it would mean anything to the homeless people that Avalon and 3 Oaks used millions in tax money and grants that they were given to provide homes to low income families to BUY those properties before this demolition took place. Seems like an especially relevant detail.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:34 a.m.

Okay, my fault for not reading carefully, and hopefully that transition of funds didn't happen. I do appreciate the help and apologize to all for a misguided complaint. However, I do still think my 3, 4, and 5 are unchanged. I hope I'm wrong about the recent AAPS complaints I've been making, and if I am, I will welcome correction (this is not sarcasm)

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 11:18 p.m.

Read the story I just linked. $400k was tied to a certificate of occupancy and $100k was tied to Gold LEED certification following completion of the project. So no, the DDA didn't give Avalon that money. You saw instead the DDA use its housing fund dollars this past year to help out Dawn Farm (transitional housing program) and the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (stuff at Baker Commons like a new roof and other upgrades).


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

Uh, not really sure why my comment got deleted, but I'll try and recap, only more briefly: 1) Thanks, Ryan, for responding. If I'm incorrect about claims I make on, I certainly welcome being set straight. 2) I don't however, see anything in the story you linked to saying that Avalon would not get that money if this development didn't happen. So they did NOT get the money, and you know that? 3) Even if they did not, Avalon is funded by our tax dollars. Avalon is its own line item on either the county budget or the DDA budget or both (I forget which one). They also get multiple grants/assistance from multiple sources; that's from their website. 4) Avalon was mentioned in several articles as at least partially owning this property with their for-profit partner 3-Oaks. So if they own it, even partially, I'm assuming they paid money for that ownership. 5) Given 3 and 4, and the fact that we are now paying to demolish these houses that they used tax and grant money to at least partially own, and they STILL partially own it, I have the same problem I always had.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

County records reviewed by show the properties were purchased and assembled by Three Oaks, operating under various entities, for at least $2.5 million over the course of about eight years. The sale price of the houses ranges from $215,000 to $539,000. I haven't seen any information that suggests those purchases were made using any taxpayer funds, but if you can point me to information showing that's indeed the case I would be interested to know about that. I'm wondering if you're thinking of a $500K grant the DDA pledged to give Avalon Housing if Near North was ever built, which of course it wasn't.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:44 p.m.

I thought I was reading an Onion article for a minute...

Hugh Giariola

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

"I used to sleep in the one on the end. It was called the Dirty Squat," Oh wait, that was the bathroom..........


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

Only in Ann Arbor does the weight of the opinions of "Pig Pen" and "Pooh" skew the balance as to whether opinions are "mixed" on this issue. Perhaps if I rode down there on a unicorn and said my name is Subroutine my opinion in favor of these houses removal would balance the equation. Sorry for the sarcasm, it's how I communicate.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

Sarcasm is seldom an effective communication style for adults.

Ann English

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 11:42 p.m.

The rappers do raise the idea that if those houses really could be renovated, they could be moved to other locations. But they're too rundown to be moved. Still, before I saw the video, I had expected North Main to be closed during the demolition; maybe it can stay open while the fourth, fifth and sixth houses are demolished. Certainly a better video than the one showing the historic houses being demolished; the sound of glass breaking came through better than the sight of it, and seeing wreckage compacted by heavy equipment was clear.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

I stand with Mr. Faber, and clapped with delight as I read this article. FINALLY.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 8:24 p.m.

He literally stopped and clapped his hands. Did you as well?


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:16 p.m.

They ought to build a public outdoor ice rink there


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

If the squatters care that much, tell them to get jobs and buy the houses...


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

No quote from the pictured dog?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

I am outraged.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 8:23 p.m.

He was apparently on his way to the vet for a torn nail. Poor pup.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

Are you kidding me with the "opinions mixed" headline? Are we really worried what two (non tax paying) squatters have to say about this?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

Perhaps the writers thought readers might be interested in the squatters' perspectives. You are not interested, fine. I read many comments that do not much interest me. When, however, I take the time to post a comment it indicates I have some interest in the subject matter. For example, perhaps in this case, some posters might have an interest in expressing their disgust for homeless people. Nice bunch.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 11:11 p.m.

Nope, we don't.

Jojo B

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

@Bonsai -- Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but it seems the opinions of two squatters living in there illegally has been given more weight than they deserve. Or maybe we're just going for a snappy headline here to stir the pot.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

oh you're only entitled to an opinion if you pay taxes?


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:15 p.m.

I thought the same thing about the headline.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

Karma, Pig Pen, and Pooh. Do you have a policy about quoting people who refuse to give their names?

Elena Chesney

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 7:42 p.m.

apparently they don't have a policy for commenters using aliases either, Bonsai ;)


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 11:31 a.m.

They have a policy permitting people who refuse to give their names post their opinions all over their newspaper, regardless of merit.

Paula Gardner

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

We rarely use comments from people who don't use their names, but will in instances where we believe it provides readers something essential. Past examples include a pseudonym for a recovered heroin addict and instances where people have witnessed crimes that still have perpetrators at large. In this instance, when the homes have had issues with squatters/homeless using them, we believed the people quoted were as represented and that they gave a perspective on the demo that we otherwise wouldn't have.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:22 p.m.

That is their names -- they're rappers.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:04 p.m.

Why couldn't the city force the developer to pay for the demolition? Or is it because the city seized the property due to tax non-payment?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

Sure seems like it would have been much easier if the city hadn't goofed up the paperwork with the state. Then they would have paid for it.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:25 a.m.

Why is it people expect a reporter should be able to make a decision of LAW regarding this? They gave you the FACTS. Lawyers will argue the facts at some point in front of a judge and a ruling will be made. I can guarantee there will be lawyers on both sides of the argument who will say legally who is responsible for what. The fact is, when the city does something to PRIVATE property they MUST do things in a very exacting way. The Michigan Inn stood vacant for how many years befire is was finally demolished.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:38 p.m.

The lien should secure the city's interests, unless the property is not worth enough. (If it's unbuildable, presumably it's not worth much.)

Hugh Giariola

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:35 p.m.

@rm1, did you ever have a title search done when purchasing property? If there is a lien on the property it must be satisfied before title may change hands.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

" the city will TRY to recoup its costs by placing liens on the properties for the cost of the demolition". That gets us part way to an answer to the basic question, will the demolition costs be borne by the property owners, of by the City's taxpayers? Does the statute say the City has the right to a lien, or not? Can the city just file a certified piece of paper, asserting its liens for $X, or is it more complicated? Or has the city somehow lost its right to a lien by some failure to meet the preconditions for a lien?

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:58 p.m.

As the story states, the city will try to recoup its costs by placing liens on the properties for the cost of the demolition.


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

Sorry for the duplicate posts. The first one disappeared for a while, but reappeared when I posted the second one.(which should have said "I'd hoped . . . "


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:42 p.m.

I's hoped that Lizzy or Ryan might asnwer NU's reasonable question : can the City recover its costs of demolition from the owner? Can it get a lien for those costs?


Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

So, Lizzy, that leaves Nicholas Urfe's reasonable question: can the City recover its cost of demolition from the now-owner? Does the City get a lien for those costs? The relevant statute should say, if the owner doesn't act on city demands to clear away the nuisance decrepit buildings, the City gets a lien for is costs. But I don't know what the relevant law is, or whether the City has made its way through whatever requirements there are for such a lien. I'd hoped you might easily find that out.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, May 22, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

The city didn't seize the property, it's a mortgage foreclosure so the property is going back to the lender, Great Lake Capitals Fund