After the major changes in the student housing market in Ann Arbor surrounding the war, the gradual but consistent expansion of enrollment at the University of Michigan (see Appendix C) and changing tastes in the housing preferences of university students led to another shift in the provision of student housing. While this change represented a move back to housing created and provided by the private market, it is not accurate to call it merely a reversal of the mid-century housing trends that resulted from federal subsidy. This is because first, the private units that housed students were decreasingly in structures that also housed owner-occupants; landlords only rarely lived on-site. Second, neighborhood groups and homeowners no longer clamored to accept students into their neighborhoods and homes. In fact, the late 1960s and 1970s saw an inversion of the prewar demand to local politicians and regents that students live off-campus, within the community. Neighborhood groups from the late 1960s on organized to oppose off-campus student housing and the changes it would bring to neighborhoods in central Ann Arbor.
This shift in attitude includes both local and national factors in its cause. The proximate cause of individualsâ€™ and neighborhoodsâ€™ opposition to neighborhood transition was an alteration of the local culture of property. For example, the tradition (and the traditional narrative) of German families living and working as a community on the cityâ€™s west side was no longer sustainable. Federal immigration policy reduced the flow of European immigrants into the United States, making such ethnic enclaves impossible to maintain. In addition, the expanding conception of whiteness to include descendants of central and eastern European immigrants (within Ann Arbor proper as well as the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti metropolitan racial framework) diminished the importance of such Euro-American ethnic communities. Within this context, maintaining the neighborhood norms, the emerging middle-class community character, and the traditional architectural forms that represented and reinforced that community was the paramount goal of grassroots political activism. However, the resulting rejection of new development, low-income housing, and differing tenure choices did not come solely as a result of working out local identities. Such neighborhood oppositionâ€”to these effects of metropolitan expansion and to more assertive government strategies to provide the poor with basic necessities such as shelterâ€”was a national phenomenon.
In the postwar period, residents of Ann Arborâ€™s city suburbs like the Old West Side and Burns Park were economically motivated to political action as homeowners seeking to protect the most significant investment of their lives. No longer were west side residentsâ€™ identities those of German immigrants and laborers. Rather than supporting metropolitan strategies of liberal reforms, homeowners sought to protect the neighborhoods they had invested in and the communities they were devoted to. In addition, grassroots neighborhood groups promoted the priority of home-ownership in single-family residential communities. Itself a product of federal subsidies and a long tradition of favorable federal housing policy, broad homeownership was a chief community value in residential neighborhoods outside Ann Arborâ€™s downtown. Neighborhood organizations emphasized this homeowner identity and pushed city politicians to protect their middle class values, as well.
This grassroots work to promote and protect property-owning rights was almost in direct conflict with another political movement fermenting within Ann Arbor, this one working toward a vision of tenantsâ€™ rights. Ann Arbor was one of the birthplaces of the New Left movement, including one of the first and most powerful chapters of Students for a Democratic Society. Local New Left activist groups, such as Voice, the local SDS chapter, the Ann Arbor Tenantsâ€™ Union, and later the Ann Arbor chapter of the Human Rights Party organized, campaigned, and even legislated to address issues of housing inequality and landlordsâ€™ exploitation of renters. This battle between representatives of two of the postwar eraâ€™s most significant political developments would have national implications. Its outcome subtly illustrated the importance of federal policy in local government and the utility of mastering and wielding the bureaucratic mechanisms of municipal governance.
Though the period of local reform promoted by emergent student leaders and the New Left was short-lived, the enduring crisis in housing and the combination of university and federal housing policy and alterations in state and federal law yielded significant economic and political victories in housing for students in Ann Arbor. Students worked in the postwar period to end the university policy of acting in loco parentis; to gain greater rights of participation in university governance of housing; to redress power inequalities in the local rental housing market; and to enact a program for political change at the municipal level. In addition, the decline of in loco parentis university control at the hands of student activism reduced sexual segregation and university control over womenâ€™s housing. University dormitories became co-educational and private housing in the community was markedly less segregated by sex. (See map at conclusion of chapter 4).
However, the continued expansion of the University of Michigan intensified political and economic problems surrounding student housing. Supply and demand inequalities in central Ann Arbor frequently led to redevelopment and put pressure on owners in single-family neighborhoods to convert or sell their homes for conversion to multi-unit developments and renovations. Grassroots neighborhood groups responded by forming neighborhood political associations to look after their political interests in city hall. In addition, an emerging group of preservationists within the city leveraged new state and federal preservation programs and legislation to protect their neighborhoods from redevelopment and to maintain their conservative community ideals. City politicians responded to the new power dynamic and worked to exploit fear of neighborhood decline, promoting the values of neighborhood associations, rather than studentsâ€™ and tenantsâ€™ issues.
Despite these new political strategies and constituencies within Ann Arbor, neither significantly altered the underlying structure of the central housing market, nor did they remedy the enduring problems of the cityâ€™s housing market, including short supply and a dramatic power imbalance between tenants and owners. However, during the later 1970s, slowing university growth, decentralization of the cityâ€™s population, stagflation in the latter half of the decade, and restructuring of the stateâ€™s economy provided some correction in real rents in central Ann Arbor.