Dearborn’s Changing Garage Rules Worry Arabs
As early summer days on Orchard Street draw to a close, sliding doors open, inviting fresh air and neighbors into side-by-side garages.
More patio than parking place or storage for power tools, Mariam Khalaf said her garage is primarily for “chilling purposes” — including smoking, eating and watching TV with family and friends, including next-door neighbors, Muheeb Nabulsy and his wife, Fatima Mkkawi.
Khalaf and Nabulsy say gathering in their east-side garages never invited scrutiny until they installed the sliding doors last year in front of the more traditional electric ones. Now, officials in the Detroit suburb are looking at changing an ordinance on garage use, arguing that as people get a little too comfortable hanging out in the garage, more cars are clogging side streets.
Many who’ve made the unsanctioned transition are part of Dearborn’s nearly 100,000 Arab-American residents, one of the largest such communities outside of the Middle East and a third of the city’s population. The garages are a continuation of marathon socializing sessions that started many years ago in their home countries under shady trees, often accompanied by coffee and a water pipe, known as a hookah or argileh.
“They migrated over time to the garage as an extension of the living place, and here comes the complaint from people who don’t have that as part of their tradition,” said Nabeel Abraham, a Dearborn resident and an instructor and administrator at a Dearborn community college. “I think it’s a class, ethnic reaction.”
Not so, say Dearborn officials, who say the ordinance-tightening isn’t meant to target Arabs or anyone else. They don’t want the garages, which they contend aren’t built to the same standards as the rest of a home, to become “habitable” places for cooking or sleeping.