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Plan Underway to Convert Minneapolis

from Rental Housing to Home Ownership

“A high level of owner-occupancy in a neighborhood can be directly related to investment in properties and appreciation of their values.” - Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, State of the City, 1998

Certain neighborhoods of Minneapolis are considered to have too many renters. In Phillips, for instance, city officials and neighborhood groups want to reduce the proportion of housing from two thirds rental to one third rental and make taxpayer-subsidized homes available to qualifying individuals in housing units which the tenants vacate.

Homeowners are considered a more desirable type of city resident than renters. Because they own the property, it is assumed that they will take care of it where tenants will not. As a result, there is an alliance between homeowners (especially those active in neighborhood associations) and elected city officials. Retiring City Council member Jim Niland admitted quite candidly that he did not care that much about renters’ concerns because “renters don’t vote.”

When the city’s police services fail to reduce crime in a neighborhood, it is blamed on the type of individual living there. The more transient population which lives in apartment buildings is suspected of harboring criminals. Instead of targeting individual offenders, the CCP/SAFE unit of the Minneapolis Police Department goes after buildings. These officers work with Inspections to find something wrong with the building and shut it down. Then, presumably, the crime will go away. Of course, the tenants also go away - good tenants as well as bad.

During the past ten years, the City of Minneapolis has lost an estimated 15,000 units of rental housing (which may translate into lost housing for two to three times that number of people.) In 1990, there were approximately 90,000 rental units in Minneapolis. By 2000, it was down to around 75,000 units. This is what drives the “affordable-housing crisis.”

Many of the lost units represent buildings that were torn down by the city. Tearing down apartment buildings to create “green space” is a popular idea with many who sit on neighborhood association housing committees. An unspoken idea is that, if you destroy rental housing, then many of the city’s least desirable residents will be unable to find a place to live and will have to move away. We can make Minneapolis more like the suburbs - build ranch homes for single families and attract people back from the suburbs. Minneapolis will be upgrading its population base.

How does the City of Minneapolis destroy rental housing? Let us count the ways:

In March 2001, a man in north Minneapolis who owned 36 rental properties started receiving letters from the city Inspections department that “rental-license inspections” would be conducted on all his properties, one after another, in the space of two weeks. There might be anywhere from two to six pages of work orders for each property. If the man did not get all the work done on time, he could receive fines and penalties or even have his building condemned. In other words, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of work had to be completed within the allotted time - usually 30 days - or the owner might lose his properties.

The city inspector in charge of this operation let it be known that “(Landlord X) is going down.” It may or may not be a coincidence that more than 90% of Landlord X’s tenants were low- to middle-income African Americans.

In August 1993, a City Council member demanded that the new owner of an apartment building empty out the entire building because it was linked to crime. This owner, who had just sat down with his tenants to discuss strategies to clean up the building, refused to evict anyone unless he or she had a criminal record. The City Council member called him an “incompetent” manager and said: “If you don’t clear out the building, we will.”

Sure enough, the city Health inspector did later condemn this man’s building because of cockroaches - even though a licensed pest-control firm was regularly spraying for cockroaches. Then, when the building was closed, the city did a rental-license inspection, forcing the owner to run up more than $40,000 on credit cards to do the work that allowed him to reopen. The previous tenants (few, if any, linked to crime) had 20 days to move from the condemned building. It was in the dead of winter.

In 1995, the Minneapolis police did a drug raid on a rented room and found no drugs. A small fire took place in an upstairs unit. The owner, a carpenter by trade, started making repairs. A city inspector decided to condemn this building because of a broken window. The Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) offered him $5,000 for this property which was valued at $58,000 on the tax rolls. The owner refused. Then MCDA condemned the property by eminent domain, took the owner to court, and wound up paying him $1.00. MCDA then tore down the building and created a vacant lot.

Among those who have developed this strategy for “cleaning up the city” are Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, her chief lieutenant Joe Biernat, and Council member Joan Campbell.

 

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