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Plans for More Building Demolitions

   

Time and time again, the city of Minneapolis or its agencies order buildings to be demolished because they say that demolition is more cost-effective than rehabilitation. They use a combination of high repair costs and low market values to justify these decisions. The “experts” who make the valuations of market values and rehabilitation costs may be city employees or they may be appraisers who frequently work with the city. They may also be representatives of housing nonprofits favored by city government. The numbers which they generate are not subject to outside review but are taken as fact in making demolition decisions.

On March 2000, the housing committee of the Central Neighborhood Improvement Association (CNIA) voted to demolish three buildings in south Minneapolis which were vacant and boarded through not tax-forfeited. All three buildings were on the “249 List”. The vote on March 14th was preliminary to bringing the measure before the CNIA board of directors which was expected to endorse the proposal before sending it to the Minneapolis City Council. The City Council has the authority to order th buildings demolished and charge the building owners the costs of demolition plus administrative fees.

The three buildings in question were located at:

3225 2nd Avenue South (a duplex)
3641-43 Columbus Avenue South (a fourplex)
3719 Park Avenue South

Before the votes were taken, committee members were given copies of a “preliminary property assessment’ for each building. We have copies of the report for the first two buildings. According to them:

The duplex at 3225 2nd Avenue South had an acquisition price of $42,000. The estimated cost of “construction” (renovation) was $224,800. Other related costs such as contingency, marketing, and developer fees, were $65,000. The total development cost was therefore $331,800.

The fourplex at 3641-43 Columbus Avenue South had an acquisition price of $84,000. The cost of construction was $280,000, and other costs were $80,830. The total development cost was $445,180.

It was disclosed that a representative of the Southside Neighborhood Housing Services (SNHS) had made the estimates of development costs. This person had made the estimates from an inspection of the building’s exterior since he did not have access to the interior. SNHS works closely with the Central Neighborhood and with the city of Minneapolis on housing itssues. Its executive director, who might have done the estimates, is a former Minneapolis Community Development Agency employee.

In recommending demolition, the CNIA committee claimed that it had tried to contact the owners of the three buildings but had been unable to do so. Using the Minneapolis telephone directory, Bill McGaughey of MPRAC located Betty Ogbulu, the owner of the duplex at 3225 2nd Avenue South. She was a professional woman who had been working in Pennsylvania for an extended period. Ogbula said this was the first she had heard of CNIA’s interest in her property. She and her son were planning a major renovation project. In fact, they had already received bids from contractors and had selected one to do the work.

MPRAC decided to do a demonstration at Ogbulu’s property. Her son agreed to open up the building to let the demonstrators take a look inside. A press release announcing the demonstration was sent to over twenty media. Lou Harvin, an investigative reporter for the public-television station, was the only newsman to respond.

The building had been damaged by fire. Even so, it was a fine old house which could easily be salvaged. The bid received from the contractor was well below the $331,800 which the estimator from SNHS after a drive-by had said would be necessary to do the work. Harvin was impressed by the discrepancy between the official cost figures and what the Ogbulus planned to spend to get the work done.

An interesting byproduct of this demonstration was that the MPRAC protestors engaged in a friendly conversation with a thin, bearded man named Zachary Metoyer. He was evidently a community organizer of some talent for, in the following year, Metoyer and his supporters packed the annual meeting of the Central Neighborhood Improvement Association and kicked the old board out.

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