Protesters in front of MPHA offices on May 22, 2019 (Photo by: Photo by Ridwan Osman)

By Mel Reeves

News Analysis

Last week, the MSR explored Minneapolis’ public housing rehab woes related to HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration. This week, the MSR explores the birth of its staunchest opponent: Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition.

For years, Glendale Townhomes have served as point of contention for residents who feared gentrification, privatization and the subsequent destruction of Minneapolis’ public housing.

On its surface, Glendale stood as one of the highest rated public housing complexes in Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s (MPHA) portfolio. Built in 1952, it is the city’s oldest public housing structure and is the only public housing built expressly for families, comprised of separate townhomes — instead of high rises — each with its own front porch, basement and back yard. They are also nestled within the affluent Southeast Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood and sit on prime real estate.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inspectors had also given the townhomes high marks — a score of 98 out of 100 — according to housings inspections released in 2010.

SEE ALSO: Public housing rehab sparks fears of privatization

The first occupants were U.S. veterans and their families, then by Black families who migrated to Minneapolis looking for better employment opportunities. Now, the Townhomes include a mix of South East Asians, East Africans (Somali and Oromo) immigrants and refugees, Whites and African American descendants of slaves.

Despite glowing reports, residents were demanding repairs be made to their townhomes, including fixing faulty electrical outlets, corroded pipes, upgrading the heating system, and upgrading pest control efforts. But, according to the residents, the buildings were not in such a state of disrepair that would require demolition and reconstruction.

“We found out people were not getting enough heat in their homes — there were issues with the heating system. The homes were in good shape, just in need of minor repairs and more pest control,” said Ladan Yusuf, Glendale resident and community activist.

In 2015, the MPHA announced plans to make requested repairs.

There was one caveat. The reconstruction plan would be achieved by demolishing and reconstructing the housing, requiring residents to temporarily relocate. Repairs would also be completed using MPHA’s RAD program (Rental Assistance Demonstration) which allows the agency to secure funds through private sources.

Yusuf said MPHA’s Director of Facilities and Development, Tim Gaetz told Glendale residents that their townhomes were targeted because their repairs were the costliest.

“MPHA complained they didn’t have enough money,” explained Yusuf. “They started charging people for minor repairs. We asked, ‘Why are they charging folks for minor repairs, like replacing a doorknob?’ Later, we found out that they were sitting on millions, but had stopped putting money in Glendale.”

The MPHA plan called for tearing down the current 184 townhomes and replacing them with a mixed-income complex of 550 new apartments, some of which would be reserved for use as Section 8 housing. Residents were told they would be able to return using Section 8 vouchers. The agency also promised rents would not be raised and the private investors would alter the long-term use of the buildings.

At first glance, residents did not see much wrong with the RAD proposal, but upon further examination, it had the potential to decrease public housing stock.

While returning tenants would have a Section 8 voucher which allows residents to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, the new project-based public housing would only guarantee a certain amount of affordable housing stock over the long term. There was no guarantee the housing that currently accepts Section 8 vouchers would remain so.

Glendale residents pushed back, forming Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition, a grassroots residents’ group led by Yusuf to oppose relocation and address privatization fears. Residents protested, calling the plan a “glorified privatization scheme,” which would lead to gentrification and displacement of the current residents and the elimination of Glendale as public housing. The tenants expressed grave doubts about the agency’s promises that they would be allowed to return after redevelopment was completed.

Relocation would also mean disruption of their livelihood, as there was no Section 8 housing in Prospect Park and very little in the adjoining neighborhoods and not much more in Minneapolis city limits, resulting in residents being scattered all over the Twin Cities metro area causing disruption and hardship, especially for elderly residents and those who rely on public transportation.

“It was obvious to me and my neighbors that they had been purposely neglecting upkeep for the last 10 years so they would have an excuse to spring this RAD plan on us,” said Yusuf.

Defend Glendale and its community allies, which include members of the Prospect Park Association the area’s neighborhood group, became a vocal and visible opponent of the changes, organizing community meetings and protests at Minneapolis City Hall and at key locations, calling for “zero displacement and zero gentrification.”

Glendale residents eventually filed a HUD complaint about lack of heat in their homes. A Minneapolis Council member pointed them to the Sustainable Resource Center, which helped weatherize the townhomes, replace old furnaces, and add insulation and other materials — without MPHA assistance.

Residents requested MPHA use its budget to make other repairs, but according to residents, the agency blocked requests for more than a year. MPHA ultimately gave in to pressure and the repairs were performed in 2018 without relocating residents.

Defend Glendale is now looking to support efforts to maintain and secure public housing at other housing sites it fears are now being targeted. It formed the Keep Public Housing Public Minneapolis Coalition, to address those ongoing concerns with the MPHA.

According to Yusuf, “In 2017, Russ said, ‘They are too organized at Glendale, let’s go after Elliot Twins.’ They said, ‘Let’s go somewhere else and maybe come back to Glendale. We realized that other brothers and sisters were under threat at Elliot Twins, we wanted to form, a solidarity so we organized with them.”

The MSR will continue to follow this affordable and public housing discussion as it unfolds.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. 

The birth of Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition

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