Letter to the Editor: #agreatcityrises is not equitable for all

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On Monday, May 9, Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey posted three images on Facebook of a new housing unit in Central Riverside boasting the following:

 

#agreatcityrises

 

After reading the post, I entered an all too familiar feeling, divorced from the realities happening in my hometown. Frey, like many of his colleagues, unveils Minneapolis as the classic shining city on the hill, with the use of the “#agreatcityrises.” Yet, speaking as a Minneapolis native, housing organizer and woman of color, I know this could not be any further from the truth experienced by indigenous and communities of color.

 

Let’s be real now. Affordable for whom?

 

In Frey’s Facebook post, he replied to a comment by saying the development pictured would be “affordable” to residents earning 50 to 60 percent of the area’s median income, which means households earning about $33,000 or less would qualify.

Frey followed up the comment on his post by saying, “Clearly we need more deeply affordable housing also.”

Under Frey’s leadership in Ward 3, about 70 percent of redevelopment in the city is and has gone underway in his jurisdiction. Properties all over the North Loop (formerly known as part of North Minneapolis) and Northeast Minneapolis continue to gentrify. The increase in redevelopment is not uncommon as Frey’s ambitious plan is to “put Minneapolis on the map.”

But, these plans have a significant and negative impact. As new populations come in and take advantage of new housing and business development, existing communities are pushed out.* And, unfortunately, a disproportionate amount are communities of color. Owners and landlords insidiously abuse their power to use discrimination, retaliation and intimidation as tools to relentlessly force tenants to discontinue their lease and impose evictions. All in efforts to accommodate the young, white, suburban transplant thirsty for urban living.

Let’s put this clearly: the vision of #agreatcityrises is NOT equitable for every Minneapolis resident. Period.

Historically speaking, Minneapolis neighborhood associations and parks and recreational boards consist of primarily one demographic: white, affluent or middle-class family homeowners. They work closely with the city and intentionally ignore the concerns of the renter population. Strong regulations, codes, and policy objectives surrounding land use, housing, economic development, and livability have favored this demographic without the involvement of historically marginalized and disenfranchised communities.

Take for instance the master development plan in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, also under the jurisdiction of Frey. Current objectives are solidly paved to preserve and expand the number of single family homes; and converting existing, “problematic” rental properties to condominiums in efforts to accommodate faculty, staff and a growing number of students attending the University of Minnesota. In neighborhood association meetings, absolutely nothing is being said in support for the preservation of existing affordable housing, like Holmes Park Village Apartments and Townhomes, an existing affordable housing complex that provides project-based rental assistance to seniors, differently abled, individuals and families of color. Many residents regard Marcy Holmes neighborhood as their home. Safe and convenient for them to access core resources like groceries and public transportation on Central Avenue. The subsidy contract between the owners and the government is nearing its deadline in 2019.

What is being done to ensure current residents are not displaced from a community they call their home? So far, absolutely nothing has been said about the preservation of existing subsidized housing programs in the neighborhood.

So, when Frey boasts affordability and inclusivity, what does he mean? How much does it cost to build this new housing? What is the selection criteria? Will there be a proportion of subsidized affordable housing units in this complex? What about policies implemented to ensure affordable housing for Latino communities? Are they eligible to have access to this, what you say, “affordable housing”? What will be the average size of these units? Will it be appropriate for multi-generational families of color? What is the expected rent? What is the minimum income can a resident apply for housing?

Let’s get straight to business, exactly who is the target market? The pricing out of current residents at Crossroads Apartments–a more than 700-unit apartment complex– is happening everywhere throughout the Metro area. Developments made under Frey’s leadership will only ensue dire consequences and widen the racial inequity gaps in housing.

 

jacob frey

 

When tenant associations form, they realize their potential to make a difference in their own communities. By exercising their agency through democracy, the associations strategize on a wide range of issues like preserving housing (i.e. Section 8 renewals), formulating campaigns to raise awareness of displacement and gentrification, removing abusive managers, and centering resident controlled repairs and upgrades to name just a few. Tenants are empowered when they exercise their legal rights to organize and reclaim their truths. This is what real change means on a grassroots level.

But, too often, their truths are suppressed, overshadowed, dismissed, patronized, tokenized (as with the case by the city of St. Paul proclamations of “community engagement” surrounding the controversial soccer stadium), and thrown away into the trash. Out of touch public officials convene and orchestrate redevelopment plans that purposely disengage with the true needs of the community. All while putting on a facade of a unified and post-racial Minneapolis.

And history proves that.

Personally, I’m too tired and irritated when public officials like Frey use their political platform to flex a falsified, propagandist, diluted image of Minneapolis that veils the truth.

 

[*Editor’s Note: The Facebook post in question highlights a development that is being built on a property that has held an empty parking lot for several years. The article has also been corrected to note the income qualifications for the development.]

10 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: #agreatcityrises is not equitable for all

  1. Frey is doing what he and others have always done. They think about themselves and those in their clicks. I am sure he is not surrounded by the people who live in the existing communities and people of color that you described. Those people of color are not at the table, they are not at the association meetings and they are not the ones they think about when they are thinking of planning and development. They are doing what they always do, Think About Themselves.

  2. The building in Frey’s post was built on railroad yards that had been vacant for nearly sixty years. Who did that building displace?

  3. This seems more like a rant than contributing to a beneficial conversation on housing justice.

    The author asks, “So, when Frey boasts affordability and inclusivity, what does he mean? How much does it cost to build this new housing? What is the selection criteria? Will there be a proportion of subsidized affordable housing units in this complex? What about policies implemented to ensure affordable housing for Latino communities? Are they eligible to have access to this, what you say, “affordable housing”? What will be the average size of these units? Will it be appropriate for multi-generational families of color? What is the expected rent? What is the minimum income can a resident apply for housing?”

    These are good questions, and they surely have answers, as no housing project gets built without a thorough plan; you can’t get financing or building permits otherwise. Why not ask CM Frey directly before writing a ranting article about it? By not doing your research and just pointing fingers, you become a fear-monger, as opposed to part of a solution-oriented dialogue. Would you prefer nothing happen at all? Or should we be anti-development (even affordable housing, which will disproportionately benefit communities of color??), period?

    • Thank you, Shaina. I wish the author would have contacted me before writing this article because the fact of the matter is, we agree! I have been working very hard to trigger additional affordable housing in the area. In fact, I am going to a meeting on the very topic tonight. Additionally, I find it odd that this article stems from a post (1) talking about the importance of affordable housing, (2) specifically referencing an affordable project being built on a surface parking lot, and (3) clearly stating that we need more deeply affordable projects. This is a topic I have been working extremely hard on, and would happily discuss with anyone that has questions. My city number is 612-673-2203.

  4. I find your remarks very genuine and poignant to what is going on for a lot of low income, AND hard-working individuals in the Twin Cities area. Finding housing that is affordable and in an area that your child can have a chance for success and a healthy environment to grow is what most parents want for their kids. It’s when you are hindered to do that because there is lack of housing and opportunity in your area that things get very frustrating.I do appreciate the outlook to give because affordable housing that’s over 35,000 a year isn’t affordable.

    • Clarification, the housing is targeting those making approximately $35,000 per year, not costing them $35,000. At that income level, while it is not affordable to everyone, it is far more affordable than what non-subsidized developments can afford to deliver.

      We need more tools to build and preserve affordable housing. It is a serious issue and I agree with the author in many ways about the winners and losers in real estate, but unfortunately, there does not appear to be any silver bullets. The City of Seattle has focused a lot of staff and volunteer time on trying to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to address housing affordability and came up with dozens of ideas. Some ideas will take decades to likely have any impact (for example, market-rate apartment supply growth) while others will have a more short term improvement (inclusionary zoning, housing levy increases).

  5. I’ll add a bit more on Jacob Frey’s support for affordable housing that is truly affordable. CM Frey has stepped forward to be the point person for the Minneapolis council on an advocacy effort to create a metropolitan housing fund that will target resources for households with incomes less than about $25,000 per year. This effort is called the Home Grown Housing Fund. It recognizes that in addition to strengthened tenant rights the only way to help people who are losing out in the upward spiral of rents is to narrow the housing cost gap. This means providing rent subsidies or creating more affordable housing. (Of course, advocating living wage jobs and increasing minimum wage help too and are seen as complementary to housing efforts.) The Home Grown fund initiative also recognizes that this is not just a Minneapolis problem and the entire metropolitan area needs to financially participate in creating more affordable places to live. I appreciate CM Frey’s willingness to take on this task and wish that other elected officials would join him in pushing for solutions to what’s going on in the rental housing market.

  6. I agree with much of the letter– we are loosing a lot of affordable housing in Minneapolis and need more, not less. But advocates must get their facts right:

    “Properties all over the North Loop (formerly known as part of North Minneapolis) and Northeast Minneapolis continue to gentrify. ”

    First, if I remember right, the North Loop has always been listed as a separate neighborhood in the Central Planning District (I think the name of the neighborhood was changed about 25 years ago). Near North is a neighborhood that borders it that is in the Near North Planning District (yes that does get a little confusing).

    Second, there has been little gentrification in the North Loop. Except for a few artists lofts, most of the residential that is there now is either new construction on former industrial land or conversion of industrial use to residential use. The accurate definition of gentrification is forcing people out of their homes through increased rents. There were no residents to force out.

    I do agree there could be gentrification in NorthEast Minneapolis (haven’t looked at the data so I couldn’t say conclusively.

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