Latino renters allege mistreatment in Lyndale

Inquilinos Unidos por Justicia (United Renters For Justice), along with several leaders of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA), gathered outside the Q.T Properties office on Hennepin Avenue  to protest the numerous fines and alleged mistreatment levied by the building owners. The associations wielded letters from tenants, and a petition demanding better conditions, demanding management to come outside and negotiate. Some were holding signs, and all were holding a sense of frustration.For the past year, there have been frequent complaints of mistreatment and deterioration of conditions at the buildings from Latino renters, along with difficulties in resigning their leases.“Every other moment they have letters saying we’re going to be fined, for their children playing in the hallway, for using the common area outside the apartment spaces, for leaving shoes or bicycles in common areas. These are things people should be able to do in their living spaces, and not have to fear for retaliation,” said Natasha Villanueva, LNAAs each speaker went up to list off their complaints, a common theme was clear: The heavy fines and shifting lease agreements seem designed to push them out. Most of the latino renters are working-class families who can’t afford to take time off work to deal with management, and the persistent fines are taking a toll.“They fined my car twice, which cost me $700. Continue Reading

Power, Politics and Broken Elevators

Politics, dueling agendas and passionate pleas were all part of a recent  meeting at the Brian Coyle community center, where more than 250 tenants from the Cedar Riverside Towers showed up to complain about living conditions there.  Council member Abdi Warsame invited heads of city departments including the office of civil rights, health and safety, regulatory services and State Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL), who represents the Cedar Riverside area, to be part of a listening session where residents of the iconic Cedar Riverside towers,  complained about broken elevators, lack of parking, and a lack of respect and cultural competency on the part of Sherman Associates and the employees who manage the complex. No representative from Sherman Associates, the company who owns the towers were at the table  listening alongside city employees. Nor was any representative from the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association. Organizers say it was about gathering the community and listening to the residents.”This is all about empowering the residents and hearing their concerns,” said Mohamed Mohamed of West Bank Community Coalition. His organization helped organize the listening session. Residents sometimes became emotional about issues they have been experiencing with Sherman Associates. Continue Reading

When We Talk About “Homelessness”, What are We Really Talking About?

I start quite deliberately with the scare quotes above because it is one of my primary objectives here to articulate my discomfort with the way the term “homelessness” is conventionally used. I will argue that it is a crude and inadequately descriptive piece of shorthand that we use when we really mean visible urban poverty. I believe that our reliance on this euphemism reflects a general and problematic queasiness about confronting the real experiences of the poorest members of our community. At the same time, it diminishes our capacity to understand and adequately address the problems we are trying to describe.The Twin Cities metro area, and especially Hennepin County, offers some of the best services for homeless people available anywhere in the United States. The combination of our brutal winter climate and our somewhat unique social and political history has made our metro, perhaps paradoxically, one of the safest places to live without a permanent address. Continue Reading

Bill would require that Met Council get Legislature’s OK on housing plans, funds

The Legislature would gain control of the Metropolitan Council’s housing purse strings, under a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Vogel (R-Elko New Market).HF1969 would also make the Metropolitan Council’s long-range plans and goals for affordable and life-cycle housing in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area subject to legislative approval.[Right: Rep. Bob Vogel]The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee laid the bill over Wednesday for possible inclusion in a later bill. There is no Senate companion.Kim Crockett, chief operating officer at the Center for the American Experiment, questioned whether housing falls under the Metropolitan Council’s legislative authority. She praised Vogel’s bill for “reasserting the prerogative of the Legislature in the area of housing.”Judd Schetnan, Metropolitan Council government affairs director, agreed with Crockett that housing isn’t like the sewage or transit systems his agency runs. But Vogel’s bill would make housing more of a system than it is today, he said, and he asked whose interests the bill served. “We’ve not heard from cities who have asked for these changes.”One local official backing the bill is Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik, who told committee members the Metropolitan Council goal for her city — 932 new units of affordable housing in the decade ending in 2030 — “doesn’t make sense. Continue Reading

City hears Riverside Plaza tenant concerns

Cedar-Riverside community members and Riverside Plaza tenants convened Friday at the Brian Coyle Center gymnasium to formally assert complaints about the apartment complex’s management to city officials.For two years, community members have voiced grievances ranging from broken elevators to feeling unsafe in their homes. Minneapolis officials documented the complaints for the first time on Friday and said they will begin assessing them soon.Ward 6 City Councilman Abdi Warsame facilitated the session, while representatives from city offices, including the Department of Regulatory Services, documented the issues.“The most important thing is that tenants feel like they aren’t being listened to, and they’re being taken for granted, even though they pay rent,” Warsame said.Officials listened patiently as an interpreter translated each of the residents’ grievances, many of which were met with cheers and applause from the audience.All of the complaints pointed to the apartment complex’s management company, Sherman Associates. Sherman Associates’ Director of Marketing and Communications Valerie Doleman said its representatives attended Friday’s meeting, but weren’t asked by the meeting’s facilitators to sit on the panel.Some residents said they have seen the building’s security guards smoking marijuana in hallways or stairwells.Doleman said those concerns haven’t been brought up between Sherman Associates and the Riverside Plaza Tenants’ Association in previous meetings, and they haven’t been formally reported.She said the security guards are required to wear body cameras.Warsame said it can be difficult for tenants to express their concerns to the management group because of the cultural divide that exists between residents and the building’s managers.Nine-year resident Assad Birhie said he thinks Somali-speaking security guards would make the residents feel more comfortable.Sherman Associates is requiring extra sensitivity training for all of its Riverside employees this month.Apartment employees are already required to undergo sensitivity training upon being hired as well as throughout the year, Doleman said.Executive Director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota Mohamud Noor met with Sherman Associations and other community leaders late last month to produce a list of action items for the building’s management to improve.He said he didn’t sign the agreement they were discussing because he felt the residents’ concerns of discrimination within the complex weren’t addressed appropriately.Doleman said the sensitivity training is designed to discourage discrimination.“The aim of this was not to be a negotiation between the owners,” Warsame said. “This was just to listen to the community and to understand their concerns.”In 2012, Riverside Plaza completed a $132 million project that aimed to make the complex safer and more attractive. It was funded with both public and private money.Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said considering the state’s large contribution to the project, she plans to investigate how the money was spent.The director of the city’s Department of Civil Rights, Velma Korbel — who attended Friday’s meeting — said the city’s next step is to analyze the complaints. Continue Reading

‘We can’t do this without you!’ Mayor Hodges sets her agenda in State of the City address

“One Minneapolis” was the central theme in Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’s State of the City Address on April 2, at the American Swedish Institute, where she discussed how the community working together can address challenges the city of Minneapolis is currently facing.“The genius we have now, right here, will make us the great city of the 21st century if we are willing to do what it takes to make sure we leave none of that genius on the table,” Hodges said.In her second State of the City Address, Hodges made a call-to-action to encourage community leaders to become graduation coaches for young men. She wants to narrow the gap between low-income and middle class families through collective bargaining in the private sector. She wants to raise the minimum wage and launch the Minneapolis Climate Champs Challenge, which will provide steps and tips as to how citizens in Minneapolis can help stop climate change.“Minneapolis, the question before us now is how much genius are we going to leave on the table?” Hodges asked.Hodges set her sights on early education, bridging the divide when it comes to income inequality and addresses climate change.Education In order to efficiently use the genius of people in the community, Hodges said it starts when a child in the community is young. When it comes to youth development, Hodges cited the fact that 80% of a person’s brain is developed by the age of 3.“What we do for our kids early on matters,” Hodges said.The city will budget $1 million for housing so many children who are low-income, could have stable living conditions. She said the focus on child development is to make sure they are ready for the workforce; however, she also wants them to be engaged in their community.“We need our kids to be more than workforce ready, we needs kids who are ready to build one Minneapolis. Continue Reading

Water’s Off volunteers provide plumbing repairs for low-income homeowners

SAINT PAUL“This is too good to be true,” Laurene Gruett said as Gerald Keating and Brett Sergot, members of St. Paul Plumbers Local 34, repaired the basement shower and kitchen sink in her North St. Paul home March 21. “What a blessing. Keating and Sergot were among 57 volunteers from Local 34 who participated in the annual Water’s Off day of service. St. Continue Reading