Northside homeowners who have been besieged in recent months by city inspectors intent on cleaning up problem properties will launch a public campaign later this month to voice their outrage over what they see as an outrageous case of regulatory excess.
The activist group Minnesota ACORN will coordinate the campaign, which will kick off September 29 with a public event designed to highlight the economic hardships faced by homeowners tagged with an estimated 20,000 city code violations since the inspection sweeps began this summer.
The sweep, which was triggered by Fifth Ward Council Member Don Samuels and Mayor R.T. Rybak as a way of fighting crime and showing their commitment to an improved North Side housing market, has had the effect of saddling low-income residents with hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of dollars in repair bills. “Their intentions were probably good,” said ACORN’s Brandon Nessen, “but they haven’t thought out the ramifications of their policies.”
Samuels has said that he wants the city to expect the same commitment to clean yards and well-kept homes from the residents of Jordan and other Northside neighborhoods as it does from homeowners in Kenwood or Bryn Mawr. Trouble is, said Nessen, Northside homeowners have far lower incomes and less ability to afford even the most minor repairs.
“Homeowners on the North Side would do the same [level of repairs] if they had the money to do it,” Nessen said.
The campaign will focus on the need for low-interest loans and grants for those whose homes have been tagged. And ACORN will also show how the inspection sweep has attracted predatory lenders who are preying on cash-strapped homeowners. “It’s opening the gates to let them come in,” he said.
The citations are expected to generate some $1.5 million in fines, Nessen said. ACORN would like to see this money fund home repair programs that he claimed have been “squeezed dry.”
City officials are well aware of the criticism the inspection sweep has generated this summer. Council Member Diane Hofstede, whose Third Ward extends partly into North Minneapolis, admitted that the program was not very well organized. Indeed, the number of citations caught nearly everyone at City Hall by surprise. “I don’t think anyone expected it would be at this level,” she said of the number of citations.
Part of the problem, she explained, involved the enormous backlog of inspections that had built up over the years. “In some areas, it was a number of years,” she said. “It wasn’t an effective strategy.”
Low-income homeowners do need a safety net to help them make the required repairs, Hofstede said, but more importantly, the city needs to develop and fund regular housing inspections throughout the city, so the housing stock is not allowed to deteriorate.
Still, she credits Rybak and city staff for not backing down or “sugar-coating” the housing issues in the area. Meanwhile, the City Council has asked staff to evaluate the housing inspection program and return in January with recommendations. Hofstede said she’s confident those recommendations will help the city address the criticisms this most recent sweep has generated.