Sweeping changes in North Minneapolis’s urban landscape are underway, as developers and the city decide whether to demolish or restore large numbers of foreclosed vacant properties in the largely low-income neighborhoods.
While the number of demolitions has sparked debate, many North Minneapolis residents expressed hope that their neighborhood will benefit from increased redevelopment funding.
More than half of the city’s vacant properties are located in north Minneapolis. From 2007 to 2008, the number of demolitions in the neighborhood increased by over 60 percent. At the same time, north-Minneapolis-area property rehabilitations increased by almost 200 percent.
Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding
Last year, new federal funding under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program brought local non-profit developers and governments together to prevent urban blight by obtaining and redeveloping foreclosed vacant properties.
In Minneapolis, the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation (GMHC), a non-profit developer, has been working with city officials to demolish or renovate a significant chunk of housing stock on the north side. The city received $6.5 million in the first round of funding.
Since last year, GMHC has purchased 182 foreclosed properties, mostly in north Minneapolis. The developer renovated 107 of the units, demolished 28, and sold the rest to local non-profits.
The case for demolition
Some properties are just too costly to repair, GMHC’s Stephanie Gruver said. Copper wiring and appliances are frequently stolen from vacant foreclosed homes. The properties can become centers for drug sales and prostitution. Many homes have been neglected for years, and require everything from a new roof to a new electrical system.
On the 3600 block of Lyndale Avenue North, a one-story, two-room home awaits demolition. The tiny property, which needs new electric and heating systems, would cost about $40,000 to renovate, Gruver said. On a recent morning, sunlight streamed into the turn-of-the-century home, illuminating a burned electrical outlet and decades-old appliances.
The case against demolition
At the same time, some community members worry that demolishing vacant homes could lead to long-term problems.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” Century 21 realtor and preservation advocate Connie Nompelis said.
The vacant lots are likely to remain empty until the housing market picks up. So far, city officials have not provided concrete plans for the redevelopment of these lots, some of which take up as much as half of a block. Under current federal funding regulations, the city has between one and four years to redevelop the vacant lots, Cherie Shoquist, coordinator of the city’s Foreclosure Project, said.
“It’s like a pendulum.” Hawthorne Community Council’s housing director Jeff Skrenes said. “For a long time, demolitions were viewed as bad because they were taking away housing and people need housing.” But since the housing crisis, Skrenes said, attitudes have shifted in favor of a balance between demolition and renovation.
Rehab and renovation
A large two-story bungalow on the corner of 14th Avenue and Russell Avenue North is slated for renovation. Although the roof needs extensive repair work, much of the home’s original interior woodwork remains in excellent condition. “It’s just really spectacular,” Gruver said, standing in the home’s living room, admiring the original beveled glass and built-in wooden benches.
GMHC purchased the property for less than $70,000 and estimates that renovations will cost about $100,000. Gruver expects the property will sell quickly.
Striking the balance
Developers say that limited financial resources require that some homes be demolished, as they would be too costly to repair. “People don’t want to tear down great houses,” Gruver said. “But unfortunately there are a lot of houses that are really beyond their useful lives.”
Some residents expressed concern about the lack of a formal notification process between GMHC and neighborhood organizations. In March, neighbors posted complaints to the E-Democracy forum. In response, GMHC agreed to provide tours of homes prior to demolition to members of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO).
The delicate balance between demolition and renovation can result in homes on the same block being treated differently.
On homeowner Peter Teachout’s street, developers decided to demolish a long-standing drug house. Teachout had complained about the property for years, leading drug dealers to set his truck on fire, he said. “It was so frustrating,” he said, adding that, in this case, foreclosure accomplished what years of complaints could not.
At the same time, Teachout supports the planned renovation of a historic home sitting next door to the dilapidated drug house. “It’s a balance between the two,” he said.
In the next several months, city officials and developers both say they expect to see more renovations and fewer demolitions. In the meantime, north Minneapolis residents will likely not know the exact impact of the demolitions and renovations for several years.
“This is kind of like accumulating pieces to a puzzle,” Gruver said. “You just have to see what you come out with.”
Madeleine Baran is a freelance journalist specializing in labor and poverty issues. Her articles have appeared in The New York Daily News, Dollars & Sense, Clamor, The New Standard, and other publications. Email email@example.com