In response to claims of inaccuracy for story on MPHA and tenant organizing

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Last week, we published an article “Multiple MPHA communities band together to fight against potential housing privatization” detailing the work of Defend Glendale and other affiliated organizers. The story was met with a claim of inaccuracies by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s communications manager Jeff Horwich.

As the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet and in the interest of transparency we are responding to claims of false statements. We have clarified some statements for better understanding and context, but overall we stand by the sentiments of this piece: tenants are organizing, there is concern and confusion over privatization and what is considered affordable is debatable. The Twin Cities Daily Planet has reported true information side-by-side with reporting of the concerns from the residents. These concerns persist, due to issues like improper translation and for their concerns not being taken seriously.

For a public agency to call people’s concerns – especially when those people come from historically marginalized groups – a conspiracy theory is not a reflection on this story but a reflection on the level of communication with residents. The residents who are quoted in this story spoke out because they have felt they have not been heard, that their concerns have not been addressed. The Daily Planet’s mission is to amplify and connect marginalized voices, and that is what we have done.

The following was posted in the comment section of the story. The portions in quotation marks are direct quotes from the Daily Planet’s story. MPHA and the Daily Planet’s responses to each quote are noted.

 

“to MPHA’s proposed plan to demolish and redevelop their townhomes in 2015.”

MPHA: Despite what you may have heard, there was never any proposed plan—no financing, no preliminary designs, no partners, no notices to or actions of any kind required of residents. Nothing. Two years later, there is still no plan—nothing even close. There were initial discussions with residents to talk about what they might like to see if there were changes at Glendale. Defend Glendale has decided to refer to this early floating of the mere notion of possible redevelopment as a plan. This is wrong by any definition of the term. The only major change at Glendale has been the piloting of a weatherization program with Department of Energy grants we worked extremely hard over the past year to obtain. But there is no mention of this in the piece.

Daily Planet: In September 2015, MPHA ordered private consultant Sherman Associates to create potential plans for the development of Glendale Townhomes. Of the four options proposed in January 2016 to MPHA, one was for rehabilitation, three featured different versions of demolition and new construction. As was reported last year by multiple news agencies, including the Daily Planet, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and the Star Tribune, “The agency argues that it’s more cost-effective to replace Glendale units as part of a larger development that combines many sources of financing.” You can see the plan proposals here.

 

“The MPHA published a set of guiding principles for redevelopment as well as a Moving to Work budget and plan for 2018…Yusuf said tenants had little access to or communication about the plans from MPHA. They were not informed when those plans were published, she said, which has limited tenants’ amount of time to review.”

MPHA: Not true. The Guiding Principles were delivered to every single resident household within days after they were approved by our Board in May. The MTW Plan was posted to our web site on July 10th, and announced on social media. (Given that Defend Glendale watches our social media accounts like a hawk, the idea that they were uninformed is particularly disingenuous.) And in the next available rent statement near the end of July—the only reliable way to reach all residents directly—all residents received a notice that the plan was available, comment was welcome, and the dates of our meetings to learn more information.

Daily Planet: MPHA extended the deadline to Sept. 30, 2017 for public comment – after residents have discussed that they did not have enough time to properly respond.

 

“Many of the documents are only offered online in English, limiting accessibility for the large percentage of tenants who do not speak English…”

MPHA: Since the piece is still clearly referring to the Guiding Principles at this point, the statement is inaccurate. That critical document was provided in Somali, Oromo, Hmong, and Spanish, along with a short introductory note from our Executive Director. As for the Moving to Work Plan, there is critical context that this piece does not share with readers. The plan is not a document drafted for or directed at residents or the general public; it is an annual report we file with HUD. Neither we, nor any housing authority we are aware of nationwide, translate this document. However, we hold meetings (none of which are required by HUD, the law, or our own policies) with interpreters in Somali, Oromo, Hmong, and ASL (or other languages, if requested) to present and answer questions for anyone who needs this assistance.

Daily Planet: We have clarified the story to note that the Guiding Principles are available in multiple languages. The Moving to Work document has not been translated, and as the following video shows, residents have taken issue with how translation has been provided.

 

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority officials attempt to silence East African and predominantly Somali residents fighting to preserve public housing! See video below for details, and contact Defend Glendale to join the fight to preserve public housing in Minneapolis!

Nai-post ni Defend Glendale Townhomes noong Lunes, Agosto 21, 2017

 

“…a tactic often called ‘demolition by neglect.’”

MPHA: This is a serious and specious charge that deserves a serious response—the piece offers nothing, and we refute it unequivocally. Among other things, a critical component of the “demolition by neglect” pattern in other cities has been high vacancy rates—allowing units to be uninhabited and uninhabitable. MPHA has no record of this—we run at near 100% occupancy, and have for as long as anyone can remember. We will show you pages upon pages of records, if you ask, demonstrating our response to every work order and repair at Glendale and anywhere else. We do our utmost given our resources to maintain the quality of every single living unit, and suggesting otherwise—without any support and any response—is reckless.

Daily Planet: In a 2014 report from Miller Hanson Partners, it was estimated that Glendale Townhomes needed $15 million in repairs. In 2016, Sherman Associates estimated Glendale would require $24 million for rehabilitation. While work orders and repairs may have been completed, those do not speak to the overall need for rehabilitation.

 

“The reason Yusuf and other public housing tenants are concerned about displacement is because tenant rents under LIHTC are drastically higher than public housing rents.”

MPHA: These statements by Ms. Yusuf are phrased as if she is stating an established fact, rather than her (unfortunately uninformed) opinion. And no matter how you slice it, this is wrong—as is the discussion that follows in the succeeding paragraphs. Even if LIHTC becomes a component of a package to preserve a public housing complex—which is the only scenario we are talking about here—tenant rents are absolutely not higher than public housing rents. They are exactly the same—we don’t even have an option: public housing residents are accepted in this program of federal benefits, and those are the terms. Using LIHTC in the public housing context is not the same as LIHTC used by a private developer on his own. The fact that the piece later includes a short quote from our Executive Director making this point, after the whole discussion is presented—and then bookending it with another unsupported and unanswered quote from Ms. Yusuf—does not undo the damage of devoting so much space to information that a reporter could easily establish is false.

Daily Planet: This was clearly stated in the paragraphs that read as follows:

“Russ acknowledged that LIHTC is a controversial form of financing public housing. But he said if a building begins as public housing, where tenants pay based off their fixed income, it would stay that way even if they partnered with private investors.

“We design the financing so it would not increase the tenant’s rent,” Russ said. “This can be done in ways that protect the families… A private investor is not necessarily like a developer.”

Russ said MPHA would draft a guarantee right-to-return as part of any agreement with a private investor.

As for leaving Yusuf’s quote ‘unanswered,’ the Daily Planet is an independent nonprofit media organization, we do not have a duty to give MPHA the last word on this topic

 

“In addition, LIHTC would make fewer affordable housing units available, especially for the poorest tenants.”

MPHA: Again, this is not true—and the piece doesn’t even clarify what mechanics, exactly, even lead to this outcome. In fact, the investment from an LIHTC investor would likely be a critical component that helps us create more housing for those on very low incomes (30% of AMI, which are the large majority of the people we serve).

Daily Planet: This is a commentary on how LIHTC works with a private developer when only 20-40 percent of units have to be considered “affordable,” which is explained. The article has been clarified to further illustrate the point.

 

“For example, Heritage Park…”

MPHA: This discussion of Heritage Park is hugely problematic—and again, entirely unanswered. It omits a number of essential facts. First, it fails to mention that there are 200 units of public housing at Heritage Park, where residents pay 30% of their income just like all other public housing. Second, no discussion of Heritage Park makes sense without reference to the Hollman lawsuit that created it. The lawsuit against HUD, MPHA, and the City was premised upon the very notion that the public housing there created an illegal concentration of poverty and race. The settlement required the dispersal of that concentration—whatever we think of it today, the mixed income nature of the Heritage Park today was the whole point, and was not optional or the result of any choice by the housing authority. Third, not a single unit of public housing was lost in the creation of Heritage Park. Every single unit that was there was either retained in the 200 that are there today, or established as new family public housing elsewhere around the west Metro.

Daily Planet: Heritage Park has 200 units of public housing where residents pay 30 percent of their income, but the development has 900 units total of mixed-income units, including rent-to-own programs. It formerly had 770 public housing units. Granted, those 770 were (as reported in Minnpost) substandard living quarters, but as City Pages reported in a July 6, 2016 article, some qualified tenants like Ethrophic Burnett were not able to find housing in Minneapolis after Heritage Park was redeveloped. This section of our article raises concerns about displacement and availability, and has been clarified as such.

 

“MPHA would mitigate displacement by moving tenants into other vacancies in the building, offer other housing within MPHA’s portfolio or offer Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).”

MPHA: This leaves out an essential fact that should inform the discussion that follows: residents would always have a choice of these options. The paragraphs after this assert that families would be forced to take a voucher and move. This is not true, and suggesting so is irresponsible.

Daily Planet: This is an unfair critique and a matter of opinion. In the article, we have stated these are the things MPHA would offer and then went through why tenants are concerned about it.

 

“…property managers have tried to keep Defend Glendale organizers and residents who speak out against MPHA from organizing meetings in public housing buildings.”

MPHA: This is not true—and there’s no attempt to allow MPHA a response in the piece. We have not prevented any such meetings. We have simply asked organizers to follow our established policies for booking common areas, requiring an invitation from a building resident and booking rooms with the required two-week advance notice if they want sole use of the space. Our common areas are for residents who live in the building. Now, residents who disagree with Defend Glendale have often expressed to us that they do not want these meetings in their buildings; they feel they are platforms for a great amount of misinformation, which spreads unnecessary fear to residents. However, we respond that the meetings are fine as long as they meet the guidelines. And of course, residents are welcome to invite anyone into their homes that the wish.

Daily Planet: We have reported the lived experiences of Ladan Yusuf, Hoda Isak as well as several other Somali residents.

 

“…citywide disinvestment in long-term public housing for low-income people of color…”

MPHA: This is hard to argue when we have not lost public housing units (we have an extraordinary, nation-leading record in this regard) and we serve a population that is 87 percent people of color. We provide as much housing as we ever have, and we intend to continue to do so.

Daily Planet: By “disinvestment” we are not referring to any policy or announcement, but simply a general lack or withdrawing of investment, for example the lack of rehabilitation for aging infrastructure like at Glendale Townhomes. We say “citywide” in reference to public housing being less of a priority on a cultural level, compared to other investments like the Super Bowl (as described in a following paragraph). We also provide context to this lack of investment by stating clearly in the story that HUD does not give MPHA enough money to cover costs of upkeep. If MPHA provides as much housing as it ever has, clearly there has not been a sufficient investment in housing when the agency’s waitlist has been closed since 2008.

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