Lower-income people most harmed by condo conversions

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Conclusion of a two-part story

Until last spring, Minneapolis resident Trish Brock thought of home as a pretty stable place. Brock, who had rented at apartment at 1801 1st Ave. S. for over 20 years, received notice that the building’s owners, Credit Dauphine LLC, were planning on turning the Section 8 housing unit into condominiums.

She and her neighbors, most of whom are living with one or more disabilities, would have to find new housing as soon as possible.

“It’s 21 disabled individuals in here,” said Brock. “All of them have been long-term tenants; most of us have lived here eight to 10 years, and some 15 years. These are people who love their home. It’s very close to downtown, it’s close to Park Nicolett Medical Center, it’s close to a church where many of us are members.

“Not many of us can afford to have automobiles, so it’s important that we have this neighborhood and the convenience of it,” Brock continued. “These are people who have sewn curtains and draperies in the windows. They keep potted plants on the windowsills. We believe that we are permanent residents, or we certainly would have been, which is what this community is looking for.”

Brock said that the board of their neighborhood association recently voted that they would like their Section 8 housing and residents to stay in the area. But that might not matter if owner Credit Dauphine LLC’s conversion goes ahead as planned.

More and more long-term elderly residents and people living with disabilities are being evicted from homes in Brock’s neighborhood because of condo conversions, she said. “Right down the road there was a condo conversion, and an elderly lady who lived there said they got no more than 30 days’ notice beforehand. This lady and the other neighbors, who were long-term residents and good neighbors, were completely taken aback and had to find new housing at the very last minute. They had to leave their homes and their community.”

Brock, who has organized a tenants union with her neighbors, does not think that the majority of Minneapolis residents and community stakeholders have much idea that this is going on.

“I don’t think people in the general community were aware of it,” she said. “There was a September 16 study session [on condo conversions] at the city council, and the room was packed. It played regularly on the Minneapolis Network [a cable TV public access show], and I think it’s still playing, so hopefully that will also make people more aware of it.”

In Brock’s view, condo conversions and the subsequent tenant displacement they engender is a huge problem because of two main factors: “The replacement cost for low-income housing far exceeds what it costs to maintain them. Also, it mostly affects low-income and moderate-income people, because they’re the people who cannot afford to buy the new units. They’re the people who get pushed out of their neighborhoods.”

Brock and her neighbors are fighting back strategically, with the help of several activist and professional organizations. “We did acquire an advocacy group, Homeline, and a civil rights attorney. We organized and spoke to the director of HUD. Our ultimate goal is to preserve the Section 8 status of our building, not only for us for the building, but anyone in the building long-term. Especially now with what’s happening at the federal level, it’s a very precious resource that we need to preserve.”

Sixty-five-year-old Claude Jones recently received similar news about his apartment building at 3040 Hennepin Ave. Jones is a retired State worker who has a disability and has lived in the metro area for around 10 years.

“They [Financial Freedom, a development company for the building’s owner, H.M. Johnson Family], placed the notice to vacate, and that was pretty much it. They went around dropping those notices on everybody’s door. That was the shocking thing about it — it caused much upset with people because they didn’t know it was coming… They made relocation assistance available after the fact.”

Jones said that most of his neighbors, many of whom have a disability, moved out of the building very quickly. “There was one old lady, she’s in her 80s. That was a poignant case; she didn’t know what she was going to do. Then her daughter helped her find another place and move.”

Currently, Jones is working with the Minneapolis-based Housing Preservation Project (HPP) and the Housing Relocation Service to help him relocate. “I’m waiting to resolve the situation, and then I’ll probably move someplace else,” he said.

Twenty-four-year-old Jessica Graanstra has a different problem, although it is also the result of Minneapolis’ booming and largely unregulated condo conversions. Graanstra is a social worker who lives in the Powderhorn neighborhood. She became a first-time homeowner in April, purchasing a converted condo that she says has been nothing but trouble from the beginning.

“When I did my walk-through, the carpet was still being laid, there were no doors, there was a significant amount of cleaning that had not been done,” said Graanstra. “Of course, I had promises that this would be completed by this time [and] that would be completed by that time.

“When I moved in I had doors, but I had no heat. It was a cold May. I didn’t get my heat ’til October. I was calling different City offices and wondering where I could make a complaint, and I kept getting bounced around to different offices. That was really frustrating. So I didn’t get to make a formal complaint, and it didn’t seem like there were any regulations about this sort of thing.”

The company that owns the building still has not completed much of the work Graanstra said she was promised at the outset. “Some of the things that haven’t been completed are minor, but it’s the principle of the thing. I feel that he [the developer] is taking advantage of first-time homebuyers who may not be familiar with the process.

“One woman in my building had some plumbing issues, and [the developer] sent someone in to fix it, but then this person broke something else. So he’s not even contracting with very respectable help. And I think he’s looking for more apartments to convert.”

Graanstra and her neighbors have formed a condo association and have sent the developer repeated certified letters telling him what they need completed, but they haven’t had much success. Besides resolving her particular situation, Graanstra said she would like to see the process of condo conversions become better regulated overall.

“I don’t know what that could look like legally, what is permissible. It’s so hard to say what would have helped in my case. Possibly a place to go to resolve disputes would be helpful.”

Graanstra said that she has heard that certain city council members are concerned about the problem, but she is not certain that this will be enough. “I’m not 100 percent confident. I think they have done some measures to look at the issues, but I’m not 100 percent certain that they’ll actually do something about the problem.”

Part of Graanstra’s concern comes from her perception that only part of the issue is being discussed. “I know there has been a lot of focus on displaced tenants so far, and that’s definitely a problem. But I also think a lot of the people who are being preyed on are first-time homeowners. I’m concerned that there are a lot of things wrong with these buildings, and these first-time homebuyers won’t be able to afford to fix the problems once they find out about them.

“I know there are a lot of housing advocates that have formed a coalition and are serious about educating the general public about the problem. I do wonder if it’s going to be enough to help the people who are affected by this,” she said.

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