The Hawthorne neighborhood is bustling with construction noise this summer, as non-profit workers from groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Project for Pride in Living (PPL) work to rehab houses in and near the EcoVillage cluster. The four block area–once the most challenged section of the neighborhood, with drug dealers, run-down properties and absentee or slum landlords–lies between 30th Avenue (south) and Lowry Avenue (north), Lyndale Avenue (west) and Fourth Street (east). It includes a new energy efficient LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified house, and has recently attracted some new owner occupants.
It has been getting attention from foundations such as the Met Life Foundation (in conjunction with LISC [Local Initiatives Support Corporation]), which on Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. will be presenting Hawthorne Neighborhood Council with a $15,000 award for community development and community policing participation.
“We applied for it on the basis of what we did in the EcoVillage,” said Jeff Skrenes, housing director for Hawthorne Neighborhood Council (formerly Hawthorne Area Community Council, HACC). “They received 720 applications nationwide and awarded 11. There will be a presentation and open house at 3:30 p.m. at the LEED house, 400 31st Ave. N.”
Also, the area is drawing a former president and his wife: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, long-time Habitat for Humanity activists, will be in Minneapolis working in the EcoVillage area the week of Oct. 8.
Skrenes said he joined the organization in 2007; the Eco Village area was his first priority. “I remember going around when there were more existing vacant houses to see if the properties were broken into, and calling 311 [the city’s non-emergency number],” he said. “There were two apartment complexes of anarchy at 31st Avenue and 6th Street, where anything you didn’t want happening there was happening. The tenants actually stole their own copper piping.
“When the area was at its worst, people were afraid to come to a full stop at the intersection and would drive right through the stop sign. I used to go out to check houses about 3:30 to 4 p.m., so I knew that at least the school buses would be on the street if something happened. Construction crews were saying they didn’t want to come and build here. We realized we needed to address the criminal element before we could do anything else.”
The neighborhood group focused on the EcoVillage about four years ago, after the City of Minneapolis had begun to develop cluster projects and Home Depot granted the city $500,000 for redevelopment. It was part of a larger section known as “Block 009,” originally slated for higher density condos. “But the condo market started to tank, even before the mortgage foreclosures meltdown,” Skrenes said. “Things shifted to the EcoVillage as the focal point. It was originally identified as the worst part of Hawthorne.”
In spring, 2008, community leaders, city officials and some EcoVillage residents came together. “The message was, ‘We know it’s rough and bad, but hang in there and things will get better.’ A few days later, a 20-year resident had her home broken into and lost many family heirlooms and jewelry. It was tragic. That’s when it really hit home for people. We knew we needed to deliver and couldn’t just make empty promises. If the EcoVillage got built only after all the existing residents left, we would have failed.”
After a second meeting “with people from every level in the city–fire, police, problem properties–we went property by property and issue by issue. They said we needed to start building records of problem properties. In 18 months, we turned this area around. We started in December, 2008.”
Skrenes said they knew they were making progress when a three month period went by with no calls to the police for violent crime. “It was a watershed moment for the EcoVillage.”
The two apartment complexes were razed, some houses were torn down, and some are being rehabbed. There is a native garden demonstration site on the empty lots where the houses were cleared. A second new-construction LEED house is planned.
The neighborhood group
Skrenes said the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council will hold its annual meeting and board elections at the end of September, and a new executive committee will take over in October. The organization has been operating without an executive director since Laban Ohito left last year.
The new board might decide to begin a search for a new director. “An executive director’s job is to go out and seek out new funding sources,” Skrenes said. Although the board chair has executive powers, a staff member on site can make necessary executive decisions more quickly.”
The staff and board scored another major accomplishment lately: buying the house at 2944 Emerson Ave. N. that they have been renting for their offices. “We will be refurbishing the windows, putting on a new roof and doing some landscaping,” Skrenes said. “We’re hoping to lead by example in the neighborhood.”
Hawthorne Neighborhood Council’s website is hawthorneneighborhoodcouncil.org. The phone number is 612-529-6033.
What else is going on in Hawthorne:
Alexandra Jasicki (not in picture) working with Streetworks and STEP-UP students, used a neighborhood bingo game to listen to Hmong in the Hawthorne community. They explained and promoted their efforts at the McKnight Foundation-sponsored 4th Annual Neighborhood Smackdown. Several other North Minneapolis neighborhoods also participated in the celebration of what’s working in communities; watch future NorthNews editions for their stories.
(Photo by Stephanie Xiong)
The former Wafana’s market in Hawthorne is history; the site has been filled and graded. A passerby commented that she was neutral on the situation…it had been closed for more than a year…hard to remember the incidents that affected neighbors.
(Photo by Margo Ashmore)