Is North Minneapolis getting gentrified?

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“Gentrification” is a process of neighborhood change that historically has included a strong racial component, replacing Black and low-income residents with higher income White residents. Many Black residents of North Minneapolis are expressing concern that just such a process is underway in the neighborhoods they call home.

Over the years, gentrification has occurred under such names as “urban renewal” in the 1950s and ’60s. According to an April 2001 report by the Brookings Institute and PolicyLink on gentrification, it also took place during a “back-to-the-city” movement in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Today, gentrification is occurring in many U.S. cities as “urban redevelopment,” says National Economic and Social Rights Initiative Legal Program Director Tiffany Gardner. “There was just a redevelopment plan that was [recently] passed here by the New York City Council. The famed 125th Street, which is Harlem’s main street, is now going to have luxury high-rise condominiums.

“Once these luxury condominiums go up,” Gardner points out, “a lot of the small business owners who are service providers for the [nearby] public housing community and other poor and middle-income [residents] will be pushed out.”

Gentrification “is really impacting poor Americans across the country,” Gardner surmised. Many believe that it has been occurring for some time on Minneapolis’ North Side.

The Minneapolis City Council approved the Near Northside Master Plan in 1998. According to the City’s website, it is to create “an attractive and sustainable urban neighborhood in the Near Northside…to rebuild a mixed-income, mixed-density, culturally diverse, amenity-rich neighborhood.”

A Northside resident (name withheld by request) says he believes this master plan really means moving Blacks out and moving Whites in. His parents once lived in the 7th and Emerson area, but, according to him, they had to move because they lived near the Sumner Field public housing area slated for demolition.

“[Ten years ago] my mom sold their house for 70, 80 thousand, but now the property is worth $250,000,” he explains. Although his parents later relocated in another Northside neighborhood, “They would love to have stayed where they were,” their son added.

Ryan Companies is seeking exclusive building rights for the proposed $220 million Bassett Creek Valley development project. It includes an office complex along with an 800-unit housing development, and will be located in the Harrison neighborhood.

Ryan Vice President Rick Collins says that almost half of the 800 units will be “affordable,” but “because we are not a housing developer, we really have to wait to involve other housing developers,” he adds.

Local activist Bill English, in a recent published article, accused Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak of promoting gentrification through the Minneapolis Advantage Loan Program that began in April, which offers a $10,000 zero-percent interest loan that is forgivable in five years to anyone buying a home in key neighborhoods in the city.

English was quoted, saying, “The goal seems to be, to get rid of the poor people, to regentrify the community.”

That is wrong, says Rybak spokesman Matt Laible. Our attempts to contact English and clarify his statement were unsuccessful.

Over 600 loan applications were distributed for the Advantage Loan Program, says Community Planning and Economic Development Department (CPED) spokesperson Krista Bergert, adding that the program is now closed. Twenty-two loans were closed, with 28 others remaining in “reserve” status, meaning that they either are in the process of being closed or other factors are pending. One applicant is on a waiting list, according to Bergert.

Hennepin County commissioners in June voted to allocate as much as $1.25 million for demolition of 50 abandoned homes in Minneapolis. Commissioner Mike Opat, who introduced the plan, says this isn’t gentrification but “a clean-up effort” because 544 vacant homes are located in his district, which lies in North Minneapolis. “We are talking about houses that are sitting there, where half the buildings have been burned,” notes Opat.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin adds, “We don’t want to be gentrifying neighborhoods, but we want to make them places where people of all incomes can live.”

Ethylon (E.B.) Brown believes that the “demise of the housing project on Olson [Memorial Highway]” due to the Hollman Consent Decree of the late 1990s began the Northside gentrification process. Brown, director of the Oasis of Love crisis intervention program, recalls once getting a phone call in 2000 from “an older woman who lived in her home for over 20 years and was very active in her [Greenway] community.

“She was calling me in tears,” Brown says, “asking, ‘Is there anyone who can help me? I am being forced to move out.’ She was given an amount of money to vacate her home, one of those old-style Tudor homes. She raised her family there, and it was bulldozed.

“I understood that she didn’t have a voice,” continues Brown. “I didn’t feel the ability to go and help her fight [what happened]. I could hear it in her voice that her heart was broken.”

Mrs. Nellie Campbell and her late husband moved from Texas to the North Side in 1977. “This is so close to downtown,” she says of their home’s location, but she is concerned about how her neighborhood is changing due to the growing number of vacant houses.

“Now we have a lot of houses that’s empty,” Campbell notes. “I soon will be 80, but my kids feel that [the neighborhood] is unsafe, and they don’t want me to live here. But I am going to stay here until I can’t take care of myself. I got good neighbors on both sides of me, and good neighbors across the street from me. I feel comfortable.”

Is gentrification also claiming schools on the North Side? Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) have closed some neighborhood schools due to low enrollment, and some believe North High School could be next.

“We are committed to supporting North High and boosting its enrollment,” MPS Superintendent Bill Green says in a released statement, dispelling rumors of North High closing its doors. “The district’s administration team recognizes the importance of North High in the North Minneapolis community and the district as a whole.” (See Green’s complete statement on this week’s Opinion/Commentary page.)

Brown says she is worried that the current redevelopment in the area is not for Black Northside residents, but instead for others. There are too many developers “from the outside, and they have a view of how they want the city to be,” she points out. “I need to know what the plan of the development is, and they are not always developers that start from the inner city.”

Finally, Brown urges community residents to speak out against gentrification. It is “a fast pace that is occurring in our neighborhoods and how they are rapidly changing.

“We want our North Minneapolis to look like North Minneapolis, and not to look like first-, second- and third-ring suburbs,” Brown says.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com, or read his blog: www.ww wchallman.blogspot.com.