Mpls Public Housing residents fight redevelopment plan

 Defend Glendale group has lost trust in housing authority

(Photos courtesy of the Defend Glendale Facebook page)
Right: A Defend Glendale resident rallies against relocation and private development replacing their homes. Photos courtesy of the Defend Glendale Facebook page

Residents of Glendale and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) have been feuding since May 2015 over the future of the Twin Cities’ oldest public housing. Glendale, located between Prospect Park and the University of Minnesota campus, has 184 townhome units. Most of its 600 residents are African Americans or East African and Hmong immigrants.

Last year the MPHA took a proposal for a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) redevelopment project for Glendale to the Minneapolis City Council. The proposal would have included private development, replacing Glendale’s townhomes with five-story, mixed-income apartment buildings and relocating current residents during construction. Glendale residents, who had not been consulted in advance, were outraged.

Organized as Defend Glendale, residents vehemently opposed both the idea of privatization and any proposal to move them out of their current homes and community. Cam Gordon, who represents the area on the city council, said that the council was concerned about lack of community input, so they decided to “to stop everything before it went forward,” and told MPHA to come back with a new plan after consultation with the community.

According to MPHA Director of Policy and Special Initiatives Bob Boyd, “Discussions about RAD got so messy and residents were so fearful that MPHA decided that we would drop the RAD option.” Boyd says that neither privatization of any kind nor relocation of residents away from Glendale, even temporarily, are presently being considered as options.

January Defend Glendale meeting
January Defend Glendale meeting. Photo courtesy of the Defend Glendale Facebook page
That sounds like a win for Defend Glendale, but its leaders still do not trust the MPHA. Defend Glendale campaign organizer Ladan Yusuf cites one recent example of the conflicts that undermined trust over the past year. She says that residents have been pressured to consider moving during annual income recertification meetings.

“They take this time when they show a lot of power and it’s intimidating to people, in a small room,” Yusuf says. “It’s subliminal messaging, emotional manipulation, all kinds of things.”

Defend Glendale produced a flyer, in four languages, warning about the meetings and telling people not to listen to the MPHA.

On the other side, Boyd says the individual meetings with residents are meant to identify concerns and counter misinformation, not to pressure residents. He says that he believes the most recent Defend Glendale flyer is “designed to intensify the fears of a very vulnerable, largely immigrant population and then prey on those fears for ends that are just designed to stop them from looking at options for the long-term future.”

Glendale’s situation arises out of a national housing failure that includes both inadequate funding of existing public housing and lack of enough public housing units to meet community needs. “Congress is turning its back on public housing,” said Dean Carlson, who is a project manager for the MPHA.

Built in 1952, Glendale’s townhomes, along with other MPHA public housing, need repairs. Boyd said that an independent, HUD-mandated physical needs assessment identified $15 million in unmet capital needs for repairs and rehabbing at Glendale, and a total of $114 million for all MPHA properties. He said the MPHA’s goal is “to make Glendale not only a home for current residents, but preserve it as a home for very low-income families for 50, 60 years into the future.” HUD capital funding doesn’t come anywhere near meeting the cost, with a 2016 capital funding allotment of only $9.6 million for all 6,000 MPHA units.

Besides the dispute over Glendale’s future, Defend Glendale and MPHA clash over current repairs and maintenance. At a January Defend Glendale meeting, three Oromo women described cold apartments, ice inside their windows, and — for one of the women — mice problems so bad that her children were afraid to come into the kitchen.

The three women said that “a long time ago” an exterminator used to come, but now “they don’t even give a trap.” Defend Glendale’s petition includes a long list of “non-negotiable” repairs, from new paint in some units to mold and rodent problems, to insulation in walls. MPHA officials insist that they respond in a timely manner to all work orders.

Defend Glendale leader Michelle Montbriand says MPHA will probably repair “little bits to make everybody happy so it seems like they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” but she doesn’t expect them to make all the needed repairs.

The relationship between Defend Glendale and the MPHA has continued to be adversarial. Elected officials, including Representatives Phyllis Kahn and Karen Clark, as well as State Senator Kari Dziedzik and a representative from Congressmember Keith Ellison’s office, have been involved in various ways.

City council member Cam Gordon recently convened a work group, hoping to help communications between Defend Glendale residents and the MPHA. In a telephone interview, Gordon said there’s “trouble even having a community meeting to discuss options, because of lack of trust.”

Gordon said the City’s role in pushing for needed repairs is unclear, because MPHA is “their own entity” and is not required to have a rental license or city housing inspections. Nonetheless, he noted the need to “get accountability and oversight on the ongoing need for repairs.”

On January 27, MPHA unveiled a report prepared by Sherman and Associates showing four new options for rehab or redevelopment of Glendale. The report says that no residents would be relocated out of Glendale and that public ownership of Glendale would be maintained under all options.

The first, and cheapest, option would be to rehab all of the current homes. This option would cost about $24 million. The other three options call for redevelopment through construction of five-story buildings along with preservation of some current townhomes, at costs estimated from $83 to $113 million.

Ironically, the higher-cost options might be easier to finance because, according to Carlson, “there’s more programs to build new than there are to fix up.” He says that a final report from Sherman, including financing options, is due shortly.

A Defend Glendale petition signed by more than a hundred residents demands “a plan to rehabilitate the Glendale Townhomes without privatization, without increasing the density of units, and without resident displacement.” Ladan Yusuf says that means support for the first Sherman option, which she characterized as “the cheapest option with the quickest turnaround and no displacement.”

She believes, however, that the MPHA will try instead to implement one of the redevelopment options and that “they will find a loophole to lease or sell the land” for redevelopment.

After financial plans for the four options are released, and after time for studying these plans, community meetings will be scheduled. At present, there’s no timetable for the meetings or for decisions. Meanwhile, Defend Glendale plans a protest rally at City Hall on March 30 to “tell MPHA to repair our Glendale Townhomes, and say no to demolition and no redevelopment.”

Editor’s Note: The writer of this story has blogged extensively about Glendale public housing and plans for redevelopment. She says, “I have opinions — generally critical of the redevelopment option — but in this article I present facts and the opinions of the people directly involved in the situation rather than my own.”

Mary Turck welcomes reader responses to