Residents protest housing authority rehab plans

A tense and surreal feeling hung over the crowd of 50-75 people in the conference room on Wednesday, September 27 at the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), at 1001 Washington Avenue North. Among the crowd were signs that read “We stand by Glendale,” “Do not lie to us” “Put people over profits” and “Housing is a right.”

Thao Xiong (Lou Michaels/MSR News)

The public meeting was held in the MPHA conference room for comments on the Authority’s 2018 Moving to Work (MTW) annual plan. During the meeting, remarks on the plan were addressed to commissioners by public housing residents and members of the larger community with each speaker being allowed two minutes (four with a translator). The meeting was moderated by F. Clayton Tyler, chair of the MPHA Board of Commissioners.

The MTW annual plan includes a $1 million grant from the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation to preserve and repair the city’s aging public housing. With MPHA’s own reserves, the grant will create a $2 million working capital fund.

“This will be a nice contribution to help us move our agenda forward,” said Tyler. “It came with a specific requirement for community engagement we intend to honor and guarantee residents have stable rent and proper development in the City of Minneapolis.”

MPHA is the largest public housing authority in Minnesota. The federally funded agency owns and manages 6,000 public housing units and administers 5,000 housing vouchers for more than 26,000 people.

The public meeting did not go without protest or criticism. A few instances occurred where Tyler asked the crowd to be quiet, and once he asked some of those present to hold down the signs and go outside and not disrupt the meeting.

“It is clear that MPHA faces continuing major funding challenges in the near future,” said Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council President Mary McGovern, a public housing resident in South Minneapolis.

McGovern referenced MPHA’s budget, which currently faces $130 million in major repair needs. She also addressed other problems such as “defective elevators, residents not receiving checks on time, and over clogged laundry rooms”.

A few residents echoed McGovern’s sentiment, making sure their opinions were not ignored.

Thao Xiong, activist and organizer, expressed how the new plan would affect residents in the future. “I’ll tell you who it will affect: immigrants, mostly Africans; non-citizens, Blacks and people with disabilities,” he said. “You guys cannot fool me. This renovation will cause gentrification and capitalism. The cost of rent will jump higher than Michael Jordan in the slam dunk contest!”

He said that many in the community feel distrust because of previous talks of the demolition of Glendale in 2013. “One thing I don’t like about the public meeting is this: the community of the concerns, we show up and express ourselves and all of our words get thrown out the window, but we give you guys the benefit of the doubt, so we show up anyway.”

“There are too many Blacks and Natives in the state of Minnesota,” said Xiong, “who are homeless. Racism is not [just] in the South; it is here.”

After the public meeting, just outside the doors of the MPHA office, demonstrators chanted, “Betsy Hodges step down.”

Ward 3 city council candidate Samantha Pree-Stinson offered her position on the issue after the meeting when she displayed areas in the budget that could be used more appropriately. “There’s $19 million in the budget for a street car, just to attract tourists. We are getting ready to pay off the convention center, which is another $3 million, which should be used for housing, education and other things.

Resident with protest sign (Lou Michaels/MSR News)

“[We are] treating our minorities and refugees like they are liabilities. What we should be doing is providing opportunities for them to continue to grow. This is why Minneapolis is constantly in a crisis with police and city council and have earned [one of the worst metro areas] for people of color.”

Chants of “No more lies” followed. Two Somali residents of Glendale, Ladan Yusuf and Suleeo Jama, members of the Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition, said that they will not be going anywhere due to any action of the MPHA. “We came from our jobs to fight for our homes,” said Jama, while Yusuf translated on her behalf.

“They hold a public hearing during the same time they know people have to work. That is misleading and corrupting. We want the city council to do something about this.”

Jama also said her words were improperly translated during the meeting, which she found highly offensive. “Translation is a right, and public housing has to stop what they are trying to do. They are trying to intimidate us so they can silence us.

“Some people who spoke out were evicted. I am telling MPHA they cannot kick me out. I have a right to stay in public housing,” Jama said.

Despite the opposition, MPHA’s annual plan will go forward as the Authority hopes to convince residents that they will not lose housing benefits, rents will not rise from redevelopment, and residents will have the right to return if a temporary move is necessary for improvements.

 

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to ivan.b.phifer@gmail.com.

About Ivan Phifer

Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com

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