Bad landlords put City back in public housing business

MGN Online

The City of Minneapolis has recently launched a new program for renters who are being displaced from their homes because of negligent landlords. Run by the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department, the Emergency Stabilization Pilot Program (ESPP) will provide affordable housing to 10 family tenants over the next five years.

“This program started because there is an emergent need to provide housing to households that are being displaced due to a rental license revocation of the landlord or condemnation of the buildings,” said Roxanne Young Kimball, senior project manager at CPED.

North Minneapolis’ notorious landlord Mahmood Khan was one of several who created such a need, said Kimball. Last November, Khan lost an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court that revoked his renter’s license for his 43 properties, leaving his tenants with little time to move and nowhere to go in a city with a historically low vacancy rate.

“The tenants that are living in these units are effectively being displaced through no fault of their own. It’s due to the actions of the landlords,” said Kimball.

Stabilization a program goal

Minneapolis City Council approved the pilot program on Aug. 3, allocating $2 million to purchase up to 12 houses. Within weeks, the City had purchased eight single-family homes and one duplex.

“The City is not typically in the business of owning occupied property,” said Kimball, explaining the program was created in response to the immediate crisis negligent landlords have created for tenants.

Jeremiah Ellison, Ward 5 city council member and vice president of the Housing Policy and Development Committee, contends the City hasn’t housed people since the 1980s when the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority broke off to become its own entity. But, with the changing context of the housing crisis, he said, “I think it’s important that we be flexible as a city and how we support our most vulnerable tenants and renters.”

Though the program is citywide, Kimball said they found most available homes that fit the criteria of being affordable, vacant, and move-in ready in North Minneapolis. Ellison also said many of the tenants who would be eligible for this program lived on the North Side.

“Through conversations with those tenants…I think unanimously the people who were thinking about applying to this pilot program wanted to stay over North,” he said. With only 10 units available, Kimball said the program would give priority to those facing displacement from their home within 90 days or less.

Anna Decrans, innovation and special projects manager at Urban HomeWorks, the organization contracted by the City to manage the properties, added that priority would be given to those facing the shortest displacement time – within 30 days as compared to 90. Outside of that, she said, selections would ordinarily be made via a lottery system.

Decrans reports, however, that the program only received 11 applications, all former Khan tenants, to rent the 10 units. The low turnout, she said, could be from people exploring other options, like buying the homes directly from Khan or from a nonprofit.

However, she explained, “In my perspective, why it’s so low is because it was so quick to get it off the ground.” The program only opened its application process for three days, and the only place it was advertised was on the City’s website, she said. The applications process closed August 16.

Selected applicants will have access for up to five years of affordable housing. After that time, they will be given the option to buy the home they are renting at an affordable price from the City, said Kimball. Homeownership, however, is not how CPED will be measuring the program’s success.

“The purpose of this program is about stabilizing tenants,” said Kimball. More specifically, she said, success will be measured by, among other things, how cost-effective the program is and whether the situation for the tenants has improved over the course of the five years.

Stability beyond housing

Ellison noted that tenants renting from Khan showed they could make high monthly rent payments, so he wants the program to help tenants get access to other services to help them build and maintain a stable lifestyle. As such, each of the households in the program will work with a caseworker who will help them throughout the program.

Jeremiah Ellison Photo from Ellison Facebook

 

“If we can get them stabilized in their employment if we can get them stabilized in their access to health care and mental health services,” Ellison said that would be a marker of success for him. Another indication of success would be if having stable housing creates a “positive ripple into other aspects of your life,” he said.

With that, he said, is the potential to spread into commercial spaces, small business development, and wealth building for People of Color/Indigenous (POCI) communities.

“The idea is that we take folks from low wealth to wealth building within a span of three to five years,” said Ellison. For him, a big part of wealth building is homeownership, something POCI have been historically denied due to racist policies like redlining and racial covenants.

Ellison’s hope, he said, is for the program to provide not only stable housing but stable lifestyles and homeownership opportunities as well. “We have a model for how to make people less poor, quite frankly. I think that’s more than worthwhile to explore.”

The City also encourages tenants to apply to the Family Assets for Independence in Minnesota program, Kimball said. The matched savings program helps Minnesota residents build assets who are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. Participants save up to $40 a month in a special savings account that the City matches at a 3:1 rate.

“I think we, as a City, have accepted that it’s our job to support our most vulnerable residents when they are in crisis,” said Ellison. “But we haven’t made it a responsibility of ours to make people less poor, and I think that should be a responsibility of ours.”

He added, “I think we’d save ourselves and the people we’re representing a lot of grief and stress if we took more responsibility to help people become less poor.”

For more information on the program, visit www.minneapolismn.gov/cped/housing/WCMSP-213162.

About Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at kschubert@spokesman-recorder.com.

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