Public housing advocates decry privatization, rising rents

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Housing Authority says none of this is happening

On the afternoon of November 23, several activist groups gathered at North High School in Minneapolis to educate public housing residents about their housing security and the potential threat of privatization.

The event was organized by the Defend Glendale and Public Housing Coalition (DGPHC) along with the Northside Neighborhoods Council and Keep Public Housing Public Minneapolis Coalition. DGPHC was launched in 2014 by Ladan Yusuf after her neighborhood was threatened by privatization.

After winning that fight five years ago, Yusuf and the DGPHC are still actively organizing around public housing issues throughout the city of Minneapolis. Volunteers from the group spoke about a variety of concerns, hoping to educate residents currently living in the impacted public housing units.

Minneapolis city council members’ and Mayor Jacob Frey’s contact information was prominently displayed on the stage throughout the event. The organizers emphasized that it was important for residents to contact their elected officials about housing concerns.

Kaaha Kaahiye, Glendale resident and activist, spoke to the crowd with a PowerPoint presentation explaining the implications of upcoming public housing plans in the city of Minneapolis. Handouts were distributed about how the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) was spreading fictitious statements about housing security.

Claims made by the MPHA that “no residents will be displaced” and “rents will stay the same” were disputed by Kaahiye through a fact sheet available on Defend Glendale and Public Housing Coalition’s (DGPHC) website and Facebook page.

However, representatives of the MPHA have stuck to their statements and dispute the activist claims. Interim MPHA Director Tracy Scott stated at a previous scattered site meeting last summer that the intentions of Section 18 are to preserve public housing for as long as possible and to make it livable.

Sanjeev Mishra, a representative of Twin Cities Musicians Against Gentrification, one of many groups associated with the Keep Public Housing Public Minneapolis Coalition, explained how the new housing proposals will convert housing units to Section 8 project-based housing, which is “heavily discriminated against… The nature of these vouchers is that they are pushing people out of Minneapolis.”

Haaris Pasha, a fair housing advocate and attorney, said, “Without any warning, they [MPHA] are increasing the rents by a ridiculous amount. At a time when people are struggling, we shouldn’t be increasing rent.”

Pasha had previously written a letter to MPHA commissioners, Minneapolis City Council members and Mayor Frey stating his concerns over rent increases. In his letter he pointed out that his one-bedroom high rise unit rent will increase from $691 to $874. He wrote, “These rent increases would be a devastating burden. It would disproportionately impact the lives of the elderly, and would put an immense strain on the residents of public housing.”

Several residents spoke about their experiences and asked questions to gain clarity about their housing situation. Many contended that they weren’t interested in renovations. One woman stated through a translator, “Section 18 is not in our best interest. I want to call on the politicians, the mayor, the city council members. They work for us, we elected them, they shouldn’t stand for this.”

A single mother explained that she had recently been evicted, leaving her and her four children homeless. She said she felt that she was pushed out and discriminated against because one of her children has a disability.

An audience member and resident explained that she was being charged excessive amounts for small fixes and inspections. “They came out to do labor and I was charged eight different times,” she said.

“I pray to God that all y’all are taking this information here, because we can stand together, we can overcome all this,” the woman continued. “Everything they’re saying, it seems scary, but it’s not. Don’t let them put our backs against the wall. We got this!” The audience broke out into cheers.

A quick rally ended the event with people holding up signs that read “People over Profit” and “Keep Public Housing Public” while chanting in Somali and English.