Glendale Townhomes in Minneapolis Face Gentrification from MPHA

Minneapolis, MN – Tenants who reside at Glendale Townhomes in the historic Prospect Park neighborhood have been organizing for years to protect their homes from proposed redevelopments, which the group Defend Glendale insists will mean “gentrification and displacement of people of color from Minneapolis” through re-appropriating public land and housing to private interests.

This past July, as part of a National Day of Action in opposition to the more than $6 billion in cuts proposed by the Trump administration from the 2018 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Section 8 housing funds for low-income families, a rally to defend public housing took place at Glendale Townhomes.

At the rally, updates were given about the proposed budget cuts at the federal level, and also about the local efforts to defend Glendale and its vulnerable residents against privatization and the displacement of “working class, mixed income, ethnically and racially diverse families.”

Glendale Townhomes, financially supported by the Federal Housing Act of 1949 and built in 1952, is 14.5 acres of land with 28 buildings and 184 home units for families and elderly residents, owned by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA).

“Many of the residents are refugees, and having to relocate one more time, away from their community, will be a painfully traumatic experience.” – Defend Glendale website

Satellite map of southeast Minneapolis, with Glendale Townhomes on the bottom-right – via Google

As part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal‘, public housing was created with the U.S. Housing Act in 1937. According to HousingLink, a Minneapolis-based Equal Housing Opportunity resource site, Public Housing is a government-funded program that provides rental housing to low-income households. The cost of rent for residents in these programs is either a very low fixed monthly dollar amount or around 30% of the area median income (AMI).

Discussion around the future of Glendale Townhomes has been ongoing for several years. It was reported in 2013 that demolition was on the table. In 2014, a MPHA project manager acknowledged that the housing authority was considering a few options for replacing the buildings entirely, and city staff reports from the same year note that the MPHA, in cooperation with Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), had been “proposing to redevelop the entire 14.5 acres into a nationally recognized, culturally and economically diverse, sustainable, and amenity rich mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhood.” 

We also were given a comment by community organizer, and Glendale Resident Ladan Yusuf on the proposed redevelopment who said,

“So we found out three and a half years ago that they wanted to demolish Glendale because, not because it was in bad shape, but because it was next to the light rail and next to the U of MN, and it was all about profit.”

Community organizer Ladan Yusuf

The buildings, which “have changed little since their completion” originally housed veterans from World War II and have since “accommodated successive waves of immigrant residents” as well as African-Americans moving from the southern United States during the Civil Rights Era.

2014 was the year that the Metro Transit green line became operational, connecting the downtown areas of the Twin Cities. That year it also became public that MPHA was considering demolishing Glendale Townhomes, located blocks away from the light rail.

Satellite view of southeast Minneapolis – Glendale Townhomes in top left, Prospect Park light rail station bottom right via Google

In July 2015, after agitation and push-back from the Glendale community and their allies, a city council vote that had been scheduled to take place on the matter was “delayed indefinitely.” Some residents felt as though they had been intentionally kept in the dark about the demolition and displacement plans, seemingly confirmed in a 2015 publication of the Center for Earth Energy and Democracy (CEED), which described how sufficient conversations and education did not take place with those living in the townhomes around potential impacts of the MPHA plans on their futures.

Residents still fear the complex will be torn down and redeveloped, and say they want the units rehabilitated instead. In a 2016 exposé by the City Pages, an alternative newspaper in Minneapolis owned by the Star Tribune, a Glendale resident revealed that she had been requesting work orders since 2014 for property management to deal with the rampant rodent infestation in her unit, to no effect.

Community organizers and public housing residents spoke during July rally

At the July rally to defend public housing, we spoke with MPHA’s Communications Manager Jeff Horwich, who claimed that MPHA is “very far from having a plan in place” for Glendale.

“Minneapolis is a little unique because we have not as much family housing as we would like … We like to think we [MPHA] are a bulwark against gentrification.” – Jeff Horwich, MPHA Communications Manager

While Horwich emphasized that “this has nothing to do with selling to private developers and letting the private market take over,” he noted that private developers may be unwilling to assist in rehabilitating public housing unless they can claim tax credits for this work, meaning these developers would have to become at least part-owners of the property.

He also described a possible idea for the property’s future in which, in addition to 184 units for residents earning 30% AMI, other units might be added with rent at 50% or 80% AMI, “and maybe some market rate housing, and, who knows? Maybe some little shops and commercial activity, potentially?” 

In that scenario, Horwich said those paying higher rents would help to pay for “that deeply subsidized affordable housing. Because the federal government doesn’t necessarily step up to the plate.” 

MPHA Communications Director Jeff Horwitz

While we were at the rally to defend public housing we were able to interview Glendale resident and community organizer Ladan Yusuf about the ongoing struggle to defend the Glendale community.

“A lot of East African families, Somalis, live here; a lot of folks of color, immigrants, refugees, Hmong, African Americans, Latinos …. Life! Community! That’s what’s at stake here. Our homes!

We’re against the Trump cuts, we’re against the HUD cuts … because it affects all the Section 8 residents and all the public housing. We want to preserve our homes. We want to save our homes and we are not moving!” – Ladan Yusuf

Yusuf referred to new Executive Director (ED) of MPHA Gregory Russ, as “the Czar of Gentrification and Privatization.

Yusuf has since clarified in a follow-up interview with Unicorn Riot that residents have “been holding them [MPHA] accountable for repairs, we need more residents to talk about that, but now it’s about privatization.”

Yusuf described MPHA’s ED Russ, formerly the ED of Cambridge, Massachusetts Housing Authority, as “an expert at privatizing public housing all over the country.” She said Russ’ strategy of late has been to claim that MPHA is so federally underfunded it requires private funding in order to sustain its holdings.

“Once a private developer comes into contact with public land, it’s no longer public. Private developers are dying for more land to take over because everything else has been sucked out of the city. The only thing they’ve got is the low-income housing, the public housing where these residents live right now.” – Ladan Yusuf

She went on to describe how in Chicago and in Seattle, public housing has dwindled under similar circumstances: residents were told their homes were in bad shape and that they must move out for repairs, but after the completion of repairs with assistance from private developers, the cost of rent had risen much higher than what the original residents can afford. “[I]t’s basically corporate welfare; these residents cannot move back because once they leave the lease, they don’t have the money to rent these apartments back.” 

On Wednesday, September 27, the MPHA held a public hearing discussing their Moving to Work (MTW) Annual Plan. Community members weary of proposals that “alongside with HUD will dismantle public housing in the coming years,” attended this public forum to give feedback on what some call “aggressive privatization language.” 

Unicorn Riot was live for the public hearing as well as afterwards to gather interviews from Glendale Homes residents, community members, and Jeff Horwich, from the MPHA, watch the videos below.

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