Managers and residents of one of Minneapolis’ most recognizable affordable housing developments have struck a tentative deal to improve problems ranging from lengthy elevator shutdowns to concerns over discrimination.
Residents of Riverside Plaza, one of the largest housing complexes in Minnesota with more than 4,000 residents, most of them Somali-Americans, have been increasingly vocal about living conditions at the apartments in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, protesting at two separate events this spring.
They’ve called on owner Sherman Associates, which in 2012 finished a $65 million renovation of the property, to change its towing practices for parking areas, to fix broken elevators that leave residents waiting for hours for the ones that still work and to better communicate with the Somali-American residents.
A recent listening session on the issues hosted by Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame, a Somali-American and former executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, drew about 200 residents looking to share their concerns.
Warsame, developer George Sherman and others from the community responded by drawing up a plan for improvements in several areas, which they introduced Monday in a meeting at City Hall. Among the changes: converting some permit-parking spaces to metered or short-term visitor parking; hiring an elevator service company to work on-site and tackle elevator breakdowns immediately, and setting up cultural sensitivity training for Riverside Plaza employees.
In addition, Sherman Associates has agreed to add a “bridge builder” position, who likely will speak Somali and be able to help explain the needs and concerns of both management and residents. It also will provide a few dedicated parking spots at a discounted rate near two nearby mosques.
Warsame noted that while property managers can’t solve all problems, residents should see themselves as customers who have a right to stand up for themselves. In America, he said, the adage is that the customer is always right. “The customers should understand that they should have a voice,” he said. “They should be respected because they have a voice and pay rent.”
Sherman said his team has a long-standing investment in Cedar-Riverside and in providing affordable housing. About half of the 1,303 units in the multicolored, high-rise towers are for residents with federal Section 8 housing vouchers. When the project was refinanced four years ago, Sherman said, his company agreed to maintain 90 percent of the units as affordable housing for another 30 years. He said that he’s willing to work with residents on each of their complaints and concerns but that part of the problem is a broader issue with growing pains.
The neighborhood that has long been a destination for immigrants has become hotter with the addition of amenities like two light-rail stops and additional development. The 11-building complex has fewer parking spots than residential units, and the 1970s-vintage towers were not designed with large families in mind.
“We have probably twice as many people living at Riverside Plaza than it was built for,” Sherman said. “When you have that happen, you have long elevator lines, people looking for places to park.”
Mohamoud Ahmed, a resident since 1998, said he never had issues with management until recently. He said he wants to see a tenants’ association that has more distance from Sherman Associates and that is made up only of full-time residents.
Other residents have expressed concerns about the closeness between developers and the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, which is an independent nonprofit organization. That group receives public funding for educational programs and other efforts.
“It’s bigger than the parking thing, bigger than the other stuff,” Ahmed said. “We need somebody who represents residents. … We feel like you don’t respect us as a customer.”
Warsame said his office intends to host monthly meetings with Sherman Associates and community leaders over the next few months. Sherman said he intends to take residents’ suggestions for planned cultural sensitivity training sessions and for candidates for the “bridge builder” position.