Minneapolis city officials are cracking down on what Kolleen Boyd calls her creative solution to ease homelessness.
Boyd leases three single-family homes in north Minneapolis and then rents out each bedroom to residents who cannot find other stable housing, including felons, drug addicts and residents with mental-health issues.
“I’m not getting rich off of this,” said Boyd, who came out of treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and got sober in 2007 after living in a halfway house. “Some months, I barely break even.”
But Boyd’s desire to provide housing for those facing troubled and uncertain times is colliding with city laws.
Attorneys and city officials say Boyd is essentially running illegal rooming houses, where people rent a room, and share common areas such as bathrooms and kitchens.
City code dictates that Boyd’s houses can only have three unrelated people living in each. In one of her homes, she has seven people paying rent.
JoAnn Velde, the city’s deputy director of housing inspection services, said the city might need to “put more restrictions into rental licensing that would not allow for this kind of practice.”
City inspectors visited two of Boyd’s properties in the past week to warn her that too many people are living there — which could lead to residents being homeless again soon.
Inspectors last week placed two bright orange stickers on the front door of one of the properties, located on the 400 block of 23rd Avenue N. “UNLAWFUL OCCUPANCY,” the notice says, adding that the property must be vacated by Aug. 31 if the problems are not corrected. The four-bedroom property has seven unrelated individuals living there, including two couples.
The property is managed by Gloria Marina Mejia, according to city records. She could not be reached for comment.
‘No room for change’
Boyd does not dispute that there are too many people living in some of the homes. She called on the city to re-evaluate its policies so that she and others can help those facing homelessness.
“That’s where my frustration comes in,” she said. “There is no room for change.”
Since last October, Boyd signed 12-month leases with five property owners in north Minneapolis and told them what she planned to do. She has already lost two because of occupancy issues and is fighting hard to hold on to the rest.
At first, she found tenants by visiting local shelters, mainly the Salvation Army. Now, she said, she gets phone calls several times a day from people seeking housing.
For $500 to $550 a month, tenants get a bedroom with their own lock, and they share a kitchen, bathroom and living room. Their rent includes all utilities. Tenants must sign a month-to-month contract and abide by a policy that prohibits drugs and alcohol.
She currently has 16 tenants spread across the three properties, and she lives in one of the homes herself. Children are not allowed to live on the properties, and she does not rent to individuals with criminal sexual convictions.
Don DeAngelo moved in last December. He was released from federal prison in 2012 after serving more than 20 years for several convictions, including homicide.
He now lives in one of Boyd’s properties with his fiancée, who is in treatment for alcohol dependency and used to live under a bridge. He said his parole officer heard about Boyd’s houses and suggested he give her a call.
“If it weren’t for Kolleen, we’d be homeless,” DeAngelo said.
Larry McDonough, a former Legal Aid attorney and advocate for tenants’ rights, said that Boyd is “doing a good deed” but that zoning ordinances in Minneapolis do not favor rooming houses.
“There are a lot of folks that have checkered records, so it’s hard for them to find housing,” McDonough said. “The problem she is running into is sometimes when you do something outside of the current parameters of the law, you get in trouble.”
McDonough said Boyd’s rooming houses highlight a larger problem in the city.
“Just as there is a need of condos in downtown, there is also a need for housing for people with extremely low incomes, and any way that you can provide that in a safe in sanitary manner seems to me to be a good thing,” he said.
Property owners at risk
Jim Harvanko, manager of the home on the 2400 block of 4th Street N., said that Boyd explained what she was planning to do with the house and that he and the owner, Sandrine Ballosingh, agreed to it.
“The problem is with the occupancy requirements,” he said.
The home has been tagged for having too many occupants. Harvanko said the owner is going to have to decide what to do in the coming weeks.
“The city is not going to back off,” he said.
At a property on the 300 block of 23rd Avenue N., inspectors found 18 violations, including having too many tenants. The property is owned by Sou Enterprises and managed by Nam Nguyen, who declined to comment.
Four of the tenants tried to take Boyd to conciliation court to recoup their deposits and rent after inspectors showed up at the home and forced them out. Boyd has not had to pay out, because many of the tenants did not show up to court.
Sou Enterprises also owns the Fremont property where Boyd and five others live.
Velde, the building inspector, said the property owners could bear some responsibility in allowing this living arrangement.
“She knew before this last incident that she should not over-occupy the property, and she went ahead and did it anyway,” Velde said. “If she’s knowingly not being compliant and not telling the owners what she is doing, that’s going to be a problem for them.”