The remaining tenants at the Park Laurel apartments, one of the last affordable spots for low-income renters in downtown Minneapolis, have been forced to leave after the city condemned the buildings late last month.
The four-building, 96-unit complex was largely vacant — most tenants moved out in the fall, after the buildings were sold to Maven Real Estate Partners, a new owner with plans for major renovations. But some, like Mike Sullivan, held on until the end.
“I knew this hammer was coming down,” said Sullivan, who lived at Park Laurel for four years and now spends his nights at a homeless shelter downtown. “People who didn’t have a place to go — we just stayed.”
Unsubsidized apartments where poor people can afford to live are becoming a rarity in Minneapolis, as companies buy old buildings, renovate them and raise rents. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 10,000 rental-housing units in Minneapolis were sold, according to a 2016 report from the Minnesota Housing Partnership.
Justin Greer, director of operations at Chicago-based Maven Real Estate, said the company is pursuing historic tax credits to help finance renovations. Construction could start in late summer or early fall, he said, and in the meantime, the property has been secured.
“Our plan has always been to do renovation of the property, and we are continuing to pursue that plan,” Greer said.
The Park Laurel buildings were condemned March 20 for outstanding code violations, and have been entered into the city’s vacant building registration, according to Minneapolis spokesman Casper Hill. A condemnation notice posted on one of the boarded-up doorways cited unsanitary conditions, health and safety violations and lack of maintenance.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose ward includes Park Laurel, said the city did what it could to ease the transition for tenants.
“When there are landlords who disregard their tenants as much as this one did, rarely can the city force them to act ethically or morally,” she said.
Tenants went through multiple landlords before Maven bought the buildings in March 2016. Between 2006 and 2016, the complex was cited for more than 300 housing code violations.
Deb Wasilowski, who lived and worked at Park Laurel as a receptionist with management duties, said there were “so many problems,” from cockroaches to freezing winter temperatures to crime.
“It probably should’ve been condemned a long time ago,” Wasilowski said.
Still, it was an affordable place to live.
At the time, Wasilowski was living on $203 a month in county assistance and her work at Park Laurel covered her $550 monthly rent. She is now living in Golden Valley.
A few months after Maven bought Park Laurel, tenants were told the buildings were going to be rehabbed and they’d have to be out in 60 days. In September, after tenant advocacy nonprofit Homeline and Goodman stepped in, the city filed a tenant remedies complaint against the new owners for not making repairs that had been ordered months before. The resulting settlement gave tenants 60 additional days rent-free, plus back rent.
But more than four months after the Nov. 30 move-out date, renovations have yet to begin. “Suddenly, this giant rush that they had to get people out and do the renovations and upscaling basically fell off the plan, and they haven’t done anything,” said Eric Hauge, director of organizing and public policy at Homeline. “They just let the buildings become totally unsafe.”