Tight Mpls. housing market adds to squeeze on low-income renters

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 3, 2014 - 6:08 AM

As monthly fees go up and maintenance woes continue, some south Minneapolis apartment tenants feel they have few options.

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Tenant Jose Cruz Guzman pointed out ceiling mold left over from a water leak that was never fully repaired in his building on 22nd Avenue S. in Minneapolis.

Photo: Photos by Courtney Perry • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Sonya Yancey leaned against her kitchen counter and looked around her south Minneapolis apartment, exhaustion showing in her eyes.

She pointed out a laundry list of problems: outlet covers removed to spray for bugs and never replaced; a leaky bathtub and a cracked bathroom sink; a living room carpet riddled with holes.

“This building is stressing me out,” she said.

At a time when rents are soaring and putting an even bigger squeeze on low-income tenants, Yancey and others are growing increasingly frustrated as they struggle to find a decent place to live.

Yancey’s building, at 3141 22nd Av. S., is owned by Steve Frenz, who runs the Apartment Shop management company.

Frenz made two things clear when he bought 38 rental properties from controversial landlord Spiros Zorbalas last year: Rent would go up to market rate, but long-running problems would be fixed more quickly.

Now, his tenants have seen $50 rent increases on top of new utility costs that add about $100 to their monthly bill. It’s more than some can afford — and, combined with persistent maintenance problems, more than they’re willing to put up with. Some have started organizing, meeting in hallways to share stories and look for answers.

“I don’t want to move because I’ve got everything right here,” Yancey said. “But if push comes to shove, who wants to live like this?”

Frenz, meanwhile, said his company is making great strides. The Apartment Shop has a system in place to address maintenance issues, he said, including a bilingual technician who visits buildings regularly. Several buildings have recently been improved, with fixes that include new carpet and fresh paint.

Jo Ann Velde, Minneapolis housing inspections services manager, said she doesn’t know of any issues that extend across all 65 Frenz properties. It’s mainly the former Zorbalas properties that are in rougher shape, she said.

Frenz said it has been a challenge to maintain properties that were long ignored. “With these properties, when you have 10 years — probably significantly longer — of deferred maintenance, it’s a long catch-up process,” he said.

Some forced out

Many tenants have complained about the rent increases that for some started in January. The Apartment Shop formerly paid for heat and water, but now the company is dividing the costs among the tenants.

Residents at Yancey’s building met this week, and they said they now pay between $100 and $120 more each month for heat and water.

“I cannot afford a $150 a month increase,” tenant Julie Healy said at the meeting. “I am being forced out of my home.”

Ross Joy, lead organizer at the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, said the Apartment Shop sent letters to tenants informing them of the utility charge late last year, urging them to reduce the use of natural resources.

“It is our hope that our utility allocation program will provide the necessary control and incentive for all of us to become more conscious of our natural resource consumption,” the letter said.

Joy pointed out that the tenants do not have controllable thermostats or meters to review their heat and water usage.

They’ve also complained to management repeatedly about apartments that are cold for several reasons, including drafty windows.

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  • Ceiling mold is left over from a water leak that was never fully repaired in the building at 3141 22nd Av. S. in Minneapolis.

  • Community organizer Ross Joy, left, met with Reyna Flores, center, Jose Cruz Guzman and other tenants of properties on 22nd Avenue S. in Minneapolis this week to discuss concerns about building maintenance as well as rising rents and utility costs.

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