North Minneapolis faces winter with wrecked roofs

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2011 - 9:35 AM

Despite much work on north Minneapolis homes hit by a tornado, many aren't yet repaired. The blue tarps make residents nervous.

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Jimmie Franks has a tarp on her tornado-damaged roof, and she also needs a new chimney. The insurance company has not come up with enough money to cover the expenses to do both.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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When it rains, puddles form in the kitchen and a bedroom of LaMonda Welch's rented house in north Minneapolis. Like homes across the North Side, fraying blue tarps have covered parts of the roof ever since a tornado barrelled through the city in May.

No one has fixed the leaking roof, and Welch, who shares the house with her five children, recently found out that her landlord lost the house in a sheriff's sale.

"I didn't know it was in foreclosure," Welch says. "Will we have to move? Where will we stay? I am worried."

Welch's questions reflect the urgency of repairing tornado-damaged homes before the weather makes them uninhabitable. "Those blue tarps will not take a Minnesota winter," says Louis King, a leader of the Northside Community Response Team, a coalition that formed after the tornado. "We have got to sound the alarm or people won't have adequate shelter."

Starting this week, four city inspectors will travel through north Minneapolis to determine how many of the 2,000 tornado-damaged homes are still unrepaired. Thomas Deegan, the city's director of housing inspections, said he's hopeful that by Dec. 1, repairs will have started on all damaged homes that are still occupied.

Deegan estimates that only 50 owner-occupied homes and fewer than 50 rental properties will need outside financial assistance to get fixed.

But it remains unclear how many homeowners and renters have failed to reach out for help, or have been turned down. Nor is it known how many properties were uninsured or under-insured, and how many owners have simply abandoned their buildings.

Last week, on block after block in north Minneapolis, workers were scrambling on roofs, pounding in shingles. But other damaged roofs showed no signs of activity. Many property owners pointed the finger at insurance companies.

In one of those homes, on the 3400 block of Knox Avenue N., owner Brent Dickinson said he's still waiting for a decision. "It's almost like the insurance company won't pay out the money."

Jacque Davis, who lives on the 1800 block of Russell Avenue N., is buying his home from a friend, but the insurance company has not paid up. "It's been forever," he said.

There's a tarp on the roof of Jimmie Franks' house next door. She needs a new chimney to replace the one knocked off by the storm, but so far, the insurance company will not pay the full cost. "I just want to get it done before it gets cold," Franks said.

Lavell Collins, who lives on the 1400 bock of Upton Avenue N., plans to fix his tarped roof himself, because he doesn't have insurance or the money to pay someone else to do it. "I can't afford it right now," he said.

A phalanx of city departments, nonprofit groups, neighborhood organizations, and philanthropic agencies have weighed in to help homeowners like Collins.

"We are spending a lot of energy on trying to take these tarps down and put shingles on," said Chad Schwitters, one of the key figures in the Northside Community Recovery Team.

Schwitters is executive director of Urban Homeworks, which builds and rehabilitates single and small multi-unit housing for people with low incomes. Driving through the tornado-devastated area last week, he pointed out the blue tarps dotting rooftops and explained that after 45 to 60 days in the elements, the tarps begin to fray.

A key source of money for tornado repairs will come from Quick Start, a disaster fund of the state Housing Finance Agency (HFA). Quick Start has made available $1 million in forgivable loans for North Side homeowners, up to $30,000 per home, provided they have been turned down for home repair loans by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The deadline to apply for SBA loans is Sept. 20. If the owner stays in the repaired home for 10 years, the loan is forgiven.

Cherie Shoquist, foreclosure coordinator for the city's Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, says there already are 100 applicants for Quick Start funds, meaning the need will probably surpass the $1 million available.

HFA also is making available, at the city's request, $260,000 for tornado repairs, which is money left over from a previous $750,000 grant committed for North Side code violation repairs. In addition, Shoquist said, philanthropic funds are being raised to help some homeowners pay off delinquent property taxes, or help them purchase homeowners insurance, both of which are required to qualify for Quick Start funds.

"The situations vary so widely from property to property and we are going to have to take them on, one by one," says Jill Kiener, coordinating consultant to the Northside Home Fund, a partnership of city departments, foundations, nonprofits, banks and neighborhood groups. "We have a philanthropic community that is close enough to the issues and trusting enough" to help fill the gap. "People are creative and working frantically."

Meanwhile, it's unclear when the leaking will stop at the home of LaMonda Welch, even though she said she pays a monthly rent of $1,250 and has been living there for two years.

The foreclosed house, located on the 1400 block of Upton Avenue N., was purchased by the mortgage unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in February on behalf of Freddie Mac, which held the mortgage on the property, said Tom Kelly, a Chase spokesman.

Chase took ownership of the house Aug. 1 after the six-month redemption period ended, he said.

Chase didn't know that Welch's family was living in the home until contacted by the Star Tribune, Kelly said.

Chase sent someone out to check on the property on Thursday and discovered tree branches lying on the roof. The branches were to have been removed on Friday. Chase plans to get an estimate on the cost of repairing the roof.

Asked if the roof will be repaired, Kelly would only say, "We need to get the estimates first."

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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