Richardson, the breadwinner, rides the bus every workday to the Mall of America, 40 minutes each way. She has sold clothing there since the family moved to the Twin Cities. She applauds Bazoff's
work as the block's enforcer and has faith that he can rid it of problems. "Once George talk to the people and have decent people move in, everybody will be happy here," she said.
Two couples, two approaches to ownership
Homeowners still occupy two-thirds of the houses on this block. Nine houses are owned by whites, five by blacks, one by an interracial couple. All of the black-owned homes have been bought
in the last four years. There have been no new white homeowners since then. The block contains 15 rental units in 10 buildings, but two of the buildings are also owner-occupied. All but three rental units were occupied at the start of the summer by blacks; two white tenant families were forced out when their landlords surrendered their buildings to lenders.
David Bledsoe and Janice Guider hope to be homeowners in a year. She works for an insurance company; he sells appliances for Wards. He left Chicago in 1994 believing there was no work for him there, and started doing temporary office work the day he stepped off the Greyhound in Minneapolis. Janice arrived later.
She worried about the block before she moved in, but those fears have evaporated. They live next door to Bazoff. It had been a problem property; previous tenants were the target of a drug raid
last spring. As long as the landlord rents to good tenants, Bazoff mows the lawn. "If the grass gets long, I know we messed up," Guider joked. "It's good to know somebody's looking out for you."
They hope to look for their own home in about a year - but not on the North Side. "There's a lot of renters," he said. "They're not situated so they're going to take care of things like a homeowner."
Across the street, Garfield and Pamela Williamson decided to stay on the North Side. They said they left Chicago last winter to spare the eldest of their five children from "senseless gangbanging." They rented at 29th and Bryant Avs. N. for five months before buying the house on Colfax. "This block is much, much better than the block we came from - trash everywhere, kids fighting, kids, kids, kids," Pamela said. She works part time at a fast-food eatery; he's assistant manager at an auto parts store.
When they moved, Garfield ferried loads of household goods in a red shopping cart, saving the big items until a friend's truck was available. Since then they've been raking the lawn, grubbing out scrub trees, fixing the fence.
Worries about crime and newcomers
Bazoff, the block leader, grew up in the area. He returned in 1989 to move in with his older sister, Helen Cline, and her family, in the duplex Cline bought in 1975.
Cline just rented the upstairs of the duplex to a woman with four children. "She seems to be a pretty sensible girl. I thought I'd take a chance. We checked her out pretty thoroughly. We don't like where she's from, but she said she wants to get away from there. . . . We usually don't take anybody off Bryant."
On this day, Cline steers her decaying car to the curb at the end of another week at a suburban food warehouse, where she has worked for 29 years. Out of habit, she picks trash from the gutter before slumping to a seat in front of the duplex. It was quieter back when she first moved in. As a car passes with speakers blaring, she adds: "It wasn't like that."
She had to take a week of vacation to clean up after the previous renter, whom she said cut wires to baseboard heaters and shorted smoke detectors. Because of problems with other tenants, she doubts she's money ahead since first renting the unit three years ago.
A week after moving in, new renter Cassandra Jackson comes purposefully out the front door toward a knot of children checking out the block's newcomers. "You kids ain't going to be hanging out like this. Go home, go home and go home," she points to each visitor. "I don't want the landlord to get upset. Now go! Bye!"
After a week, Jackson doesn't see much difference from Bryant. "You still have the same worries: Will I get broken into? Can I sit outside without worrying about a drive-by?"
Several homeowners have tales of break-ins, but police reports indicate that the block is safer than many. Still, the occasional drug raid can be disconcerting. Last winter, Marcy Dolezal went to
back the car out of the garage to take her grandsons to the park. "Then I heard the police: `Get down on the ground, get down on the ground or I'll blow your head off!' " She heeded police advice to duck inside while they raided a duplex two doors north.
A crusade for stability
Sometimes, life on 2600 Colfax seems much like any other block in Minneapolis. Jump-ropes slap a rhythm against the sidewalk, sometimes engaging three generations. Neighbors chat on porches and over fences. The wail of sirens on nearby streets and the dum-da-da-dum-da-da-dum spilling from car stereos fades into mere background noise.
On such an afternoon, Bazoff expounds on what he has learned about managing a block. The block club came together after several false starts - after things got bad enough. For four years, Bazoff has fielded complaints from neighbors, doggedly prodded City Hall to address problems, badgered landlords with troublesome tenants. But there are complaints that Bazoff works for slumlords; public records show he has worked for several landlords with repeated housing-code
Roger Streeter, director of the neighborhood organization, said: "George is a conscientious man. He works hard. He's stubborn. He knows right from wrong."
The duplex next door to Bazoff, quieter now that Bledsoe and Guider live there, has been a perennial trouble spot. Bazoff recites one former landlord's phone number from memory. "I called him up at two or three in the morning, and I said, `I can't sleep, and neither can you.' " Later, the block took over management of the building for the landlord.