Barbra Muhammad is ready for the Glendale Townhomes in the Prospect Park area of Minneapolis to be torn down and redeveloped.
The resident of the 63-year-old public housing row houses has grown tired of wet basements and a pervasive rodent problem.
But she is among a growing chorus of tenants who want more say in how the 184-unit complex will be redeveloped, plans for which information has been slow to trickle out. They fear that the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is looking to capitalize on booming development in the area by jamming in low-income units with new market-rate units, displacing the neediest residents.
“A lot of people are very upset right now because they’re hearing a lot of different things,” said Muhammad, a newly elected alternate on the neighborhood group board.
Those frustrations boiled over last week at a meeting at which about 50 residents asked the area’s City Council member, Cam Gordon, to help get the independent housing agency to respond to their concerns. With questions intensifying, the agency has now scheduled a May 11 community meeting.
Glendale is the last of the city’s five housing projects facing redevelopment. It is a sharp contrast to the four North Side projects that straddled Olson Highway until they were torn down by 1999 to make way for the mixed-income Heritage Park.
Glendale is a quieter place tucked into an old gravel mine on a shoulder of Prospect Park. It was built in 1952, and many of its earliest residents were GIs attending the University of Minnesota. Two state commissioners, Mike Rothman and Brenda Cassellius, grew up there. Judy Corrao lived there as a single mom for a time before being elected to the City Council. It has housed successive waves of immigrants, especially Hmong; East Africans now make up about half of the population. Almost half of the residents are under 18, and its working-poor households typically earn less than $20,000 a year.
Residents live in 28 clusters of two-story row houses. The Public Housing Authority says the cost of rehabbing them with modern mechanical systems and fixtures, enough to last another 20 years, would cost $27 million — the same amount it would cost to tear down and build new, at roughly $150,000 per unit. The agency gets only $10 million annually to keep up its 6,000 units in row houses, high-rises and homes around the city, so it makes sense to use new federal money and programs to rebuild Glendale, said Dean Carlson, the agency’s project manager.
The agency has taken preliminary steps, such as applying for funding that could allow for rental vouchers to help pay for new housing units. That would allow private developers to mix public housing units with other subsidized and market-rate units. It would enable using other financing tools, such as low-income housing tax credits or mortgage financing, to help pay for 184 replacement units. The housing authority has less than a year to present a plan to the federal government.
But residents are chafing from what they say is an information drought. The agency held one session with 20 to 30 residents last September to solicit their preferences on housing styles, but has met more frequently with the neighborhood group.
Resident Ladan Yusuf, another newly elected neighborhood board member, is concerned about gentrification. Yusuf has taken a lead role in organizing tenants to demand more information from the agency.
“There’s something wrong going on here,” Yusuf said. “They think we are blind. They think we are deaf. That we don’t know what’s going on. They’re treating us horribly.”
Yusuf and others say Carlson, the project manager, promised to return in two months with more information after meeting with residents in September. But the agency’s planning work on the redevelopment stalled last fall while it waited for a Metropolitan Council grant to help finance that work. The subsequent $100,000 grant awarded in January included $12,000 for three community design workshops.
Carlson said the agency has yet to engage a developer or finish a master plan. “We just haven’t had any information that would make a meeting of value to residents,” he said.
But residents are left wondering whether they will be displaced and where they’ll be housed during construction.
Another concern for residents is the agency’s plan to roughly triple the number of housing units, to about 550, on the Glendale site. “That would be like crowding people in a sardine can,” Muhammad said.
The new layout could include row houses and four- or five-story buildings aimed at smaller households, including market-rate units for empty nesters, young married couples, even seniors.
Yusuf said she believes that the agency’s goal is gentrification and that it aims to take advantage of the area’s proximity to the light-rail Green Line, where business has been surging. She worries that could make the units unaffordable; the agency said rents won’t change.
Others are opposed to the expanded redevelopment, preferring the current layout and housing mix.
“It is an absolutely terrible” idea, said DFL state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who lives two blocks from Glendale. Like others in the area, she credited it with providing much-need students and racial diversity for the nearby Pratt public school.
Carlson said the agency would move residents in stages as needed for construction. He said displaced residents could move into empty units elsewhere on the site, use rental vouchers or move into newly completed units on the site. Federal law requires that they have a right to return after redevelopment. But few displaced from Heritage Park exercised that — partly because they found they liked new neighborhoods or housing better.