Minneapolis' efforts to help tenants facing evictions hit a snag recently when a key partner laid off staffers expected to do the work.
Hennepin Community Action Partnership (CAP) had signed an agreement last December with the Family Housing Fund to help the tenants being dislocated from buildings owned by landlord Mahmood Khan.
But last month the arrangement collapsed.
"They laid off a bunch of people that we were working with," said Kyle Hanson, director of the housing choice voucher programs for Minneapolis Public Housing. "It all happened very quickly."
Xavier Matos, a housing stability program adviser with CAP whose work included helping Khan tenants find new housing, said he was one of 13 to 15 employees fired in May.
"It was disgraceful," he said. "People were escorted off the property. No one was treated with dignity."
Mary Brindle, board chairwoman of Hennepin County CAP, declined to comment, referring questions to interim executive director Pam Pullman, who did not return phone calls.
Tenants have been in near panic since December, when the City Council revoked all rental licenses for Khan, who owned and rented out more than 40 homes and duplexes on the North Side. Khan had racked up thousands of inspection violations.
After renovations were found to be too costly, Hennepin Housing court referee Mark Labine ordered tenants evicted by Aug. 31 and directed the city to help them find new housing. Some tenants want to move, but others want to stay and have their homes rehabbed. On Friday, 22 Khan properties still had tenants.
At a noisy meeting with tenants earlier this month, Mayor Jacob Frey promised to do everything in the city's power to help them. But city officials made no mention of the disruption caused by the CAP layoffs.
Hanson said his agency entered into a memorandum of understanding with CAP on Dec. 11 to work with the Khan tenants to "find out what their needs were, help the housing search and process the $500 housing payment [a temporary monthly rent subsidy] we were offering to families."
After the layoffs, Hanson said CAP offered up new people to work on the project, but he said Public Housing decided to use another agency. He said his agency still works with CAP on other initiatives.
The new partner for Khan tenants, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center in north Minneapolis, is a health and human services organization with no experience in housing relocation. The Family Housing Fund, which supports affordable housing in the Twin Cities, awarded NorthPoint a $10,000 grant to hire a staffer.
NorthPoint hired Danielle Swift, who has real estate experience. She has been meeting with tenants and last week she sat in on a meeting of representatives of 11 property management companies, asking if they'd be interested in renting to Khan tenants. The response from landlords was positive, according to some at the meeting.
"I haven't been making guarantees, but I am an optimistic person by nature," said Swift. One of her first efforts was helping some tenants get their electricity turned back on.
Colleen Ebinger, vice president of the Family Housing Fund, was caught off guard by the CAP developments. "I don't think anyone understands why," she said. "They were supposed to be helping find new housing.
"The Khan situation is emblematic of how tough the housing market is right now," she said. "We have to look at how the system failed and how we can create a better system and a better market that works for everyone."