A handful of former residents from the Richfield apartment complex they knew as Crossroads at Penn entered a federal courtroom in Minneapolis last week to ensure that the justice they had sought was finally served.
They were there for the final arguments in a class-action lawsuit they had filed against the owners of the complex, who renovated it for an upscale market more than two years ago and rebranded it as the Concierge Apartments. The project displaced nearly 670 of the households, according to attorneys.
Last October, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery granted preliminary approval of the $650,000 settlement, which the plaintiffs believe is the largest of its kind in the country. The court is expected to grant final approval of the settlement in the coming days.
In all, former tenants in 195 units will receive a portion of the $290,000 reserved for them, which works out to about $1,487 per unit, according to Kristen Marttila, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. The response rate — about 30 percent of the displaced households — is “really high for any sort of contingency case that we’ve ever been involved in,” she said.
Marttila said that’s largely due to the staff at HOME Line, a tenant advocacy group that reached out to former tenants over the past few months to see if they qualified for the claims money. They ran a toll-free phone line, posted notices around the metro area and called some tenants, not easy given that many of them no longer live in Richfield.
The payout is the result of a yearslong dispute between Concierge owners Jim Soderberg and MSP Crossroads Apartments and its former tenants, who claimed that the owners violated the federal Fair Housing Act during the property’s transition. The owners tried but failed to have the suit dismissed in 2016, and continued to claim last week they would have won had they not settled.
As part of the settlement, Soderberg agreed to make significant changes in criteria that kept away prior applicants at the Concierge. The changes include dropping the minimum income requirement, loosening restrictions based on eviction or criminal history, and accepting several forms of identification.
More than 100 people whose applications were denied by the Concierge, or would have been, are expected to receive $25 each. Owners will have to train its leasing agents on the Fair Housing Act, according to court documents.
About $207,000 will go toward the NOAH Impact Fund, an account used to preserve affordable housing run by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. The rest will go toward legal fees, the plaintiffs who brought the suit on behalf of all tenants, and HOME Line.
Alicia Joiner, a former Crossroads tenant, looked both relieved and weary following Tuesday’s hearing.
“I’m just glad this is over with and wish I wouldn’t have had … to move on such a short-term notice like that,” she said. “Because I really liked it out there.”
Another former tenant, Aurora Saenz, brought along her daughter Esmeralda Meneses, who was 3 years old when they moved to Bloomington from the Crossroads apartments.
“Each time I passed by there, my daughter would ask, ‘When are we going to go back home?’ ” she said in Spanish. She was happy to see it all come to an end, she said, because “it was very difficult [for us], very hard.”
Saenz’s former neighbor, Lourdes Vargas, said the most lasting impact will come from the changes to the screening criteria. “In a way, that’s what we’re happiest about — that what happened to us doesn’t happen to anyone else,” she said in Spanish.
Linda Soderstrom, one of the plaintiffs representing the tenants, said she was pleased by the response rate but cynical about what the settlement money represents. “It’s a small enough amount that it might help someone rent a moving truck for their next unfortunate displacement,” she said.