Jose Lopez has been caught in the cross hairs of the affordable housing crisis in Minneapolis.
Tuesday afternoon he faced off against a property manager, insisting that his family should not be evicted from an apartment in the Whittier neighborhood where he’s lived for the past 23 years.
“It’s been a hot spot for development,” says Scott Smedberg, who lives near Lopez. “This is ground zero for gentrification.”
Lopez, who has a green card, works at the Crooked Pint downtown, and his wife works at a McDonald’s. They have three children: a daughter, 12, and two sons, ages 16 and 4.
“It’s really so mean and unjust,” Lopez said in Spanish, speaking through an interpreter. “How can someone come in and buy the building and we have to leave in 30 days?”
Most of the other renters of his 38-unit building on the 2600 block of Pleasant Avenue have already left.
Lopez’s two-bedroom apartment cost his family $1,095 per month. It’s already being advertised on an internet rental site for $1,400 a month.
Crime has dropped, says Lopez, thanks to a community effort and people like himself. The neighborhood has become more livable and attractive, he said.
Lopez, Smedberg and about 40 other residents jammed into the management company’s small rental office at 110 W. 26th St. late Tuesday afternoon in what became a three-hour protest. Despite threats that the police would be called, they refused to budge.
Lopez handed a check to Steve Lubke, a property manager, for his August rent. Lubke refused it. He also rejected checks from renters in other buildings the new owner has. They’d been hit with rent increases but still wanted to pay their previous, lower rents.
The tenants say the quality of some buildings is poor and rent should not be increased. Repairs have not been made, they said, and there were infestations of roaches and bedbugs.
The tenants finally left the property management office after 10th Ward City Council member Lisa Bender brokered a truce. Bender said the evictions were temporarily suspended pending a meeting with a representative of Nexus, the rental management company, and the aggrieved tenants, scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, however, the rental management company notified Bender’s office, which in turn notified the tenants, that it was canceling the meeting and the evictions would proceed, said Jennifer Arnold, an organizer with Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (Renters United for Justice), a tenant activist group. She said 15 families face eviction.
The tenants met Thursday afternoon. Two of them, including Lopez, vowed to stay in their building and fight the eviction. About a dozen other tenants in other buildings decided they would continue to refuse to pay the higher rents.
“These are people who have lived in our community for a long time,” Bender said in an interview Wednesday. “They’re not being treated right. They’re being intimidated,” she said.
“I stand with you,” Bender told the tenants, who held up signs saying, “Freeze the Rent,” and “Homes for People, Not for Profits.”
At a special session Thursday morning on the city’s changing housing patterns, several members of the Minneapolis City Council discussed the city’s “affordable housing crisis” and heard a range of recommendations from city staffers.
Property tax records show that Jason Quilling, a landlord who had been under fire for rent increases and the conditions in some of his Minneapolis apartment buildings, sold his properties — including the Pleasant Avenue address — earlier this year to Villa Nova Real Estate Holdings, which is based in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Attempts to contact representatives of the ownership company were unsuccessful.
Rising rents and stagnating or falling wages are making it increasingly difficult for people on a low income to find affordable housing, says Neeraj Mehta, director of community programs at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
“Absent any intervention, the city will become an extremely difficult place for low- and moderate-income families to afford,” Mehta said.
Meantime, developers are gobbling up older buildings, pushing out poorer tenants, spiffing them up and offering them to more upscale renters.
“The Twin Cities is seen by investors across the country as an attractive place to buy property and make a good return on your money,” said Charles Halbach, executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership. “You can call it being heartless or just a good investment practice. The situation has become so dire, and people have so few alternatives.”
Maribel Garcia’s voice trembled as she pleaded with the property manager to take her rent check for her family’s apartment on Pleasant Avenue.
“I can’t leave,” Garcia said. “I’ll be on the street with my children.”
“I can’t accept it,” Lubke said. “This is not my decision.”