A Minneapolis City Council member and five state senators are calling on the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to delay renovation plans for its 640 single-family homes until the agency can provide more reassurances that thousands of residents won’t be displaced.
Council Member Cam Gordon, chairman of the housing committee, was prepared to have his committee vote on a measure this week that would ask the authority to put off starting work on the “scattered site” homes until a new executive director was chosen and long- and short-term plans were in place for residents.
Gordon and other committee members voted to take up the issue at its next meeting Feb. 5 when MPHA officials could attend and answer questions.
“I think there is a lot of information going out there and a lot of arguing and what is the reality of it,” Gordon said. “There are some legitimate concerns, so that’s what I’m trying to parse out.”
The housing authority estimates it will receive an additional $3 million per year toward repairing roofs, bathrooms, kitchens, heating systems and plumbing for the homes under the federal program, called Section 18.
The authority has received federal approval to transfer ownership of the houses to a nonprofit, which would allow it to accept funding from other nonprofits and banks. They have said none of the 3,430 residents living in the houses will be displaced — the repairs could happen while they’re living there, or would only require living somewhere else for three weeks at most.
The authority is proceeding despite criticism from some who say residents haven’t had adequate notice or opportunity to object, and that those who have attended meetings about the change have left confused. The scattered site housing hasn’t had a resident council meeting since 2014.
Groups including Defend Glendale and Public Housing Coalition have pushed back on the program and persuaded the local DFL Party Fifth Congressional District Central Committee to write a letter to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar requesting that she urge a halt to MPHA’s plans.
At the State Capitol, members of the Minneapolis Senate delegation — Patricia Torres Ray, Kari Dziedzic, Jeff Hayden, Scott Dibble and Bobby Joe Champion — sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Jan. 16 asking the agency to pause plans for the scattered site homes “until MPHA is able to demonstrate that the agency has a short and long term protection plan for the thousands of residents that currently live in these buildings.”
With the MPHA allowed to start transferring the homes to the nonprofit as soon as next month, the senators wrote: “We are concerned about this short time frame and would like to know if residents have been properly notified. The impact of this change could have devastating consequences to many families.”
Tracey Scott, interim executive director for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said in a letter to the senators that their letter to HUD was “unfortunate” and that the “most fundamental point in the letter is inaccurate,” since no families would be displaced.
Scott wrote that the program does not displace or evict the families living in these homes, change their rent, change MPHA’s role as owner of the buildings or end low-income housing at the properties.
She also said that informing residents about the program is ongoing but the agency has already done mailings, meetings, phone and e-mail hotlines, and a newsletter for scattered site residents, efforts that even federal officials said were “above-and-beyond the engagement requirements for HUD approval.” She said residents are protected under the lease and federal guidelines of Section 18.
“There is a fantasy that after decades of disinvestment, the federal government will magically bestow millions of dollars upon our city to save our public housing,” Scott wrote. “In reality, MPHA’s plan utilizes newly available federal programs to release more federal dollars for low-income housing — but it’s not alchemy or wishful thinking. We are committed to using every tool — federal, state, and local — at our disposal to preserve these homes and all of our properties.”