More than 600 single-family houses owned by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) are slated for repairs after the federal government approved transferring their ownership to an agency-run nonprofit.
The Minneapolis agency is estimating it will receive an additional $3 million toward repairing roofs, bathrooms, kitchens, heating systems and plumbing in 640 “scattered site” houses in the city.
The Housing Authority applied to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earlier this year for the houses to be put under the Section 18 program, which allows local housing authorities to dispose of or demolish public housing.
MPHA officials say transferring ownership of the houses to a nonprofit 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 displacement of three weeks or less.
The authority is proceeding despite criticism from some who say residents could be displaced and haven’t had adequate notice or opportunity to object. The scattered site housing hasn’t had a resident council in four years.
The application helps the agency with “preserving and investing” in the houses while also getting off the “year to year roller coaster” that comes with relying on Congress to approve funding for public housing repairs, said Jeff Horwich, director of policy and external affairs for the MPHA.
“We’ve been baffled by the energy put into generating fear around this program,” Horwich said. “This is not designed or anticipated to be disruptive to families.”
Horwich said the agency would have preferred to work with a resident council before submitting the application. The application spurred a new council recruiting campaign but fewer than 10 people have expressed interest in reviving it. About 75 people attended three community meetings held to present the plan.
Nichole Buehler, executive director of the Harrison Neighborhood Association, called the authority’s lack of community engagement “kind of a shady way of doing business.” She said there are 18 scattered site houses in Harrison.
Buehler said many didn’t know what was happening, while others attended meetings and still left confused about how the program would work and whether they would have to move.
“We’re fearful that folks are going to be displaced from these homes, especially given that these … scattered site units represent some of the only remaining affordable housing left in Minneapolis,” Buehler said.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council President Lisa Bender expressed their support for the application in a letter to HUD.
Earlier this year, City Council Member Cam Gordon, chairman of the Housing Policy and Development Committee, sent a letter to HUD asking that the agency not move forward with the application until after a resident council is set and the 2020 election. He said Wednesday he has the same concerns as he did months ago, and also hopes to see a permanent MPHA executive director in place to oversee the plan.
The MPHA having residents “engaged along the way” is important “so it ends up the residents are rolling out a plan, as much as it is the public housing authority rolling out a plan,” Gordon said.