At an emotional meeting Friday, frustrated low-income tenants of landlord Mahmood Khan blasted the city of Minneapolis, including Mayor Jacob Frey, for failing to help them as they face a court-ordered eviction on Aug. 31.
However, after nearly two hours of meeting with city staff and then the mayor, one of the tenants’ key organizers said at a news conference he was hopeful a solution can be reached if Frey and city officials follow through on their promises.
At a separate news conference, Frey vowed to aid the tenants, who have been living for years in substandard housing conditions on the city’s North Side.
“The city of Minneapolis, the mayor’s office, the City Council — every single department — are 150 percent behind these tenants,” Frey said after he, city officials and tenants met. “They’ve been horribly mistreated by some seriously unscrupulous landlords.”
Although journalists were not allowed in the meeting, which was held in a basement room at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, they could hear tenants’ angry voices from outside the room.
“We’re going to do everything to make sure they have stable housing,” Frey said, citing a plan to provide $500 rent subsidies for affected tenants for one year and to help them with relocation services.
He did not specifically address a proposal from their tenant group, United Renters for Justice, that the city buy Khan’s 43 properties, single-family homes and several duplexes, refurbish them and make them available for home ownership.
After a long fight that spilled into the courts, the City Council in December revoked all of Khan’s rental licenses, citing thousands of inspections violations.
The renters filed a tenant remedies action against Khan, and housing court referee Mark Labine appointed Lighthouse Management to oversee the properties and decide whether it was economically viable to repair them.
Lighthouse concluded that it would cost $2.1 million to $2.9 million to make the homes habitable for the next five to 15 years, and that rent payments would be insufficient to cover those costs. It recommended that tenants be evicted by Aug. 31, which Labine ordered, asking the city to help with relocation.
About 30 of the residences still have tenants in them. Some have said they want to move, but others say they will stay beyond the Aug. 31 deadline.
“I’m not leaving my home,” said Tecara Ayler, 39. “I’m tired of sitting in these meetings.”
“I’m not going to move,” said tenant Patricia Gant. “I haven’t got a place to go. We are asking the city to fight for us the way they fought to get [rid] of [Khan’s] licenses.”
‘Everybody is stressed’
Roberto de la Riva, co-director of United Renters, said Friday that when it comes to helping the tenants, there has been “a systematic failure by many different city departments and an acknowledgment [of it] by city staff and the mayor.”
He said he felt hopeful after city officials promised Friday to move swiftly to get water and electricity turned back on in a number of Khan’s properties where tenants are still living.
De la Riva said that because some tenants are staying beyond Aug. 31, “We need to figure out how to bring Khan into negotiations so this can be settled.”
He said he’d like to see the homes acquired and refurbished by nonprofit entities and turned into co-ops, or to have land trusts created whereby tenants could own the homes that sit on the land.
Nicole Anderson, who lives in the 1000 block of Logan Avenue N., said that only United Renters has kept her informed.
She said she had few options for affordable housing. “I’m a two-time felon; no one wants to rent to me,” she said.
Timothy Brown, who lives in the 800 block of Sheridan Avenue N., said, “We’ve been getting lip service [from Frey] since last November. Everybody is stressed. We are passed off from one agency to the next. ... Why not help us buy the homes?”
De la Riva said Khan bought the homes cheaply, then collected thousands of dollars of rent monthly with minimal upkeep. “This is a crisis that needs to be fixed,” he said.
Jeremiah Ellison, the City Council member for the Fifth Ward, which includes many of the Khan properties, accompanied Frey to the meeting with tenants and said afterward he favors a tenants’ bill of rights enacted by the city.
“This is a unique situation for better or worse,” he said. “I think the city has engaged it in trying to think creatively, and I think the tenants are fighting for the rights that they deserve. And I am happy to see them sticking up for themselves.”