The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority owns dozens of high-rises and hundreds of single-family homes and townhouses, among other properties — and they need millions of dollars worth of maintenance.
As the new executive director of MPHA, Greg Russ has to figure out where to start making fixes. He also has to come up with a way to pay for the repairs.
"We feel for us to preserve the units, we need to invest now," said Russ, who came from the Cambridge Housing Authority in Massachusetts knowing that MPHA, like other agencies around the country, has an aging real estate portfolio and limited funds.
MPHA has an estimated $127 million in deferred maintenance and building needs and gets just $10 million a year in capital funding from the federal government — a number that could shrink if a proposed $6 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development passes as part of President Donald Trump's 2018 budget.
Without reliable federal support, the MPHA will look for other ways to pay for updates including bonding, low-income housing tax credits and city and state support. Preliminary planning, which will involve assessing each MPHA property — all 6,000 units — and creating a schedule for improvements, is starting now and could last a few years.
"We're really launching a long-term capital reinvestment program," Russ said.
Making all the needed improvements — the details of which have yet to be determined — is expected to take a decade.
The MPHA board on Wednesday approved a set of "guiding principles" for redevelopment, with broad goals for preserving and expanding affordable housing across the city.
The board also approved $1 million to fund the planning process. A pending grant from the McKnight Foundation could provide an additional $1 million. That money will cover costs, including pay for MPHA staff and outside consultants, training and travel, and a $100,000 analysis of Glendale Townhomes, the MPHA's oldest housing complex.
The MPHA's public housing portfolio includes 42 high-rises and 900 single-family homes and townhouses. Glendale, which was built in 1952, is a 184-townhome complex in Prospect Park that needs more than $15 million in interior, exterior and infrastructure renovations, according to the MPHA's website.
But a vocal group of Glendale residents has already started to push back against the idea of upgrading the buildings, raising concerns in e-mail blasts that renovations will lead to resident displacement. Tenants at other public housing complexes have expressed similar worries.
In the high-rises, it's clear that federal funds aren't sufficient to maintain the 1960s buildings, said Barb Harris, executive director of the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council. But the approximately 5,000 seniors and people with disabilities who live in the buildings are particularly concerned about moving.
"Any proposal for big change which results in residents needing to move, even temporarily, is always unnerving and anxiety-causing," she said.
The details have yet to be worked out, but MPHA residents won't lose their homes, Russ said. They might have to move to a different unit during renovations or use a voucher to find temporary housing, but they'll be guaranteed a spot if they choose to return.
"We're not abandoning these units or the families who are in them," he said. "That's not going to happen."