Two hundred sign-waving tenants and their supporters took their cause to church Sunday.
They marched to Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in south Minneapolis to urge churchgoers to press one of their parishioners, landlord Stephen Frenz, to stop his efforts to evict tenants from five apartment buildings.
They also asked churchgoers to support the tenants’ efforts to get Frenz and his financial partner, Spiros Zorbalas, to sell the buildings to the tenants so they can form tenant-owned cooperatives.
The tenants, with money raised by a local land bank, have offered Frenz $5 million but he reportedly wants $7 million.
Frenz was not at church Sunday, according to one parishioner. He did not return a phone call for comment.
After a hearing on Wednesday, Hennepin Housing Court referee Mark Labine issued an order putting an administrator temporarily in charge of the five buildings on the 3100 block of 22nd Avenue S.
That action came after tenants’ attorney Michael Cockson argued that Frenz has made no repairs, and that conditions in the buildings had deteriorated.
Labine welcomed a decision by the city of Minneapolis to pay a natural gas bill of about $25,000 so gas would not be shut off in the five properties. The city will try to recoup the money if and when the buildings are sold.
The protesters gathered at a nearby park and walked five blocks to the church at 5426 12th Av. S.
Tenants handed churchgoers paper flowers with photos of tenants and a note on the back that said, “Steve and Jennifer Frenz [his wife] who go to church here with you are trying to evict 40 families of color. Please join us today to pray for a solution that doesn’t break up our community and our families.”
Reaction to the protest was mixed. The Rev. Joah Ellis said he had no comment on the tenant issue, saying he celebrated both the church’s annual feast and the right to protest.
Parishioner Mack Harold, 17, called the protesters’ cause a good one. “It’s peaceful, they’re not disruptive,” he said.
“I just hope they come to some agreement that’s a benefit for all,” said Julie Karels, 50, another parishioner.
But others were critical.
“Shame on them for protesting at somebody’s house of worship,” said David Beckman, 55, a churchgoer. “I think they want a lot for very little.”
Several ministers at the rally said they thought the protest site was appropriate. “When we bring people together for social justice, we are on holy ground,” said the Rev. Ashley Horan of the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance.