Hundreds of low-income tenants at Crossroads at Penn in Richfield were displaced when a developer bought the housing complex in 2015 and renovated it into luxury apartments.
Now a new documentary, to be aired this weekend on TPT, looks back at the controversial sale and how it exemplified the accelerating loss of affordable housing in the suburbs.
“Sold Out: Affordable Housing at Risk” was produced by TPT with the Minnesota Housing Partnership, and is based on a 2016 report by the nonprofit. A preview was screened Wednesday at TPT’s studios in downtown St. Paul, where former Crossroads tenants, developers and housing advocates discussed how government policies, “socially inclusive” developers and tenant engagement can help maintain affordable housing.
“The impact that Crossroads has had has been monumental,” said Richfield Council Member Maria Regan Gonzalez. “We can no longer say as elected officials that there is nothing we can do.”
Alan Arthur, president of nonprofit developer Aeon, shared his company’s efforts to preserve housing for low-income renters. In April, Aeon agreed to purchase a 422-unit affordable housing complex in Richfield.
“Crossroads is a tremendous symbol,” Arthur said. “We are losing [the equivalent of] a Crossroads a week.”
The film begins with the aftermath of Crossroads’ sale to developer Jim Soderberg in November 2015. Eric Hauge of Home Line, a nonprofit tenant advocacy group, says in the film that he began hearing from tenants who needed help finding housing.
“At first it was just a couple of calls,” he says. “Then we started hearing from a number of people.”
The film touches on the history of suburban housing and includes the voices of housing advocates, developers and the Metropolitan Council.
After the Great Recession in the late 2000s, more people were looking to rent rather than own housing. That, combined with the desire of millennials to live in apartment complexes, drove apartment property sales up and vacancy rates down from 2010 to 2015.
Rents rose with every new building, many of which began to include luxury amenities such as swimming pools and convenience stores. In the built-out inner-ring suburbs, it meant apartment owners were selling complexes built in the middle of the 20th century and developers were upscaling the properties.
At a loss were low-income tenants — many of them Latinos, African-Americans and recent immigrants — who could not afford new rents or pass stricter application requirements, including higher credit scores and criminal background checks.
The filmmakers catch up with the tenants after the renovation of Crossroads, now known as the Concierge. Some were forced to move to suburbs such as Brooklyn Park and Bloomington. “When I drive by there, it’s really like a smack in the face,” former tenant Bernard Campbell says in the film.
Soderberg, who in a news story compared former Crossroads tenants with “undesirable residents,” is being sued by the Housing Justice Center, a nonprofit legal organization based in St. Paul. The lawsuit claims that the new owners violated the Fair Housing Act by replacing the tenant population of people of color and with disabilities with “young white urban professionals.”
“Sold Out: Affordable Housing at Risk” will air at 1 and 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday on TPT MN and at noon on June 18 on TPT LIFE.