A grant from the city of Minneapolis will help bring sprinklers to four high-rise buildings, including the Cedar High Apartments where five people died in a November 2019 fire.
On Tuesday, the City Council's housing committee authorized a $1 million grant to support the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority's $4 million project to install the fire safety systems by the end of 2022.
"MPHA is committed to a plan to bring sprinklers to every high-rise unit within the next three to five years," said Jeff Horwich, the agency's director of policy and communication. "Additional public investment will help speed us toward that goal."
Investigators concluded that a sprinkler system would have saved lives in the Cedar High Apartments, where a fire broke out in a unit on the 14th floor and quickly filled the hallways with smoke.
The 25-story structure at 630 S. Cedar Av. has partial sprinkler coverage on the main floor and lower mechanical equipment rooms but no sprinklers on the upper levels where people live. With the exception of two recently constructed buildings, many Minneapolis public housing dwellings were built before government fire codes required sprinklers in high-rise buildings.
Now, MPHA leaders are racing to add sprinklers to the Cedar High Apartments and eight other high-rise buildings before the end of 2022. The agency has recently approved an $8 million plan to do that work and is also seeking $2 million in state funding.
With the additional city and state money, MPHA leaders said, they could retrofit 11 out of 21 housing authority buildings that lack sprinklers. Separate renovation projects will retrofit three other buildings, including the Elliot Twins, with sprinklers.
Residents and some family members of the fire victims, who sued the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, welcomed the news, although some had mixed feelings.
Layla Ibrahim, a resident of the Cedar High building, said many of her neighbors are dealing with the trauma of the deadly fire, which has put them on high alert every time there's smoke or the fire alarms go off.
"It's so stressful," Ibrahim said. "People are scared of another fire."
But Abdi Mohamed, who lost his mother Nadifa Mohamud in the fire, criticized the housing agency for being too preoccupied with renovations. He pointed to the $26 million project at the Elliot Twins, saying the agency should have first addressed the safety of its tenants in Cedar High.
"We don't want other families to endure the pain we went through," Mohamed said. "[MPHA] should act quickly on this urgent matter."
Nur Abdullahi's father suffered smoke inhalation in the fire, and that was a major culprit in his death from COVID-19 five months later.
"Fire sprinklers are good for residents, but this is work that should have been done a long time ago," Abdullahi said. "It's too late, we have already lost many lives in that building."
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203