Three Minneapolis public housing complexes that are occupied mostly by low-income seniors and disabled residents soon will be getting new surveillance cameras.

The project, which will be funded with a $235,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), came in response to years of heightened criminal activity and concerns from residents who said their communities have been an easy target for intruders to commit all sorts of crimes.

"We do a lot of engagement and listening to the residents, and one of the things that comes up every year is concerns about safety and security," said Jennifer Keogh, deputy executive director for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA). "Anytime that we can find additional resources to help address those types of concerns, we're going to do that."

MPHA has been grappling with a backlog of capital needs and agency officials have been lobbying at the city and state level for additional resources to make a dent in the gap in federal funding.

The agency is among several public housing communities nationwide that HUD has awarded funding for emergency safety and security upgrades, including for cameras, lighting and security doors.

Keogh said the agency will begin the process of installing the cameras as soon as they obtain the money.

Located in the Ventura Village neighborhood, the Hiawatha Towers, a campus of three high-rise buildings in south Minneapolis, will get exterior and interior surveillance security cameras. Heritage Commons, two low-rise buildings on the North Side, will be equipped only with exterior cameras, she said.

"What we're really excited about is the ability to have some better security cameras that we'll be able to see maybe in, like, the nooks and crannies that a human wouldn't be able to access from a security standpoint," Keogh said.

"So it'll help us have some eyes on the pieces of the properties that we just can't get from one security officer."

John Stumme, a lead organizer for the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council, which advocates for the 5,000-plus tenants living in the Housing Authority's high-rise apartments, said that security has been an ongoing issue at the complexes because many of the buildings are in troubled areas.

He said residents have complained about theft, assaults and carjackings. In addition, uninvited guests sometimes sneak into the buildings to use drugs and harass tenants.

To prevent those criminal activities from spilling over to the properties, the agency put up fencing after homeless tents started appearing in the neighborhoods where the buildings are, Stumme said.

"This new grant will ... certainly help identify problems when they're happening," said Stumme, who has been working with the tenant organization for 30 years.

For more than three decades, residents have been signing up to be members of a public housing neighborhood watch group called Project Lookout, which was started by residents at two high-rises.

The resident volunteers patrol the area and can handle signing guests into the buildings if a professional security guard is not present.

However, since the coronavirus pandemic, some of their security duties have been discontinued.

Rosalyn McBeath, a coordinator for the watch group and a resident at Heritage Commons, said elderly residents have been afraid to go outside for fear of being physically or verbally assaulted.

She said she and other residents have had their cars broken into and homeless people have been found sleeping in the lobby and using building bathrooms to shower.

Keogh said the housing authority has included additional funding in its 2021 budget to boost security guard hours for their high-rises.

"My fear is that as the summer comes in and it gets warmer ... we're going to have a bigger problem," McBeath said.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203