Ellisons listen to housing concerns in North Minneapolis

Community members say housing is one of the most urgent issues North Minneapolis residents face.  Photo by Calvin O’Keefe

Community members say housing is one of the most urgent issues North Minneapolis residents face. Photo by Calvin O’Keefe

By Abdi Mohamed Staff Reporter

The Northside has been at the epicenter of housing challenges in Minneapolis. The foreclosure crisis, the 2011 tornado, the city’s low vacancy rate, slumlords, rising property taxes, and inadequate, unaffordable, and insufficient housing supply have all contributed to unstable and often unsafe housing for many of the areas residents.

In their search for solutions, many in the community have turned to policy makers for answers. Northside residents gathered on Monday, July 29 at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) to discuss housing issues that impact the area. 

The forum was led by two prominent local leaders who happen to be father and son:  Ward 5 City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison and Attorney General Keith Ellison. Both stated a commitment to finding solutions to the housing challenges faced by Northsiders. State Representatives Raymond Dehn and Fue Lee, along with Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando were in attendance, highlighting shared interest in the issues.

Council Member Ellison announced two city ordinances he plans to introduce this fall addressing housing in North Minneapolis. The first would limit the screening criteria landlords use to deny renters the ability to gain housing, such as having late payments or an eviction. “We’re not going to say landlords can’t consider those things, but we’re trying to place some responsible look back periods so if you have some blemishes on your record, and you’ve remedied them, and you’re trying to enter back into the housing market so you’re not iced out forever,” Ellison said. The second ordinance would seek to curb excessive deposit fees from landlords. The council member shared instances of residents being asked to pay upwards of three months in advance before gaining access to a home.

Attorney General Ellison announced that his office was looking into approaching housing complaints as consumer issues. “Historically, the attorney general’s office has not looked at housing and tenancy as a consumer issue,”  he said. Categorizing housing as a consumer issue would allow the attorney general’s office to have the authority to prosecute cases in which landlords might have engaged in discriminatory behavior. Many in the room seemed receptive to that idea as the attorney general referenced Minnesota state statutes giving him the authority to investigate matters of “business, commerce or trade.”

Attendees of the forum explained  varying issues related to affordable housing in the region. One community member was concerned with the possibility of landlords collecting application fees for a unit they did not intend to rent. Attorney General Ellison said that is against state law but is known to happen. 

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison (left) and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (right) held a listening session on housing at UROC on July 29.

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison (left) and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (right) held a listening session on housing at UROC on July 29.

Another concern brought up by attendees was developers not being held to their promises of developing affordable housing units along with their commercial or luxury complexes. Council Member Ellison expressed shared frustration and a desire to see more of the city’s agreements with developers in writing, but explained that the city could not do much about developments made on private property.

Forums like this one reveal the growing need for affordable housing in the Northside and how solutions can come from the municipal, county and state level. Both Ellisons promised to continue the discussion around affordable housing in the near future and plans for more coordination with other officials. The two also took a moment at the end of the forum to acknowledge the community activists that were present, like Street Voices for Change, who have been advocating on behalf of the homeless and insecurely housed. 

Abdi Mohamed