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COMMENTARY: Mpls. Mayor and City Council Can Stop MPHA’s Plan to Privatize Elliot Twins

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN – RECORDER — The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) is currently attempting to privatize the Elliot Twins, two mid-rise public housing buildings in Elliot Park, using a HUD program called RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration). These buildings are located in South Minneapolis’ Ward 6 where Abdi Warsame serves as a city council member.

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Elliot Twins in Minneapolis
By Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) is currently attempting to privatize the Elliot Twins, two mid-rise public housing buildings in Elliot Park, using a HUD program called RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration). These buildings are located in South Minneapolis’ Ward 6 where Abdi Warsame serves as a city council member.

The decision to privatize the Elliot Twins was made in April 2017, mere months after Greg Russ began his tenure as executive director for MPHA. At that time, MPHA filed a “Letter of Intent” with HUD stating their intent to privatize the Elliot Twins through RAD, and hired private consultants to begin the planning process. Elliot residents did not learn about MPHA’s plans for their homes until they read about it in a July 28 Star Tribune article announcing these plans to the public.

Days later, residents received notice that MPHA was applying to privatize their homes through RAD, which will displace residents and dismantle public housing. Residents had no say in this decision, which is a violation. Elliot residents wrote a letter to HUD, MPHA, and the City clearly stating how their civil and housing rights are being violated by MPHA.

Then, in August of 2018, residents of Elliot Twins found out that Russ, and his family, including his wife Laura Russ and his father-in-law, are the largest owners/managers of private federally subsidized housing which uses RAD (and low-income housing tax credits).

Despite these violations and the conflict of interest, MPHA continued to push through their plans, while Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Council Member Warsame ignored the pleas of residents who voted for them to stop MPHA’s abuses of power. For the record, over 80 percent of the voters from Elliot Twins voted for Warsame and Frey during the last election as both promised that they would stop MPHA’s plans to privatize public housing including Elliot Twins.

To the credit of Council Member Cam Gordon, chair of the Housing Policy & Development Committee, our coalition was able to find out that the City of Minneapolis has legal power/responsibility to control the actions of MPHA, limit their power as a public agency, and to appoint or release their leadership.

This information was revealed after Gordon directed the city’s attorney office during his June 2018 committee meeting to study if the City of Minneapolis has any legal oversight over MPHA. As a result, on July 25, 2018, the city’s attorney’s office published a report confirming the mayor and city council have legal oversight over MPHA which includes the following ordinance and law:

  1. Under Minneapolis Ordinance Chapter 420, MPHA has been and is obligated to report quarterly to the city council and, in addition, respond to questions posed by the mayor and city council. For years now, MPHA has not been fulfilling this requirement.
  2. The mayor and city council have authority under Chapter 420 not only to appoint but to remove the commissioners they have appointed, with or without cause. This last part (“with or without cause”) is quite important because it means the mayor and city council retain considerable oversight authority, and can remove commissioners, for example, for taking positions or pursuing plans and making decisions that, in the mayor and city council’s view are wrong public policy.
  3. The 1980 Special Law that authorized the City to create MPHA specifically states that the City may, by ordinance, impose limitations on the actions of the new agency.

We commend Gordon and Housing Policy & Development Committee for initiating a process for clarifying the legal relationship between MPHA and the city council. Now, we are asking the mayor and Warsame to lead with the rest of the city council in enforcing the legal authority they have over MPHA.

We are asking them to stop MPHA’s abuses and their plans to privatize Elliot Twins through RAD. Privatizing would be the start of dismantling public housing and displacing vulnerable residents at Elliot Twins and throughout the city, and would allow Russ and other developers to profit from the destruction of public housing.

If this happens, these buildings will not be replaced with other public housing buildings and there is no coming back. The housing crisis is now more visible, especially in Ward 6 where Tent City, an encampment near East Franklin and Hiawatha Avenue has become “home” to nearly 300 homeless.

The destruction of Elliot Twins would only add to the housing and homeless crisis in Ward 6 and to the rest of Minneapolis.

Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition is a grassroots campaign of residents organizing to prevent the privatization of Glendale and the rest of public housing in Minneapolis.

This article originally appeared Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

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