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Urban Cleansing in Minneapolis
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Urban Cleansing in Minneapolis:
Are NATO Air Strikes the Answer?
[This article appeared in the May 19-25, 1999 issue of The Pulse of the Twin Cities.]

        What Minneapolis City officials call "spatial de-concentration of poverty" on the near North Side of Minneapolis -- clearing out and demolishing hundreds of family dwelling units owned  by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) -- is what many North Side residents call "urban cleansing."  Could NATO air strikes against City Hall be in the cards?

         During the past four years the MPHA has cleared out and demolished over 600 dwelling units, mostly family dwelling units just to the North of Olson Memorial Highway on the near North side of Minneapolis.  

        Another 303 MPHA-owned family dwelling units are slated for demolition within the next year in the Glenwood-Lyndale housing project, located just to the South of Olson Highway.  MPHA, which is now evicting tenants at the Glenwood-Lyndale project, has replaced only 29 dwelling units, creating a serious housing crisis for many families.

        According to Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), about 3,400 MPS students were living at shelters for the homeless at some point during the 1997-98 school year, including 2,900 of the district's 20,000 African American students.  

        It should also be noted that by reducing the supply of housing that is readily accessible to African Americans, the elimination of public housing  units on the Near North side has the effect of raising rents and inflating the market value of property in much of the city's black ghetto and beyond.

       For African Americans, reality sharply contrasts with the media image of Minneapolis as a progressive Scandinavian city, and a nice place to live.  No other major city in the U.S. has higher rates of poverty and unemployment for African Americans.  The unemployment rate for African Americans in the Twin Cities is 27.5%, and the child poverty rate for African Americans in Minneapolis is 49.5%, according to the Jobs and Affordable Housing Campaign.

        Ironically, the "spatial de-concentration of poverty" by the MPHA on the Near North Side is the legal remedy for plaintiffs in a lawsuit which alleges that policies carried out by the city of Minneapolis, the Federal government and others have severely limited access to housing for African Americans in Minneapolis.

        Back in 1992, the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis filed a lawsuit known as the Hollman lawsuit on behalf of 17 public housing tenants and the Minneapolis NAACP branch against the City of Minneapolis, the Metropolitan Council, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and others.

       The Hollman plaintiffs alleged that the defendants carried out policies which fostered the development of a racially segregated housing market and concentrated poor people in black neighborhoods.

       The Mayor of Minneapolis, Sharon Sayles Belton, who happens to be the first black person, and the first woman to hold the city's top job, has argued that the city's current administration is not responsible for "mistakes of the past" that resulted in a segregated housing market.

        However, in March 1995 the City of Minneapolis agreed to a settlement of the Hollman lawsuit, which involved reducing the concentration of public housing units on the near North Side, and making an effort to find housing for public housing tenants in residential areas with low concentrations of poverty.

        And with the Mayor's support, the Minneapolis Board of Education adopted a neighborhood school plan on June 27, 1995 that would result in students being more rigidly segregated along racial and class lines.  In order to help the Minneapolis Public Schools obtain permission from the State to implement the plan, the Mayor promised initiatives to desegregate the housing market in Minneapolis.

        However, the City of Minneapolis, which is responsible for the implementation of the Hollman settlement, has merely used it as a device to help developers acquire and gentrify the "Hollman sites."

       According to city officials, the Hollman Consent Decree only addresses the redevelopment of the "Hollman site," and does not impose any obligation on the city to increase the supply of affordable housing or to desegregate the housing market in Minneapolis.  

       Currently, the city's housing policy includes the elimination of public housing.  City officials are opposed to replacing the public housing units eliminated in high-poverty neighborhoods with public housing units in low-poverty neighborhoods.

       Minneapolis city officials insist that more housing units affordable to poor people should be built in the suburbs of Minneapolis.  The argument goes that there are too many poor people in the city of Minneapolis as it is.  Moreover, the idea of spreading poor people, especially poor black people, more evenly about the city isn't wildly popular among residents the city's more affluent, and predominantly white, neighborhoods.

       Of course, poor people are no less unwelcome in the suburbs of Minneapolis than in the affluent neighborhoods of Minneapolis.  

         Another of the city's housing agencies, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency is red-lining the city's poorer neighborhoods, putting most of the money for grants and loans to build, repair, rehab and improve housing where it can get the best return on its investment--in the city's whiter, more affluent neighborhoods.

       And the city is not doing what it can do to reduce discrimination, such as conducting housing market surveys [black and white teams pose as apartment/house hunters to detect discriminatory practices]  and prosecuting those who are found to be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

      Job market surveys similar to those which detect racial discrimination in the housing market are also badly needed.   For African Americans, the "official" unemployment rate in Minneapolis is close to 16%, more than twice the national average of 7%.  The official unemployment rate for whites in Minneapolis is about 3%.

Organized Opposition to Demolition of Housing Units Before Replacement

      The city's urban cleansing operation on the Near North Side is moving forward, creating hundreds  of refugees in its wake, but not without significant opposition within the black community.
       The president of the Minneapolis NAACP branch, Leola Seals has stepped forward as an advocate for victims of the city's urban cleansing program, accusing the city of victimizing the people who are supposed to benefit from the Hollman settlement.  This helps to explain why the city's ruling class  supported an anti-Seals slate in the election of NAACP branch officers on January 9, 1999.

        And a group formed last Fall, Northside Neighbors for Justice alleges that the city has ignored  recommendations from focus groups involving  Northside residents that are part of a decision- making process called for in the Hollman Consent Decree.

        For example, Hollman focus groups have recommended that housing in the Glenwood-Lyndale project be preserved and rehabilitated, that 25% of the new dwelling units on the Hollman sites be public housing rentals, and that another 25% of the dwelling units be affordable to low-to-moderate income households.

       Yet the city is moving forward with a plan to demolish the Glenwood-Lyndale housing project, and its redevelopment plan calls for 75% of the new dwelling units to be "market-rate," that is, not affordable to low-to-moderate income households.

       Northside Neighbors for Justice is demanding that the relocation process be stopped: that MPHA stop evicting its tenants in the Glenwood-Lyndale projects and re-rent the vacant units.  

       Although it's doing the most harm to blacks, the elimination of affordable housing in Minneapolis has an adverse impact on others.  It's not only a black issue, but also a working class issue, and a human rights issue.