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The Fight Against Urban Cleansing & Gentrification in Minneapolis
The Fight Against Urban Cleansing
and Gentrification in Minneapolis
City Hall Waits Out Demolition Opponents
October 22, 1999
Demolition of Public Housing Resumes in Minneapolis Secretly
From The Pulse of the Twin Cities Nov 3-9, 1999
Which Way Forward in the Fight Against Urban Cleansing?
November 30, 1999
Copyright c 1999 by Douglas Mann
All Rights Reserved
First Edition December 1999
Published by: Douglas Mann
P.O. Box 8514
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408-0514
The demolition of public housing at a 73 acre site on the near North side of Minneapolis is part of a dehousing program for the poor being carried out by the city of Minneapolis and promoted by the Federal government. It is often referred to as a policy of urban cleansing and gentrification.
The essential content of two full-page articles in The Pulse of the Twin Cities (May & July) and an unpublished report (September) by the author are included in "City Hall Waits Out Demolition Opponents."
City Hall Waits Out Demolition Opponents
October 22, 1999
The city of Minneapolis won a Court battle against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) over the issue of what to do with 306 dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale public housing projects on the near North side of Minneapolis.
Federal Court Judge James M. Rosenbaum ruled against the NAACP's motion for injunctive relief in a decision announced on September 30. The NAACP motion called for the rehabilitation and repopulation of all the vacant dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects.
The demolition of the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects is part of a near North side redevelopment plan authorized by the Hollman Consent Decree, the out-of-Court settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis against the city of Minneapolis, its housing agencies, the Metropolitan Council and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis recruited 17 public housing tenants and the NAACP as plaintiffs.
Similar redevelopment plans in other major cities have been carried out under similar circumstances with the same effect on those who are supposed to benefit from the demolition of large public housing projects: poverty is "deconcentrated" at a particular site by removing the poor people from it, and a growing number of poor people who are eligible for housing assistance end up living at homeless shelters as the supply of affordable housing decreases.
In the absence of any serious efforts to curb discrimination against Blacks in the job and housing markets, the process of demolishing large public housing projects and replacing them with scattered-site housing will not significantly "deconcentrate" the black population or "deconcentrate" poverty in predominantly black neighborhoods. Predominantly Black neighborhoods in Northern U.S. cities are a product of legally-enforced segregation during the first half of the 20th century. Segregation has been maintained through overt, then covert discrimination in the housing market. Extraordinarily high rates of poverty in most of these neighborhoods and the over-representation of Blacks as public housing tenants is a result of ongoing discrimination against Blacks in the Job market.
Judge Rosenbaum, who approved the Hollman Consent Decree in March 1995, noted that the Decree didn't specifically require the city to demolish the Glenwood-Lyndale housing units. The Hollman Decree outlines an advice and consent process for the city to follow, which the judge asserts was a model of democracy in action.
In support of its position, the city's administration has cited the recommendation of a Hollman focus group that met in 1996, which recommended that the city raze the Glenwwod-Lyndale projects. The city ignored the advice of a focus group that met in 1997, which recommended that the Glenwood-Lyndale dwelling units be rehabbed.
Despite its claim to have a mandate from the people to demolish the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects, the city has repeatedly delayed the start of demolition in the face of protests by what city officials refer to as a small, vocal minority of Northside residents, and outside agitators.
At this time the start of demolition is being held up because, according to city hall, contractors originally hired to do the work are making unreasonable demands to compensate them for delays which have idled equipment and work crews.
Demolition crews first set about the task of demolishing the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects on June 8. At that time the plan was to knock down about 50 dwelling units, get another 50 units ready for demolition, knock them down, and so forth until the Glenwood project's 220 units are gone. Demolition of the Lyndale units is to begin sometime after April 2000.
The problem with piecemeal demolition of the Glenwood-Lyndale projects is that the beginning of each phase of the demolition invites on-site protests, and protests at city hall between each phase.
Instead, the city has been engaging its adversaries in negotiations and the legal process, and city employees have been busy getting the Glenwood units ready for demolition per the original schedule.
What Inspired The Mayor To halt The Demolition
On June 8, the Mayor ordered a stop to the demolition several hours after an early morning protest at the demolition site, where 14 of the 40 protesters were arrested for blocking the path of bulldozers, including 8 pastors of Black churches on the North side of Minneapolis.
The June 8 protest was organized by a coalition of affordable housing activists spearheaded by Northside Neighbors for Justice. From its inception in the Fall of 1998, NNJ focused its attention on the city's redevelopment plan for the near North side, and the injustices done to those who are supposed to benefit from it.
In April 1999 Northside Neighbors for Justice began to raise, as its central demand, the demand that the city stop the demolition of dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects, and rehab and repopulate all of the 306 dwelling units there.
The Hollman consent decree requires the city to replace 770 public housing dwelling units that were slated for demolition as part of a redevelopment plan for the area. The city demolished 464 of these dwelling units, and an additional 192 units adjacent to the "Hollman site" (the Bryant Avenue Apartments). Over 900 dwelling units have been lost to this eviction-demolition process, but only 47 units have been replaced.
The city has made a commitment to build or acquire and rehab 74 units in some of the city's more affluent neighborhoods by April 2002. As of July 1999 only 8 of these units were inhabitable and 4 units were in the process of being acquired or constructed. A small number of the replacement units are to be constructed at the site of the public housing projects that were already torn down. The rest are to be located in the suburbs.
It may be possible for the city to fulfill its obligation to acquire or construct the "Hollman" replacement units within the city limits by April 2002, but the most optimistic estimate for completion of dwelling units to be located in the Suburbs is 10 to 12 years.
The NNJ's "no demolition" demand has the character of a non-negotiable demand rather than a bargaining chip, even though it was qualified by adding that demolition of the Glenwood-Lyndale units might be acceptable after all of the replacement units are ready to occupy. City hall can't get off the hook with a mea culpa and a promise to try harder.
In addition to the loss of public housing units, other subsidized housing options are rapidly disappearing. Landlords are opting-out of programs started by HUD in the late 1960's and 1970's which made privately-owned rental units available to low-income households for a fixed percentage of a household's income.
At the same time, rents and the market value of housing have risen dramatically in most of the city's neighborhoods. Houses have been selling quickly at inflated prices and the vacancy rate for rental housing is estimated to be under 2% city-wide.
The Black community has been particularly hard hit by this affordable-housing crisis. Covert racial discrimination in the housing market is commonplace, according to HUD-sponsored housing-market surveys, which monitor and compare the success of Black and White housing hunters. In most residential districts, landlords and real estate agents will readily sign a lease or purchase agreement with Whites who present socio-economic profiles that are very similar to the profiles of Blacks who invariably get the brush off.
Last April, Carol Johnson, the superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools provided an often-repeated statistic which indicates the severity of the housing crisis for Blacks in Minneapolis: 3400 Minneapolis Public School students lived in homeless shelters at some point during the 1997-98 school year; 2900 of these homeless students were African-American (about 20,000 of 50,000 MPS students and about 20% of the city's residents are classified as African-American).
NNJ Proposes A United Front With The NAACP
The city's public relations problems became even more complicated when the NNJ approached the Minneapolis NAACP branch with a proposal to form a united front in May.
A majority of NAACP activists responded favorably to the idea to forming a united front with the NNJ on the basis of NNJ's anti-demolition stance. There already appeared to be a consensus among NAACP activists in favor of action to stop the eviction-demolition process when the issue was discussed at an NAACP-sponsored community forum in April.
Under new leadership, the Minneapolis NAACP branch did not oppose the demolition of housing at the Glenwood projects, and Northside Neighbors for Justice and its allies didn't have the capacity to mobilize the numbers required to physically stop the demolition through an on-site protest.
The Mayor's decision to stop the demolition on June 8 was attributed to divine intervention by at least one of the Northside pastors. A letter dated June 9 from an NNJ intern addressed to NNJ members and friends stated that "...through the grace of God, our symbolic protest became an act of effective civil disobedience, ending with a meeting with the mayor and the temporary halt to the demolition of Glenwood-Lyndale."
However, there were some political considerations that should not be overlooked. The arrest of the 8 Northside pastors and other prominent figures in the Black community was certain to undermine the mayor's authority and arouse the masses; in part because of the sympathetic coverage this event was sure to get in the Minneapolis Spokesman.
The Minneapolis Spokesman newspaper, which has a sizable readership in the Black community, has been doing a lot of investigative reporting about the city's redevelopment plan for the near North side and related issues. Most of the ongoing coverage and editorials on this subject in the Minneapolis Spokesman have been very critical about what the city's administration is doing - to the point of dissecting and refuting arguments made by city officials to justify their policies and actions.
The Mayor In Damage-Control Mode
To win the confidence of a large part of the NNJ-led coalition, it was enough for the mayor to call a temporary halt to the demolition and promise to study the situation and discuss it with community leaders. At a press conference at city hall on June 18, one of the signs brought by an affordable housing activist expressed support for the mayor's decision before it was made known.
However, it appeared that a majority of NNJ activists were not inclined to endorse the mayor's decision before it was unveiled, and the position adopted by the mayor was certainly a disappointment to most who expressed confidence in the mayor as an ally.
At the June 18 press conference, the mayor announced that she was firmly opposed to rehabbing and repopulating any of the Glenwood units, but promised to "look into" keeping most of the 86 Lyndale units occupied on a temporary basis by seeking approval and funding from HUD. The mayor stated that she was firmly opposed to spending any of the city's money to make any dwelling units inhabitable on a temporary basis.
As it turned out, HUD did not raise any objections to postponing the demolition of the Lyndale units, but did object to the idea of paying for the work that needed to be done on most of the units.
After getting no positive responses to an appeal for funding from the private sector, the mayor turned to the city council for $300,000 to rehab the Lyndale units. The city council voted against this proposal.
At the June 18 press conference, the mayor also promised to "look into" getting 70 Hollman replacement units within the city ready for occupancy one year earlier than the original April 2002 deadline. However, getting these replacement units ready for occupancy by April 2001 required a willingness on the part of the contractors to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, or a willingness on the part of the city council to come up with the money needed make it happen.
During July, the city's Hollman redevelopment advisory council and the city's affordable housing task force made recommendations, which if implemented, would certainly have been acceptable to affordable housing activists as a trade-off for the Glenwood site.
NNJ activists lobbied and rallied for passage of a bill which incorporated recommendations of the affordable-housing task force that the city council later voted down.
The Hollman advisory council recommended more housing and a higher proportion of affordable housing at the Hollman site than under the current plan. To date the Hollman Implementation Committee has not agreed to act on those recommendations.
The mayor insisted that the redevelopment plan for the Hollman site, including housing affordable to low-income households, could not go forward until entire Glenwood project is razed, and blamed those who oppose further demolition for this delay. The developer selected by the city claimed it was necessary to take a core sample every ten feet at the Glenwood site before laying the foundation for any new buildings.
However, the community editor of the Minneapolis Spokesman pointed out that no new housing is planned for the Glenwood site. The city's plan for the site of 220 dwelling units known as the Glenwood housing projects is to raze the buildings, then raise Basset Creek, create a wetlands area, and build a greenway to Kenwood (a high-income neighborhood near downtown and the northern part of the city's Lake District). How could soil conditions at the Glenwood site possibly effect the construction of new housing elsewhere?
The NAACP: The City's Unlikely Adversary
The fact that the Minneapolis NAACP branch intervened to block the demolition is another indication that the city's Hollman advice and consent process is seriously flawed.
As a party to the Hollman lawsuit, the Minneapolis NAACP branch had an obligation to act as a watch dog for the plaintiff class, and the standing to throw a legal monkey-wrench into the Hollman redevelopment machinery.
However, the NAACP did not take the initiative to stop the demolition of public housing, and some members of the plaintiff class who sought help from the Minneapolis NAACP branch were dissatisfied with the response that they got.
One reason for the NAACP's lack of initiative on this issue is that NAACP leaders at the national level were highly resistant to taking any legal action against the city, or endorsing any protests against the city. This is because the Hollman redevelopment plan is not an isolated case of urban cleansing - the "deconcentration" of poor people in, and the gentrification of inner city neighborhoods - sponsored by HUD in recent years, and it is reasonable to assume that Minneapolis is not the only place where the NAACP has given its approval to this policy.
The attitude of the NAACP leadership at the national level is related to a turn away from the militant style of leadership, and a distant relationship with the Democratic Party personified by Ben Chavis. The NAACP board replaced Chavis with former Congressman Kweisi Mfume as president and CEO in 1996, then picked Julian Bond as Board chairman. These changes at the top inspired corporations and wealthy individuals to help the NAACP pay off a $3.6 million debt by the end of 1996, and allow the organization to build up a reserve fund and restore the money that had been cut from its operating budget in recent years.
And, it just so happens that the city of Minneapolis is run by the Democratic party, and the mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton is a member of the NAACP and is among the highest-ranked Black female politicians in the U.S.
There was also an unresolved dispute about the validity of an election of Minneapolis NAACP branch officers - a slate of officers endorsed by the city administration had won the election, but had not been officially sworn in. However, in the latter part of May, the national board of the NAACP ordered that the Minneapolis NAACP officers-elect be sworn in.
The Moratorium Ends, the NAACP Intervenes
When the mayor's 30 day moratorium on the demolition of dwelling units at the Hollman site came to an end on July 18, the city did not order the demolition crews to get to work. Instead, the city lobbied the Minneapolis NAACP branch leadership to give the demolition work their blessing.
The city agreed to put off the start of the demolition until the Minneapolis NAACP branch considered what it should do. The branch's housing and legal redress committees met in joint sessions to study and discuss the situation behind closed doors, and submitted a recommendation to the branch executive committee, which discussed and approved it behind closed doors.
A mid-day protest by 200 persons in downtown Minneapolis on July 28 against the city's plan to demolish the Glenwood-Lyndale project, which preceded a court hearing for the Hollan 14, added to the pressure on the NAACP leadership to oppose the demolition.
The housing committee of the Minneapolis NAACP branch adopted the position that all of the dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects should be rehabbed and repopulated until all of the Hollman replacement units are ready for occupancy.
However, it appeared to take a little coaxing from the city administration to get the Minneapolis NAACP branch leadership to take the city to Federal Court. At a meeting of the Hollman Implementation Committee on August 6, chaired by city council president Jackie Cherryhomes, the mayor "...reminded [housing chair] McDonald that the NAACP has the right to initiate a dispute resolution procedure and obtain injunctive relief, a court order to halt the demolition. That statement clearly volleyed the ball back to the NAACP's side of the net [from the Minneapolis Spokesman, "Hollman hits the fan"]."
The Branch executive committee unanimously adopted a resolution submitted to it by the housing committee on August 9, which committed the branch to seek a court order to halt the demolition. At this point the branch was calling for the rehabilitation and repopulation of all of the Glenwood-Lyndale housing units.
Then the branch executive committee unanimously adopted a "swap-the-Glenwood-units-for-something-else strategy," but failed to get approval for this "swap strategy" at the branch membership meeting on August 28.
Although the city and the Minneapolis NAACP branch leadership reportedly made no progress in negotiations on the eve of a September 2 hearing before Judge James M. Rosenbaum in Federal District Court, what happened in the courtroom on September 2 suggested that the posturing of NAACP officers had been a smoke screen.
At the September 2 hearing before Judge Rosenbaum, the NAACP's attorney announced that the parties had a tentative agreement. No details about the tentative agreement were revealed in open court. The benches at the back of the courtroom were nearly filled to capacity. Over 50 persons opposed to the deal were on hand to witness this event, including members of Northside Neighbors for Justice and the NAACP.
The NAACP attorney, Thomas White asked Judge Rosenbaum to give the attorneys until Tuesday, September 7 to come back to the court with a ratified agreement. The deadline proposed by the NAACP attorney gave the parties just 5 calendar days to ratify the agreement, which was not enough time for the membership of the Minneapolis NAACP branch to vote on it.
However, the city's attorney objected, stating that it would take 45 days for the city to review and approve the agreement. City officials were in no hurry to get the bulldozers rolling. The Judge ordered the parties to do the ratification process in no more than 20 days.
After the hearing, Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton informed the press that the NAACP had agreed to allow the demolition of 220 dwelling units to go forward at the Glenwood housing project. In return, the city promised to rehab and repopulate most of the 86 Lyndale dwelling units "on a temporary basis," to get 74 dwelling units that the city is committed to build in the city's more affluent neighborhoods "on-line," and to see that Northside residents get some of the demolition and construction jobs. This is basically the same settlement proposal that the mayor first offered on June 18.
All the while that the NAACP and the city were negotiating, the city was getting dwelling units at the Glenwood project ready for demolition. The head of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority reported that the demolition readiness project was right on schedule. MPHA officials expected to have all but a few of the Glenwood buildings ready for demolition before the end of the year.
There was a question raised about who in the NAACP authorized the tentative agreement with the city. Ordinarily the branch membership has the final say, and in this instance the branch president is not going to act on his own authority against the position adopted by a majority of active branch members due to a conflict of interest. Ricky Campbell is a city employee who acquired the office of Minneapolis NAACP president with considerable help from city hall.
The deal with city hall was evidently approved by an administrator appointed by the national board of the NAACP and given authority to overturn any decision made by the branch.
The tentative agreement reached by attorneys for the city and the NAACP on September 2 was denounced as a sell-out by the dissident majority of the Minneapolis NAACP branch. Even keeping all of the Lyndale units occupied for another year or two wasn't going to leave the NAACP with anything to bargain with.
At a branch membership meeting on September 13 that was open to the public, branch officers argued that "the tentative agreement" was really just a proposal put forward by the city for its consideration; that they really hadn't agreed to it. Unfortunately, the NAACP's attorney referred to "the city's offer" as a tentative agreement in open court, and the city's offer was written on the letterhead of the law firm that represented the NAACP in this matter.
The recommendation of the Minneapolis NAACP branch executive committee to a September 13 membership meeting was to table the matter and take final action at a branch executive committee meeting scheduled after the city council votes to ratify the deal, and just before they go back to Court. The strongest argument for tabling the vote was based on an expectation that the city council would vote it down. But it was a deal that the city council could not refuse to ratify.
The Minneapolis NAACP branch leadership was now taking a firm stand against the deal offered to them by the city. But it didn't make a lot of difference whether the NAACP voted against the city's "offer" before or after the city council took a vote on it. In either case, city officials could blame the NAACP for backing out of a deal, as they did.
The City Council had taken final action on the "tentative agreement," approving it before the Minneapolis NAACP branch executive committee formally rejected it and made a counter offer. The NAACP's parliamentary maneuvering backfired.
NAACP Leadership Pulls Its Punches In Court
The NAACP leadership instructed its lawyer to argue that its motion be granted because of a change in circumstances, i.e. a worsening affordable housing crisis. In the judges opinion, this was not a good reason to rule in favor of the NAACP's motion.
The Judge also noted that the NAACP did not advance "good reasons" to support its motion: violations of the Hollman Consent Decree, such as the failure to replace the housing it demolished in a timely fashion, the city's disregard of a recommendation to rehab the Glenwood-Lyndale projects in 1997, and measures to increase employment and housing opportunities for public housing tenants.
On the other hand, NNJ had advanced the fore-mentioned good reasons to compel the city to rehab and repopulate all the vacant dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects, and it is doubtful that the mayor would have repeatedly delayed the demolition of public housing units if NNJ had not made any allegations about violations of the Hollman Consent Decree.
Adding insult to injury, Judge Rosenbaum indicated that even if the NAACP had offered him the best reasons to support its motion, he would have ruled against the NAACP anyway.
The NAACP leadership evidently pulled its punches in court as a courtesy to the mayor and other Democratic Party politicians.
After the Judge ruled against the NAACP's motion, an NAACP spokesperson announced that the NAACP would abide by the Judge's decision, presumably by taking no further steps to stop the demolition.
The mayor then announced that her offer to "save" the Lyndale units was "off the table." The mayor had referred to the NAACP's decision to reject the city's settlement offer as "rolling the dice," and blamed the Minneapolis NAACP branch for "losing" the Lyndale units as well as the Glenwood units by turning down the city's offer to settle.
However, the judge did not order the city to demolish the Glenwood-Lyndale units: it is still up to the city's administration to decide when to move forward with the demolition of the Glenwood- Lyndale projects, not the NAACP or NNJ.
The city administration has an aversion to public protests against its policies and actions, especially on this issue. That's why the city has delayed the start of demolition for so long. That's a good reason for NNJ to keep on protesting and to stick to its demand that the city stop the demolition of public housing at Glenwood-Lyndale, and rehab and repopulate all of the vacant dwelling units there.
The fight to stop the demolition of the Glenwood-Lyndale units has also demonstrated that a strategy of reliance on Democratic party politicians is a recipe for defeat in the fight for affordable housing and in other struggles carried out by and for working people. The effort to build a working class party, such as the Labor Party, could provide the needed political alternative.
Demolition of Public Housing Resumes in Minneapolis Secretly
[from The Pulse of the Twin Cities, Nov 3-9, 1999]
Demolition of the Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects on the near North side of Minneapolis resumed on Monday, October 25, 1999. Over the next three days, demolition crews flattened 34 buildings which housed about 150 of the remaining 298 dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale site. The remaining Glenwood units are scheduled for demolition in mid-November.
Demolition day was a closely guarded secret at city hall. Demolition opponents didn't know about it until a member of Northside Neighbors for Justice saw demolition crews getting their equipment in position early Monday morning and activated NNJ's emergency response phone tree.
In order to move forward with the demolition without tipping off demolition opponents, a payment of $190,000 above the contracted price for the demolition was quietly authorized as compensation to the contractor for delays ordered by the mayor in June and July. There were no press releases from city hall about this, and news of the deal wasn't passed along through other channels prior to demolition day, as demolition opponents had expected.
On Monday morning there were at least 30-40 protesters at the demolition site between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M., but fewer than 20 protesters were there at any one time. A demolition opponent reported that there were plenty of uniformed police, a booking van, and a couple of prisoner transports on the scene.
Early Wednesday morning a much larger group of protesters assembled at the demolition site. At one point protesters formed a human chain to block the path of a backhoe one of the demolition crews moved across a public street. The police were evidently under orders from city hall to refrain from making any arrests, and there was no report of the Wednesday demonstration in the Star-Tribune the following day.
In one of the few televised news reports about the Wednesday morning demonstration, a spokesman for the city claimed that dwelling units at the Glenwood site had to come down to make way for new housing.
The mayor and other city officials have accused demolition opponents of standing in the way of progress, and insist that the construction of new housing, including some public housing units at the "Hollman" site cannot begin until the Glenwood projects are razed. This is so because, according to the developer, core samples must be obtained every ten feet throughout the Glenwood site to assess the condition of the soil.
However, the point of assessing the condition of the soil is not to determine where and how to build new housing at the Glenwood site, because the plan is to raise Basset Creek and re-create a wet land area rather than to rebuild there.
Which Way Forward in the Fight Against Urban Cleansing?
November 30, 1999
The heading of an article on page one of the Metro Section of the Star-Tribune newspaper on October 25 declared that the NAACP had gambled the Lyndale housing project and lost it in Court. About half of all the dwelling units at the Glenwood- Lyndale projects were knocked down over the next three days.
In September, the city administration had offered to rehab most of the Lyndale dwelling units and allow 70 of them to be occupied or re-occupied on a temporary basis. The Minneapolis City Council made it a firm offer, which the NAACP leadership rejected.
A large majority of NAACP and NNJ activists opposed the city's offer because it would have let city hall off the hook for demolishing the Glenwood units, and because demolition of the Lyndale units was not an essential part of the city's plan to gentrify the 73 acre Hollman site and the city's near North side.
The city administration's offer to preserve most of the Lyndale housing project was a tactical retreat, something like a gambit in the game of chess, where a chess piece is sacrificed in order to create a weakness in the position of the opposing player, and an opportunity to force a series of moves that results in a greater material advantage and a stronger position.
By offering to temporarily preserve the Lyndale units in exchange for having the NAACP withdraw its demand to rehab and repopulate the Glenwood units, the mayor actually won support for demolishing the Glenwood units as a matter of choosing the lesser evil.
While the mayor engaged the NAACP and NNJ in negotiations and legal manuevering, the city administration kept its demolition-readiness activities on-schedule.
Mourn, Don't Organize
Less than one week after Judge Rosenbaum's September 30 ruling (which allowed the city to proceed with the demolition of the Glenwood-Lyndale projects), the Northside pastors announced that they were planning a funeral for the Sumner-Olson- Glenwood-Lyndale housing projects.
The Northside pastors group also decided to ask their lawyers to submit a motion to dismiss the charges brought against them by the city after their arrest on June 8 for blocking the path of a bulldozer. On October 27 the Judge assigned to the case, Hennepin County District Court Judge Myron Greenburg dismissed all of the outstanding charges against the so-call Hollman 14 (8 of the 14 are Northside pastors).
Press accounts implied that Judge Greenburg dismissed the charges on his own initiative, rather than as a response to a motion to dismiss the charges submitted by the defendants' lawyers. A statement by Pastor Curtis Herron as reported in the Star-Tribune newspaper lends itself to this interpretation. Herron, recognized as a spokesman for the Northside pastors, said that the Judge's ruling was a disappointment to him because the trial would have called attention to the city's criminal housing policy.
After their arraignment on July 28, the Hollman 14 / Northside pastors had planned to "put the city's housing policy on trial," and were opposed to raising the demand that the city's administration move for dismissal of the charges. On the occasion of their arraignment about 200 persons took part in a mid-day protest at the Hennepin County Government Center. The Court eventually set a trial date in December 1999. Consequently, the first protest against the city's administration on behalf of the Hollman 14 was also the last.
As plans for the funeral went forward during October, objections were raised at NNJ membership meetings by 3 or 4 staff members of Family and Childrens Services and others to further agitation and protests against the city's plan to demolish the Glenwood-Lyndale projects.
Family and Children Services (FCS) has been in business for over 100 years, provides psychological counseling services, and receives much of its funding through United Way and Hennepin County.
From its inception NNJ has received staff support and material assistance from the public policy advocacy bureau of FCS, which has assumed some of the functions of an executive committee for NNJ. The Community Editor of the Minneapolis Spokesman newspaper, Jerry Freeman is employed as a Community Organizer and NNJ liaison for Family and Children Services.
One of the arguments against having ongoing protests against the demolition of the Glenwood and Lyndale projects is that protesting is in itself a negative thing, and that protests and protest movements are a relic of the 1960's that didn't accomplish much then and won't accomplish much now or during the next millenium.
Near the close of the October 12 meeting, after a long and heated debate, a motion was adopted to reaffirm NNJ's opposition to the demolition, and to get people to the demolition site to protest the demolition on the day it resumes, and the day after by activating an emergency response phone tree that was set up for this purpose, and to put out a flier to publicize the emergency response plan. However, the flier was never produced.
Then, at the NNJ membership meeting on October 19, Jerry Freeman introduced a motion to call off the emergency protest at the demolition site when the demolition resumes, which was seconded, then withdrew the motion after several persons spoke against it.
A Premature Obituary
The funeral service for the Sumner-Olsen-Glenwood- Lyndale housing projects was held on November 7, 1999 and was officiated by Reverend Albert Gallmon, Jr. Reverend Gallmon is a member of the Northside pastors group and the Hollman 14, and on the first Tuesday of November he became a director-elect of the Minneapolis Board of Education as part of the Democratic Party's slate.
The Eulogy by Reverend Paul Robinson made heavy use of the refrain that we are "in between" one thing and another, that we are in a period between the demolition of housing and the construction of housing on the 73 acre "Hollman site."
However, there remained undemolished about 150 dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale projects, and some of these units were still occupied. Most of the Lyndale units are not slated for demolition until sometime after the last of the tenants are evicted in April 2000.
So far as the undemolished housing at the Glenwood-Lyndale projects is concerned, it was like having a funeral service for a loved one who is condemned to death by the Courts, except that the service is held six or seven months before the execution is scheduled to take place.
At one point, a pastor declared that the community could look forward to the construction of 900 dwelling units at the 73 acre "Hollman site," one-fourth of which would be public housing rentals and another fourth would be "affordable," then corrected himself, noting that this was a proposal that was "on the table."
Back in July 1999 the Hollman Advisory Committee had recommended a plan advocated by NNJ that involved the construction of 900 dwelling units, of which one-fourt would be public housing rentals and another one-fourth would be "affordable."
However, the City Council's Action Plan calls for half as many dwelling units and half the density of public housing rentals and "affordable" housing as is recommended by the Hollman Advisory Committee.
And there is no reason on earth to believe that the Hollman Implementation Committee and the full City Council will adopt recommendations of the Hollman Advisory Council favored by NNJ and the Northside Pastors group. The mayor and city council have taken their offer to temporarily preserve the Lyndale housing project "off the table," and the city council rejected the recommendations of its own affordable housing task force for the budget and priorities of the city's housing agencies. The same interests that are served by these decisions will be served by a decision to reject the recommendations of the Hollman Advisory Committee that were advocated by NNJ.
Nothing Breeds A Defeatist Mood Better than a Defeat
Actions by the Northside pastors group reenforced the defeatist mood that seized a large part of the NNJ membership in the wake of a major defeat and strengthened a wing of the movement which opposed the strategy and tactical orientation adopted by NNJ last Spring.
NNJ became a force that the city's administration had to reckon with and maneuver against because of a leadership that emerged within NNJ who sought to widen and deepen opposition to the city's policy of urban cleansing and gentrification, of which the near North side redevelopment plan is a part, and who advocated a united front with NAACP activists and others to advance a common cause in the face of a common enemy.
There is an adage familiar to many students of the labor movement that bares repeating here. It goes: you generally can't extract more concessions from your employer at the bargaining table that you can win through a strike.
The fact is that on June 8, NNJ and its allies were not in a position to force the city to stop the demolition and to rehab and repopulate any of the vacant dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale projects. We didn't have the power to stop the city at that point. We didn't have the breadth and depth of support necessary to get more than 50 to the demolition site on short notice then, or more than 200 at any of the rallies that NNJ subsequently sponsored or endorsed last Summer.
Yet a considerable amount of time and effort of NNJ activists was dedicated to discussions about the negotiation process, what issues we were going to bring to the table and who should be at the table.
Then there was the NAACP's intervention, a reluctant and rather inept intervention. The NAACP did not generate enough support for its position within the community to force the judge to rule in favor of its motion, or even to impose the settlement offer which the city ratified and the NAACP declined to accept.
NNJ's New Goals and Organizational Structure
The week after the demolition resumed, a written proposal to change NNJ's goals and organizational structure was presented at the NNJ membership meeting and passed on the motion of, and at the urging of staffers from Family and Children Services.
NNJ's new goals are consistent with a policy of constructive engagement with the city, but not with the adversarial nature of NNJ's role as a watch dog for victims of the Hollman Consent Decree, and as an organization of activists who are fighting the city's policy of urban cleansing and gentrification.
NNJ's new organizational structure enables the FCS staffers to play a bigger role as an unelected executive and administrative body that operates without a set of byelaws. And the type of public policy advocacy that FCS staffers can do in conjuction with NNJ may not exceed the bounds within which FCS itself must operate, given its status as a non-profit organization and its sources of funding.
Here I will recite and comment upon NNJ's new goals:
Goal #1: "To monitor planning and implementation activities of the Hollman development process by participating in, and advocating for, Hollman decisions that best meet the needs of former and current low-income Northside residents."
The type of forums for public input that NNJ can participate in at this time are not part of the actual decision-making process. Coming up with wish lists to bring to the break-out groups that will be formed during the developer's community meetings is busy work, in my opinion.
NNJ has always monitered the planning and implementation activities of the Hollman development process, but has never played a role in the decision-making process. And NNJ will not get an invitation from city hall to "sit at the table" unless NNJ's leadership demonstrates that it is willing and able to play ball and accept some measure of responsibility for carrying out the city's housing policy.
NNJ's primary focus of activity has been to widen and deepen opposition to the city's policy of urban cleansing and gentrification. Organizing protests against the demolition of dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale projects was part of that effort.
Just because a protest movement didn't stop the city from tearing down half of the Glenwood-Lyndale units, and probably won't stop the city from tearing down the rest of them isn't a sufficient reason to stop ongoing protest actions against an ongoing activity of the city, especially one as outrageous and criminal as the Glenwood-Lyndale demolition.
One could hardly imagine a more outrageous and criminal action than tearing down the Glenwood- Lyndale projects. These units could be rehabbed and repopulated at a very small fraction of the cost of building a new baseball stadium (a project which the mayor has spared no effort to promote).
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Poverty is being deconcentrated in most residential areas by eliminating housing that is affordable to poor people, not just on a 73 acre site on the North side of Minneapolis. And of course, the result of fast-rising property values and rents throughout the city is a higher concentration of poor people in a smaller area as poor folk double up in apartments and housing whenever necessary and possible.
The committee associated with NNJ's goal #1 had already been constituted to plan NNJ's intervention into a November 17 meeting set up by the city's near North side developer for "input" from the community. This committee came up with a set of demands to bring into the meeting, including rehabbing and repopulating vacant dwelling units at the Glenwood-Lyndale projects, and adoption of the Hollman Advisory Committee's recommendation on housing density and the mix of market-rate and affordable housing.
It was noted that the developer could agree with, even support every one of our demands, but the developer can't agree to them. The city council makes the decisions about the disposition of the Glenwood-Lyndale projects and the density and mix of housing to be constructed at the 73 acre Hollman site.
Another committee was set up on October 26 to see that the city of Minneapolis complies with Section 3 of HUD's rules for redevelopment projects. Section 3 requires that employment and business opportunities be created for public housing tenants.
However the Section 3 committee is now supposed to do something else because another committee is monitoring another aspect of the city's near North side redevelopment plan. The new structure of NNJ does not allow for the existence of two or more Action Groups that are working toward the achievement of any one of the four goals.
Goal #2: "To engage in community building and organizing, media and voter registration efforts that expand and deepen support for affordable housing, employment and economic development for Northside low-income individuals and families.
Goal #3: To provide services to former Hollman residents (Hollman refugees) and others who need assistance in finding safe, decent and affordable housing; and
Goal #4: To create/produce housing, employment and economic development opportunities that will benefit current and future Northside low-income individuals and families."
In order to accomplish goals #3 and #4, NNJ will have to become Northside Neighbors for Justice, Inc. It will be necessary to draw up and ratify a set of by-laws, elect officers and a board of trustees, and then adopt a corporate charter.
The committee set up to monitor the city's compliance with Section 3 committee is now the Action Group associated with goal #4. Presumably its task will be to enroll people in "how-to-start-your-own- business" seminars being established as part of the city's near north side redevelopment plan and it members will be expected to come up with proposals for business ventures that NNJ can do, then get to work writing grant proposals and business plans.
As a non-profit corporation engaged in the kind of activities outlined under goals #3 and 4, NNJ Inc would have to observe some restrictions on its activities as an advocacy group which might render it less effective in that capacity. For example, NNJ would not be able to sponsor, endorse or actively support a ballot initiative to require the city to follow the recommendations of its affordable housing task force.
The people who reap the greatest benefit from urban cleansing and gentrification, together with those who are carrying out the policy see it as a matter of taking care of business. They recognize that this policy has an adverse effect on poor people, but are unmoved by arguments that a housing policy that is putting low-income families out on the street is bad public policy and just plain wrong.
The problem is that we have an economic system, a social system and a political system that is based on economic exploitation and the oppression of the poor by the rich. It is based on the principle of taking from the poor and giving to the rich. And it is nourished by racism, sexism, elitism and so forth.
The problem is that the government isn't looking out for the interests of people who have to work for a living, especially working class blacks and women. It's a tyranny of taxation without representation because the leadership of organizations of workers and oppressed peoples have, for the most part, adopted a strategy of reliance on politicians who are looking after the interests of the rich, including Democratic party politicians.
As Malcolm X once said, 'power doesn't take a step back in the face of a smile, or in the face of a prayer, or in the face of a loving non-violent act. Power only takes a step back in the face of greater power. And power in defense of freedom is greater than power in defense of tyranny because the power of a just cause is based on conviction and produces resolute and uncompromising action.'
The basis of working class power is collective action, and the potential for collective action by the many against the few. That was the source of power for the labor union movement of the 1930's, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 60's, and the antiwar movement of the 1960's and 70's.
The way forward in the fight against urban cleansing and gentrification is to increase the potential for mass action as a politically independent working-class movement. Our tactics - the demands raised and the forms of action taken in every situation - should be guided by this strategic aim.