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Renters and homeowners want the same thing from Minneapolis: equally enforced housing codes

The city’s policies are clear: If you’re a BIPOC renter in north Minneapolis, the housing code will mean less for you.

South Minneapolis apartments
MinnPost file photo by Peter Callaghan

One of us, Shanika, has rented in north Minneapolis for almost 15 years. The other, Chase, bought his home on the North Side five years ago. We both agree that housing code enforcement has become so lax as to be nonexistent, which is why we are two of 10 plaintiffs suing the city of Minneapolis to force it to comply with housing maintenance and rental licensing codes that are already on the books.

This is a human rights issue for north Minneapolis, one this publication has covered extensively and we plaintiffs have written about recently in the Star Tribune. As a tenant, I, Shanika, have had water leaking into my basement via a cracked foundation, which resulted in chronic mold. I filed several complaints with the city — no enforcement ever came. A bullet shattered my window. Months went by and again the city never forced my landlord to fix it. The porch roof was even caving in. Again, months went by and the city never acted on my behalf.

After complaints in 2015, 2017 and 2020 and five visits by city inspectors, I realized enforcement would never come. My kids and I would either be forced to live in squalor or we’d be forced to move. In the end, we chose to move. We remain on the North Side, but question why it had to come to that. With half of the rental housing complaints emanating from north Minneapolis, the city should be equipped to bring its housing codes to bear on slumlords and make our housing habitable.

As a homeowner, I, Chase, am trying to protect the community that drew me to north Minneapolis in the first place. Shanika and I live on opposite corners of the North Side but seek the same thing: clean streets and orderly houses that reflect the values of our community. I seek a safe investment for the monthly mortgage I pay, just as tenants seek value for the monthly rent they pay. I want to know the equity I put into my house will remain a positive investment.

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And I know the North Side well. I make deliveries across north Minneapolis every day for a living. I’ve filed countless 311 complaints for houses with crumbling stairs that lack handrails, missing windows and floors, garbage-filled hallways and vacant units, broken or missing doorknobs, and bullet-ridden walls.

Two years ago, I was shocked by an exposed wire in a puddle caused by a leak. I filed a complaint to the city on that property, but they failed to act and inevitably the building burned down.

I know the city can do better because I made deliveries in south Minneapolis before taking on routes in my neighborhood. I’ve seen the rampant decay and lack of effort by city enforcement. The wealthier parts of Minneapolis are nothing like the North Side.

The numbers, discussed at length in our lawsuit, are astounding. There were 4,629 complaints in north Minneapolis wards from 2018 to this year, which is nearly half of the city’s complaints when we constitute only 16% of city population. Despite this, our two wards get less than a quarter of the city’s inspectors. Meanwhile, three wards in south Minneapolis with less than 5% of complaints have more inspectors.

Unsurprisingly, 43% of households in north Minneapolis are renters, and of those renters over 72% are BIPOC. In those south Minneapolis wards, 26% of households are renters and of those renters only 25% are BIPOC. The city’s policies are clear: If you’re a BIPOC renter in north Minneapolis, the housing code will mean less for you.

Shanika Henderson
Shanika Henderson
Besides matching complaint demand to city inspector resources, the city needs to follow its own inspection schedule. Tier 3 properties, the worst of Minneapolis’ housing stock, must be inspected and re-licensed annually.

According to data from the city’s Regulatory Services Department that we received this summer via a public records request, the city is behind an average of 372 days. In other words, it’s behind more than a year on properties that need to be inspected every year. Tier 2 properties, which must be inspected every five years based on past violations, are behind on average 467 days, or over a year and three months. This is unacceptable.

Chase McKay
Chase McKay
At the end of the day, the city must enforce its housing codes. This includes revoking licenses of landlords who fail to remedy violations. The city must inspect properties as well as listen to tenants and neighbors when they file complaints. We are simply asking the city to give our neighborhoods the same compassion and enforcement zeal it carries out in other parts of Minneapolis.

We sued the city to bring attention to our struggle. We hope its officials have gotten the message and will join our fight to usher in real change.

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Shanika Henderson is a North Side renter and an organizer with United Renters For Justice/Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (IX). Chase McKay is a North Side homeowner and package carrier with daily routes throughout north Minneapolis. Both are plaintiffs in Anderson et al. v. City of Minneapolis.