No Vacancy

Want to rent a place in Minneapolis? Be white!

THE MINNESOTA FAIR Housing Center, an independent nonprofit based in Minneapolis, has come up with a clean little study that confirms what a lot of people already knew. Last year, the center performed a test in which two people with like jobs and incomes--one white and one of color--would separately look at each of 72 apartments selected for the study in northeast and southwest Minneapolis. In more than two-thirds of the cases, the study found, white testers were treated better than those of color. "Unfavorable treatment" included:

* telling white applicants that there might be a rent discount "for the right person;"

* not showing up for appointments with applicants of color, while all the white applicants' appointments were kept;

* showing applicants of color "inferior units in the basement" and nicer upstairs apartments to whites;

* requiring higher deposits or extra documentation from applicants of color;

and so on.

The study also found evidence of discrimination it wasn't even looking for. Testers regularly were told that a unit wasn't available for families with children, or for anyone who didn't have a job. Discrimination based on family and public-assistance status, as well as race discrimination, is illegal under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Center director Margaret Shulman says some of the more egregious cases have been passed on to the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, which funded the study. The center also plans to set up an education campaign for renters and landlords, along with more tests elsewhere in the metro area.

THE KENNEDY ERA ended quietly last week when the state Board of Public Defense refused to reappoint the man who for a quarter century had served as Hennepin County's chief lawyer for the poor. The packed conference room was hushed when the chairman called the question; in a choir of "ayes," eight of the nine members voted to fire Bill Kennedy. Then it was dead quiet again.

Kennedy himself had long since left the room, shortly after spending one last hour telling the board that "justice lay wounded" in Minnesota, and that the state had betrayed its responsibility to public defense. Still present, with family members clustered around him, was Bill McGee, the man Kennedy stood accused of trying to smear through an official investigation in his office. Within another five minutes the board had voted to appoint McGee chief.

That won't be the end of it. Back rooms everywhere are still buzzing with the juicy details of a board-commissioned report on Kennedy and McGee, which laid out the routine, and usually quiet, politicking that surrounds top appointments. Its most explosive finding was that Kennedy, according to his own staff, had directed an investigation into unsavory allegations about McGee's biography.

Yet it would be uncharacteristic for Kennedy--who has built a reputation as a take-no-prisoners political fighter--to go quite this quietly. The board itself seemed fully aware of that when, after the room had almost emptied, lone Kennedy supporter Jeff Anderson suggested keeping the chief in office until McGee could take over. No, shot back board chairman Paul Madel, it was commonplace when firing an employee to "go through their desk and put their things in a box, and that's it." Besides, board administrator Dick Scherman announced that the state Attorney General's office had recommended against letting Kennedy stick around. There was, he noted ominously, "the possibility of litigation... You never know what could happen."

THE DRAKE HOTEL, which used to be the largest homeless shelter in Hennepin County, may yet open its doors again. Rumors to that effect have been flying for some time, usually casting building owner Leamington Corp. as the likely operator. Leamington officials did not return phone calls, but staffers in Hennepin County's housing department say they believe the facility will reopen, possibly under the leadership of its longtime head, John Treiber. At its peak, the Drake served more than 600 people a day. But the county changed its shelter policy in 1995, dropping a guarantee to house everyone in need and making it harder for childless adults--the Drake's main clientele--to obtain the basic "three hots and a cot." Occupancy at the Drake plummeted, so did funding, and last summer People Serving People, citing budget troubles and a dispute with Leamington over the Drake lease, announced it was pulling out. The way it looks now, the Drake in its new incarnation will not operate on county funding. Instead, it may offer the kind of private-sector, pay-as-you-go, inexpensive housing that was common downtown before skyscrapers replaced low-income apartment buildings.

 
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