The Power of Positive Thinking

How to stop worrying and love redevelopment

Plans for the $135 million redevelopment include up to 450 new housing units, new park spaces, and a parkway boulevard connecting south and north Minneapolis.

That $135 million sure looks like a nice chunk of change. Especially when you consider that about $80 million of it comes from federal, state, and local coffers--a subsidy of almost $180,000 per house, townhome, or apartment, in a development where 75 percent of units will rent and sell at market rates. Had the cash simply been distributed among the 650 or so households displaced by the demolitions, each family would have seen a windfall of $125,000--enough to buy a small house in southwest Minneapolis. If you add in the money being spent to build public-housing replacement units around town and in the suburbs, Hollman's price tag comes to around $140 million, or almost $215,000 per displaced household. Now you're almost talking Kenwood!

Of course, that would be ridiculous. The way to spend redevelopment dollars is to give them to developers. And McCormack Baron, the St. Louis-based company the city picked to build the new Hollman neighborhood, brings vast experience to the table, having spent public money in places like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Little Rock.

And let's not forget those 450 new housing units. The consent decree called for the construction of "up to 368" new public-housing units on the Hollman site. The City Council decided that that meant it should build 450 units, and that only 112 of them should be public housing. That's an almost 90 percent reduction in the number of MPHA units in the area. Who says you can't win the war on poverty?

The following is a breakdown of the housing options chosen by the 388 families:

67 families--17 percent

Other public housing:
154 families--40 percent

Section 8 rent assistance:
163 families--42 percent

Market-rate housing:
4 families--1 percent

Positive thinking can take you only so far. But if you've got to present hard numbers, you may as well re-emphasize those options and choices--and maybe no one will notice that 82 percent of the Hollman families have ended up back in public and subsidized housing, meaning that the families who have spent years on the waiting list for those same homes will just have to wait a bit longer. (And the 770 units in middle-class city neighborhoods the decree requires to be built as replacements for the Northside projects? Funny you should ask: After four years, 47 are ready, according to the MPHA.)

The Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, which along with the NAACP represented the families in the lawsuit, has continued to work with 13 of the 17 families named Hollman plaintiffs.

"Has continued to work with"--indeed. For months now, critics have circulated an internal MPHA memo stating that three of the original seventeen Hollman plaintiffs were homeless, three more had been evicted from their new apartments, one was on the waiting list for an MPHA unit, and two couldn't be found. The agency's response has been to call the memo an inaccurate draft. Now, apparently, it's time to straighten things out.

The other four plaintiffs left town, discontinued contact, or said they no longer needed assistance.

That's almost 25 percent out of the way right there.

Of the 13 plaintiff families the Legal Aid Society has continued to work with, four purchased homes, five are using Section 8 rent certificates, or vouchers, three live in public housing, and one is in a transitional housing program.

There. No one sleeping under a bridge or crashing on a sister's couch. Okay, a few families "had brief periods in which they were homeless," acknowledges Timothy Thompson, the Legal Aid attorney who represents the plaintiffs. "But those were due to things that had nothing to do with Hollman."

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