Letters from Mike Tempel create a state of emergency for Whittier renters

Protesters last night marched on the Minneapolis office of Nexus Real Estate Services, a property management company at the epicenter of displacing some longtime neighborhood residents.

Protesters last night marched on the Minneapolis office of Nexus Real Estate Services, a property management company at the epicenter of displacing some longtime neighborhood residents.

Mike Tempel’s name and that of his company, Nexus Real Estate Services, first appeared on Jennifer Arnold’s radar late this spring. She works for the affordable housing advocacy group United Renters for Justice.

Tenants of different buildings in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis were showing Arnold letters they’d received. All came from Tempel’s property management firm, which serves as a middleman between landlords and renters.

Rent will increase, some announced. Others were notices to vacate as leases had expired.

Arnold would come to find out the buildings shared the same owner. Villa Nova was the entity’s name. The company’s owner: Jeffrey Wachner, a landlord from California. Villa Nova, according to Arnold, had bought 13 rental properties in Minneapolis during the past 18 months.

As the months rolled forward. more Villa Nova renters received letters from Tempel’s firm.

Among the recipients were Alfonso Villanueva and Flora Dominguez. The couple and three kids have lived in their apartment on Pleasant Ave. S. for a decade. Their $765 rent was getting hiked to $840 come August, the letter said.

Dominguez would pay Tempel’s office a visit. She explained how her family couldn’t afford the increase, but please accept $765.

The lease contained a partial payment clause, court records show. No dice, Nexus responded. The company is currently suing the couple. According to court records, the family owes almost $1,300. The sum consists of back rent, court costs, and a $75 “month-to-month fee.”

Arnold felt more unnerved as she gathered information about Tempel.  

He was the protege of Jim Soderberg for a decade, according to a Zoom online company profile of Nexus. Tempel started Nexus in 2007.

“Tempel still acts as the financial manager of Soderberg Apartment Specialists and contributes to the relationship and growth of both companies,” the profile continues.

That scared Arnold. Soderberg buys distressed buildings, renovates them, and the rents out the refurbished units to a new batch of tenants at higher prices.

Soderberg’s Linked In profile reads: “One of his biggest accomplishments was the re-positioning of Melrose Gates Apartments, a 216-unit community that had over 800 911 calls the year prior to acquisition. Soderberg Apartment Specialists cleared out all the existing residents, completed a two million dollar renovation, and filled all 216 units.”

That same brand of capitalism is making a home for itself in Whittier. Arnold has good reason to fear that Tempel’s appearance this year isn’t a one-act show. 

“The history he has and the connections between people and businesses raise questions for us and concerns about what will happen,” she says.

Which doesn’t bode well for many of Whittier’s longtime residents, many of whom are Hispanic. Over the years they’ve raised families and have put down roots, in part because of the neighborhood’s decent rents.

Arnold accompanied renters for a meeting with Tempel in June about the disconcerting letters. Tenants asked him for understanding and compassion, how what might seem like modest rent increases for some are more like deal breakers to their families.

“What he told us was this is the hardest day of my life,” says Arnold, “that this is a really hard thing to do, but there’s just no way around it.”

Tempel did not respond to repeated interview requests. 

Wachner could not be reached for comment yesterday. 

Dozens of Whittier residents marched on Tempel’s Minneapolis office last night. They came to support those being displaced in the name of gentrification.

Tempel’s letter to Obie Lopez this summer has sent his family into a state of emergency. They’ve lived in the same apartment for 24 years and can’t afford to pay a rent hike.

“I'm resisting this eviction because I wasn't even given a chance to renew my lease,” Lopez told supporters Wednesday. “This is where my children were born. I don't even know where to go."