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‘Maybe they’ll try to kick me out’: Renters protest being priced out of their homes

Flor Martinez and her 10-year-old son have been living in their apartment for four years. She doesn't know how much longer she can stay if the rent keeps going up.

Flor Martinez and her 10-year-old son have been living in their apartment for four years. She doesn't know how much longer she can stay if the rent keeps going up. Hannah Jones

Flor Martinez studies the folded pieces of paper in her hands. They’re from Nexus Real Estate Services, the company that lets her small Minneapolis apartment, as well as seven or so other buildings in the area. Nexus wants her to renew her lease.

She’s been living in her little Pillsbury Avenue apartment with her 10-year-old son, Johnny, for about four years, working jobs at two different restaurants to make ends meet. It was no secret that the apartment had problems. The wood siding is falling off in strips. There’s mold in the bathroom tiles, no matter how many times she attacks it with scrub brushes and bleach.

And then there was the exhaust fan in the kitchen. All it did was make noise. The whole room was constantly a greasy mess.

Up to that point, Nexus hadn’t repaired anything in the years she’d lived there, she says. And yet, she’d recently been informed she’d have to pay more to live there: a $116 a month rent increase, and $40 for parking in the lot. She’d never had to pay to park there before. Nexus couldn’t be reached for a comment.

“I don’t see any reason why they would raise the rent this amount,” she says. “The apartments aren’t in the kind of shape that deserve that kind of rent increase.”

Nexus also increased the rent back in the summer of 2017, which has a lot of families worrying that their payments will continue to go up -- until they’re inevitably priced out. Elena, who lives down the hall from Martinez, says her family only has about $150 left to spend on the basics after they drop off the rent check each month. She declined to share her last name for privacy reasons.

“We found this apartment in bad shape,” she says, standing in the hall outside her door. “They make small repairs using cheap materials, so it looks good, but the problems are still there in the future.”

Her building doesn’t have a secured entryway, so she often finds herself telling the homeless people taking shelter inside that they can’t sleep there, that she can’t be worrying about who her kids are going to run into when they step outside their apartment door. She’s called Nexus, and “they’ve never provided a solution.”

“Sometimes they don’t even answer,” she says.

On Monday, Martinez, Elena and about 12 other frustrated residents showed up at Nexus’ office to peacefully protest the increase. It was the first of the month, so they assumed someone would have to be there to accept new leases and rent checks. But when they arrived, the door was locked and there was a sign saying the office had closed for the day.

Earlier that day, Martinez says someone finally showed up to fix the exhaust fan -- while also dropping off the packet of papers informing her of the rent increase. She says she is not signing that lease. She’s going to wait it out -- bide her time until Nexus gives her an answer.

“Maybe they’ll take me to court,” she says. “Maybe they’ll try to kick me out. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

But she knows what she wants: “Justice.”

“Let’s see if they listen to us and raise the rent at a fair amount,” she says. “We’re waiting to hear what they have to say.”