Mpls housing director says tornado response has been "better than almost any community ever"

On Tuesday, we told you about a handful of north Minneapolis residents who took to Facebook to express displeasure with the way city officials commemorated the one-year anniversary of the northside tornado -- with the symbolic planting of a single tree.

Wrote one resident: "Trees are nice, but a lot of us on the Northside are tired of 'symbolic gestures' and would appreciate the same level of attention and investment that other parts of the city get."

But Minneapolis housing director Tom Streitz takes umbrage with the notion that efforts to repair tornado damage have been in any way insufficient.

Streitz pointed out that 96 percent of the 3,700 tornado-damaged properties have been repaired or demolished. "Everyone wants to talk about the three percent that haven't [been addressed], but that's a huge number, better than any community almost ever as far as I'm aware," he said.

Over $28 million in repairs, accompanied by nearly 3,000 building permits, has occurred in north Minneapolis since the area was devastated by a tornado on May 22, 2011. Two million dollars in assistance has been provided to those affected through loans and other financial help provided by the city, state, and federal governments, according to a "Northside Tornado Recovery Update" distributed by the city in the days leading up to the first anniversary.

Streitz argues that since north Minneapolis was and remains the poorest area of Minneapolis, it's easy to lose sight of all that's already been accomplished.

"Frankly, the fact that some people [in north Minneapolis] don't have insurance shouldn't be shocking," he said. "The tornado kind of exposed some of the underlying challenges that already existed."

Beyond helping affected residents secure financial help, the city brought on extra staff to help with the influx of building permit applications -- "the last thing somebody wants to hear is that we don't have enough people," Streitz said -- and shelled out millions of dollars to repair public infrastructure, including 300 damaged traffic signals. A portion of those costs is now being reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The city and allied non-profits are also in the process of replanting more than half of the 6,000 trees ripped out of the ground during the storm.

Long term, the city this year is launching its Green Homes North initiative. Loans and subsidies will be available to build 100 green homes in north Minneapolis at a rate of 20 homes a year for five years. This year, $1 million in grants and up to $2 million in loans will be available.

"It's a major investment that will provide an injection of confidence," Streitz said.

Of course, Streitz acknowledges "there is still work to do." But he suggests there is a positive narrative amid the nature-wrought disaster that is too often overlooked.

"Looking at the big picture, the northside came together in a way I haven't seen -- white folks and black folks," he said. "It's was an extraordinary effort."

See also:
-- North Siders upset about city of Minneapolis's tree-planting tornado commemoration

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