IN THE TRADITION of slash-and-burn socio-economic policy, the Minneapolis City Council is now considering a measure that would greatly increase the percentage of market-rate homes that will be built in the North Side Sumner-Olson area. It's an idea similar to burning down vast areas of forest land in hopes of forcing the scorched earth to use the nutrients of dead, burnt waste to replenish itself.
Right now, Sumner-Olson stands vacant. At one time it was part of one of the largest public-housing project regions in Minnesota, gaining notoriety in 1995 after 17 families and the NAACP pressed a multi-million-dollar discrimination claim against various city, state, and federal agencies. The agencies, which include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Minneapolis Public Housing Agency (MPHA), and the Minneapolis City Council, settled out of court for more than $100 million.
The settlement also resulted in the demolition of more than 300 public-housing units in the area and called for the residents of the project area and surrounding neighborhoods to take part in the redevelopment planning efforts. Ironically, they were to do this with the supervision and guidance of representatives of the agencies they sued in the first place. The residents' participation was supposed to help quell fears that the city would attempt to gentrify the area. And originally, after many community "speak-out" meetings, area residents agreed to replacing the demolished units with 25 percent public housing units, 25 percent affordable housing units and 50 percent market rate homes.
But now, two years later and with the citizens' advisory groups virtually disbanded, the terms of the deal appear to be quietly changing. Not only have several neighborhood agencies, such as the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC), backed the idea that the percentage of market-rate homes be increased to 75 percent, the cap on what developers can build and charge for the homes is taken off, meaning Sumner-Olson could be replaced with posh houses for outer-ring suburbanites hoping to live closer to work. No one involved in the process will take credit for proposing the upscaling of the plan, which no longer includes any affordable housing but does retain the federally subsidized public-housing rentals. The about-face isn't as bad as it sounds, insists NRRC Executive Director Matthew Ramadan. Northsiders, he says, will still get first crack at the market-rate homes.
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