Mall of America protest case costs Black Lives Matter's Adja Gildersleve an apartment

Adja Gildersleve goes apartment hunting while black.

Adja Gildersleve goes apartment hunting while black.

Like anyone looking for concert tickets, weirdly specific sexual encounters, or somewhere to live, Adja Gildersleve turned to Craigslist when searching for a new apartment. The twenty-something scoured the posts for places suiting her modest needs — not crazy expensive, close to transit.

She found several she liked. But when she emailed and called, Gildersleve, who is black, often had trouble getting responses. Curious if prejudice was at play, she abandoned her first name, instead signing her name as “AJ.” Soon her phone was buzzing off the table.

“I’m getting calls left and right under AJ,” she says.

Still, sometimes when Gildersleve arrives at showings, landlords seem uncomfortable when they realize she’s black, she says. At least until she starts talking about herself — how she’s college educated and active in her community.

“It’s hard. It’s really challenging being a black person looking for housing,” she says.

Eventually she found her new home — a simple one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis near Lyndale and Franklin avenues. Gildersleve, a community organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, did all the paperwork, got her references in order, and received the green light from the property company.

“I was really excited when I was approved,” she recalls. “Hey, this is one less thing I have to worry about, because I have a lot on my plate.”

Not so fast.

The next morning she got a deflating text from the Apartment Shop agent she was dealing with.

“Hey AJ, so not so great news,” it read. “The owner took a look at your application. It looks like there are some open charges that the property manager overlooked.”

Oh, about those. Gildersleve was one of the protestors pinched during the Black Lives Matter rally at the Mall of America last December. She faces seven misdemeanor charges stemming from the holiday demonstration, including unlawful assembly, aiding and abetting trespass, and disorderly conduct.

Due to pending criminal charges, Gildersleve was denied the apartment, though she was invited to reapply after her trial, she says. Steve Frenz, owner of the Apartment Shop — the target of a protest this week over unsanitary conditions in its buildings — could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gildersleve went into the office to plead her case with the agent, explaining the charges and pointing out her squeaky clean rental history. But rules are rules, she says she was told.

“This is ridiculous. It’s like another form of redlining,” she says. “I technically am innocent now because I haven’t been proven guilty yet, but I’m still denied housing.”

Gildersleve isn’t throwing herself a pity party. She knew protesting might come with a price. Rather, the situation is emblematic of “a messed up system” that erects barriers preventing certain people from finding housing, a basic human need, she says.

“It’s a risk and so I’m dealing with the consequences now,” Gildersleve acknowledges. “I’m not angry at the decisions I’ve made. … What I’m feeling heavy about is the system and how unjust they are and the consequences for folks having a voice. There’s consequences for having a voice and speaking out against oppressive systems.”

And if anyone has a line on a decent one-bedroom, she’s still in the market.