Real Stories of the LHENA Task Force: Vol. 2

This is not a picture of the LHENA task force.

October is Superfluous Acronym Month (SAM). See if you can spot the impenetrable acronyms that we’ve needlessly inserted into this month’s Task Force report.

Like last time, nothing of substance was accomplished at the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTF). That’s not to say there wasn’t common ground; we agreed that good things were good, and also, that bad things were bad. We haven’t yet gone on any armed raids to bust up illegal attic conversions. But there were plenty of interesting things to report on.

Kathy Kullberg Is Wonderful

Kathy Kullberg asked me how the people in my building communicate with each other, or how we would “evacuate” in some unspecified emergency. I said the resident manager would probably knock on the doors. I asked her what sort of situation she was referring to. She asked, “Do you have fire alarms?” We do. She asked if we have a TV channel for distributing building info (does she think I live on a cruise ship docked at Lake Calhoun?). Finally, I went into a highly-technical spiel about bulletin board technology.

Kathy Kullberg is wonderful. Our conversation did a lot to build cultural understanding. If only I could spend all my hours having weird conversations with Kathy K., I’d launch a thousand Twitter accounts in her honor.

Or maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch. Honest question: are community TV channels a standard amenity in our city’s new 5-story luxury skyscrapers? Kathy seemed to think the TV channel thing was a good idea. Anyhow, look for televised bulletin boards to be included in the Task Force’s final report.

Outreach Is On Me

At one point during the discussion, my friend from MRRDC mentioned that our assembled group was “representative” of the neighborhood. The room was at least 80% homeowner–and almost all of those homeowners were over 50. This is an 85% renter, hugely under-40 neighborhood. This seemed like something worth clarifying; so my colleague brought it up.

This was immediately turned around on us; current and former LHENA board members insisted that we (the @WedgeLIVE news team!) were somehow responsible for outreach to renters. And this was not a friendly request; it was more an accusing, well, what are you gonna do about it? kind of thing (I guess the assumption was that a fancy-looking guy like myself could just pick up a TV remote to dial up some friends using his building’s dedicated, interactive info channel–let’s call it WebTV™).

So, I’ve taken this to heart. I’ve done some soul-searching. I even checked my online banking; turns out, the city has deposited zero dollars into my outreach budget. And my lawyer tells me I can’t force LHENA to be relevant to people who don’t enjoy historic walking tours. If somebody dropped the ball on this, it wasn’t me.

This is not me.

(It’s also important to remember that a guy who tweets about neighborhood politics doesn’t have the expansive social circle you might be imagining; I’m not exactly Whittier’s world-famous, 70s-mustache-guy.)

After being backed into a ridiculous corner on renter outreach, I did what any violent transient would do. I dropped a bomb. I said that LHENA was organized around handing out money to homeowners. At least one witness reported there were audible gasps. That sacred cow bled out, all over the table–and nobody said a word.

Here’s what I should have added: money moves people; and when you funnel money predominantly to homeowners, you’ve got a homeowners association, rather than a neighborhood association. A financial incentive to encourage neighborhood involvement would probably be a useful tool for organizing renters; I’ve heard that Stevens Square does a rental credit. I’m not saying that buying renter participation is feasible or advisable; but it’s no more frivolous than funding someone’s historic home-rehab hobby.


The best thing LHENA has going for it on outreach? Their current and former board members annoying the shit out of a couple of neighborhood renters. It’s literally the only reason we’re at the meetings. Let’s double the money we have allocated for Antagonizing Transients. That line-item is really paying dividends.


I hope you remembered to email with pictures of great buildings. Task Force Leader / Board Member Bill (TFLBMB) was thrilled to receive so many pictures of our neighborhood’s 4-story brick apartment buildings. I sent some of those in; but not because I love brick. Those buildings are just good examples of tall-ish, boxy, attractive buildings that fit well in the neighborhood. But TFLBMB latched on to the expensive materials.

Bill admits that he’s “given in” to gentrification. He said that new buildings are not going to be affordable buildings. I mostly agree (though I would argue that new construction contributes to affordability in the context of the larger housing market). But then he went further: new buildings will never be affordable, therefore they should be built with the finest materials possible. I can’t say whether or not anyone in the room was with Bill on this point.

I would suggest that our inability to build rentals in the $700 price range does not mean we should abandon the 1,000-$1,200 range. I live in a 40-year old building. It wasn’t built as affordable housing, but it’s certainly evolved into that role quite nicely. Let me invoke John Bode (the longest of long-time residents), who said we need to plan for the future–for a time when he’s “long gone.” This melted my cynical, transient heart. He was talking about solar panels; but let’s pretend he was talking about the need for more housing in the Wedge.

For context on Bill’s gentrification stuff, here’s how he justified voting against the since-abandoned FrankLyn project:

We’re supposed to be watching out for renters. We have this thing called gentrification. It’s not being mentioned. The big ‘G’ word. It’s gentrification, which is inevitable. But please call it as such. And we are going to lose some lower income property owners, and we are going to lose some lower income renters.

So when FrankLyn II comes up for discussion, will we see a pro-gentrification version of board member Bill pushing for $3,500 rents?

15 Minutes From the Ghetto

The Murals building on the Greenway has apparently begun the countdown–at T-minus “15 minutes from the ghetto.” This is according to Bill. John Bode liked the phrase so much that he put his own spin on it, calling the entire swath of Greenway monstrosities, “15 minutes from a slum.” All this time I’ve been hating those Greenway cretins for their party rooms and fitness centers–not to mention the 8:1 parking ratio for all their antique sports cars. But the joke’s on them! Have fun drinking from that polluted stream, shanty-dwellers. The clock is ticking. You have 14 minutes.

Tune your TVs to the evacuation channel. The slum is nearly upon us.

Adorable Resource

Can we draw a dotted line around the Bode household and declare it an Adorable Resource? John Bode was worried about non-residents participating in the forthcoming LHENAHDTF Google Group; he wanted people to include home addresses in their messages. I didn’t want to crush his spirit by telling him nobody cares enough about this stuff to commit Google Group fraud. Plus, any veteran fraudster could just dial up a Google map of the neighborhood and steal someone’s ID.

That’s it for this month’s Task Force report. Tune in again next time–the first Tuesday of November. Unless I have better things to do. Seriously though–if you have plans for that day, take me with you. Tweet me or something.

UPDATE: Santa Claus Picks a Side

We have an update to yesterday’s post about homeowner-renter conflict. In the December 1972 issue of the Wedge newspaper, Santa came out against apartment dwellers. When I get to the January 1973 issue, I’ll let you know if Christmas was cancelled due to renters.
Renters make Santa sad.

“What’s With The Homeowners vs. Renters Stuff?”

Culturally-speaking, it’s easy for me to identify with the homeowners in my neighborhood. People tell me I look like I have a mortgage; and I believe them, because neighborhood panhandlers won’t leave me alone (please don’t backtrack across 24th street after midnight to tell me your tale of woe–I’m still checking myself for bullet holes weeks later). Also, I’ve never felt the need to pee in board member Tim Dray’s yard.

In other words, I get it. I’m a descendant of homeowners, after all. But I don’t feel like that cultural understanding is going both ways. I worry that modest-living, yard-less, childless, dog-less renters are a thing certain people can’t wrap their minds around–except as a poor life choice or a moral failing.

So, in the wake of Bill Lindeke’s excellent column on the issue of renter outreach by neighborhood organizations, there’s a minor theme from the comment section that’s bugging me. It’s something I’ve heard before: the idea that the interests of homeowners and renters are perfectly aligned, and that outreach really is a cosmetic matter (and it’s just too hard anyway).
What do renters want that’s different from homeowners?

I understand where this sentiment comes from. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a neighborhood association focuses on non-controversial, quality-of-life issues: safer streets, better parks, neighborhood events, and the like. But that’s not how it works in my neighborhood. Lowry Hill East is about housing and development (check out our task force coverage). LHENA is, and has been for much of its history, about stopping development. LHENA has even spun off two anti-development sister organizations, Healy Project and MRRDC, both run by current and former board members.
The problem with this is that housing policy is an economic issue. For homeowner and renter alike, your home is typically your biggest monthly expense. But the distinction between homeowners and renters is one of economic class. Homeowners tend to be wealthier. On average, renters are younger and more likely to be a racial minority. We have no problem understanding class conflict as it applies to much broader political debates over things like taxes and health care. Maybe it’s less apparent when it comes to issues in our own backyard.
Here’s a personal example of where our interests diverge: I feel very differently about my rent increasing than my neighbor does about her property value increasing. It’s only rational that she might favor a housing market that protects and promotes her property value (and parking, sky views, quaintness, and quietude). Not to speak for all renters, but I’d prefer to have a housing market where supply meets demand–for my own financial well-being.
This is not about tokenism, or diversity for diversity’s sake. If my neighborhood association is going to spend their time trying to set economic policy for our city (and I’d really prefer that they scale back their ambitions), then I’m going to raise hell about how unrepresentative they are. Policy-makers at all levels already favor a cohort that’s older, wealthier, and whiter. There’s no need to introduce an additional layer to the political process that will work against the interests of younger, poorer, often minority citizens.