“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.

NCR Comes to LHENA

Robert Thompson and Michelle Chavez of Minneapolis’ NCR came to speak with LHENA board members about the Community Participation Program before last night’s board meeting. President Leslie Foreman graciously welcomed me to the discussion. They talked about what makes a neighborhood eligible for funding–you can’t require membership dues, for example. They covered eligible/ineligible expenses–no food allowed. And so much more. This is the packet they handed out.

The issue of voter ID was raised by board member Becky Dernbach as a potential barrier to participation. Thompson said that neighborhoods should allow for alternative means of identification such as a piece of mail, or having another person in the neighborhood vouch for them. As part of the discussion, he obliquely referred to an individual (Basim Sabri) who buses people from across the city to neighborhood association (Whittier Alliance) meetings. And he told a story of his experience with the Loring Park neighborhood; they have a very open policy that allows anyone to participate because of the significant presence of homeless youth without an official address.

Thompson said that occasionally he reads letters from neighborhood organizations that use “I” instead of “we” phrasing; this erodes their credibility with the city (is this the opinion of a neighborhood, or one person?). He cautioned against the mixing of personal, divisive activism with the activities of the neighborhood association. This was amusing. I’ve honestly never been sure how many board members are involved with the radical, anti-everything MRRDC, besides Sara Romanishan.

It was interesting to learn from NCR’s Michelle Chavez that there’s been some behind the scenes email discussion around the Healy Project‘s ghost stories fundraiser. Do you remember last month’s proposed joint fundraiser between Healy Project and LHENA? It was nixed by the board for being too controversial–a sort of endorsement of Healy by LHENA. Now they’ve found a loophole. Healy will hold the fundraiser, and might donate some portion of the proceeds to LHENA. Maybe I’m imagining this, but Leslie seemed annoyed when Chavez brought it up. I don’t think I was supposed to hear this.

It sounded like Chavez thinks this fundraiser nonsense is a bad idea. In my mind, this damages LHENA’s credibility. But more than that, I’m annoyed that I have to remember three different names for groups with the same agenda, run by many of the same people. It’s time they started using the same acronym. HPLHENAMRRDC–or something.

Thompson used the example of Linden Hills to show what happens when a neighborhood becomes divided over a controversial issue like development. Antagonized neighbors start coming to meetings to watch the proceedings like a hawk. I’m thinking, that sounds about right. And, do you not know where you are right now, Mr. Thompson? Lowry Hill East invented this shit.

Comparing LHENA to Lowry Hill East: Age & Race

I recently discovered that LHENA conducted a survey in 2007 that included demographic questions. That’s kind of impressive. Way to go, LHENA of 2007.

Now, you might question why I’ve gone to all this trouble for a survey that got 21 responses. My answer: that’s quadruple the turnout for your typical board meeting (and that’s only if you include the Wedge LIVE! news team). Considering that this is the only known demographic information about people who give enough of a damn about LHENA to respond to a survey, we’re going with the story. We stand behind our numbers! Unless of course you find a mistake.

You should also read this recent story in the Southwest Journal about the problem of unrepresentative neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis. NCR is doing a demographic survey of neighborhood boards. I’d be just as interested in a demographic survey of the people the neighborhood associations are actively engaging with. Again: lots of credit to the visionaries of LHENA 2007!

Sources: Lowry Hill East numbers are based on information available at this link. LHENA’s 2007 survey is available here.

Infographic below.

Real Stories of the LHENA Development Task Force

This is not a picture of the LHENA Task Force.
Here are some tidbits from the recent meeting of the LHENA Housing and Development Task Force. I’m repeating them here because I have no respect for the First Rule of Wedge Club. Names have been redacted (except board member Bill, because he knew joining the LHENA Board would mean living in the spotlight). These are the kinds of arguments you might encounter while attending a meeting of your local neighborhood association. Proceed with caution.

Loud Jerks

Shortly after starting the meeting, a nice, reasonable-seeming woman told us about the loud, young renters walking/biking past her open windows late at night. She says these people are the product of the new buildings along the Greenway. She rarely uses AC (same here). Loud jerks are annoying (I kinda hate loud jerks too). On one occasion, she asked a passing group to quiet down. They rudely told her she should leave the city. Sounds like a crummy experience. When pressed, she admits she can’t be sure they even live in the neighborhood (maybe they’re bar-patrons parked in the neighborhood).
To me, this is a story about jerks. To her, it’s a story about people who live in apartment buildings. I suppose, in the context of a meeting about development, this was an argument against building a certain kind of housing. This is the kind of thing that even the quietest, most sober renter might take personally.
Board Member Bill
I feel like it’s been at least three meetings in a row that board member Bill has told a story about how he can’t find anyone living car-free or car-lite. Usually it’s about his tenants. This time it was a family next door who tried and failed to pare down to one car. Bill needs a more diverse group of friends. This is his reflexive reaction when topics like reduced parking requirements or transportation alternatives come up.
Board member Bill loves affordability, porches and high quality materials. He insists porches are not an “amenity” (I would consider them a bonus feature. I don’t have one, yet still feel like I’m living that First-World Lifestyle). Someone chimed in that, for the sake of affordability, porches should not be a necessary component of new development. He asked, so you wanna ban porches? I hope he was only pretending to be confused.
Bill is a gentrification aficionado. The word just rolls off his tongue. Constantly. So it’s fun when he refuses to acknowledge the tension between affordability and the extra stuff he’d like included in new development.
Second rule of Wedge Club
Never talk about supply and demand. For your own sake. Unless it doesn’t make you crazy to hear a room full of educated adults pretend that a fixed supply of an ever more popular thing won’t lead to higher prices. For many of the home-owning veterans of Wedge Club, old houses are the key to affordability all by themselves. Period. End of sentence. Another thing about Wedge Club: I guess gentrifying via home rehab isn’t a thing that exists in the real world; it’s confined to reality TV.
Bill has no use for supply and demand. Too “academic.” He has the real world experience, as a landlord, to know how to keep rents low. Also, Bill has no idea where the “myth” came from that property owners and renters have competing interests in our neighborhood. Again, I hope Bill is pretending to be confused.
Teardown Paranoia
In response to the teardown paranoia I was hearing, I brought up that no new apartments have been built north of 28th street since 1974. Bill’s response was like one of my fake tweets come-to-life. He said nothing’s been built in 40 years because the neighborhood was a “cesspool.” And I guess now that it’s not a cesspool, the Wedge will be razed.
Dear Bill: it’s been like hand-to-hand combat to get something built on a parking lot at Franklin and Lyndale (a project that was recently derailed). Mike Crow has been trying to sell his really old, arguably-dubiously-definitely-not-historic house at 2320 Colfax since what–2007? Building in this neighborhood is pretty damn difficult. Let’s not pretend to be confused on this point.
(I didn’t intend to beat on Bill so hard, but Tim Dray wasn’t talking much. Tim keeps his cards close to his chest. One interesting non-verbal observation from the meeting: @Uptownlogic really seems to look to Tim for guidance.)
The Woman of My Dreams
There was one person at the meeting who was truly a breath of fresh air (and I mean this sincerely). When “density” came up–and everyone else was trying to massage their way into seeming sorta-kinda pro-growth–this lady just flat out said she was against it. She doesn’t want more density in her neighborhood.
Dear lady who I disagree with on everything: you’re the best. Can we have regular honesty sessions together? I think we could actually disagree in a way that doesn’t make me hate your guts. You talk about stuff without presuming me to be a big dummy–and it sets my heart afire.
Don’t give me a history lesson; or fear-monger about teardowns or development-induced crime; or give me the gentrification spiel. Just tell me what you really think: Minneapolis has too many people already.

LHENA Development Task Force Notes

I think I compromised my journalistic integrity by joining this LHENA Development Task Force. But now I don’t have to find an inside source for the meeting notes. My favorite part is the refreshingly honest comment at the end–submitted by email. This person has no need for the “affordability” cudgel. Is the rent too high? There’s an open lot in north Minneapolis with your name on it.

Affordable housing? That has moved to a different part of the city. People are going to have to realize that if they can’t afford a certain part of town, they need to look elsewhere.

The whole document is posted below.

LHENA Development Task Force notes 9/2/2014

11 Wedge Twitter Accounts You Should Be Following

A list of Lowry Hill East’s most prominent twits.

@bad_wedgecoop posted three tweets on November 28th, 2009 and has been dormant ever since. Started by someone who claims to have been “kicked out of the Wedge for looking too poor.” The co-op. Not the neighborhood.

According to Vox.com, @bzosiad is one of the “activists who want to make the Fed listen to workers for a change.” She’s also a LHENA board member whose garden was recently targeted by tomato bandits. Why do bad things happen to good people?

@FakeSueBode doesn’t exist, but we would definitely follow if it did. Imaginary tweets include a heavy focus on driveway egress and the archaeologically significant Lake Blaisdell.

@Uptownlogic is an ironically-named watchdog account created for the sole purpose of ensuring that @WedgeLIVE is “acting within the law.” So far, things are cool.

@Dr_Eric is a man who needs no introduction. His exploits are the stuff of neighborhood legend.

@FlisrandJK is an affordable housing and bike advocate. She’s sure to be tweeting about her annual cherry harvest in 2015.

@WedgeForeman is the brand new Twitter account of LHENA President Leslie Foreman. She hasn’t tweeted yet. But some jerk is trying to change that by filling up her mentions.

@wbbbmr is a newly appointed LHENA board member. He once got 22,000 retweets (in what some would call a shameless exploitation of tragedy).

@atrupar is a veteran reporter for CityPages who was once visually traumatized by campaign season. It’s unclear if he’s still a Wedge resident, or if he’s since moved to a neighborhood without elections.

@ForgotAboutDray is LHENA board member Tim Dray’s “Dr. Dre fan” twitter account (created to keep his hip hop tweets separate from his personal tweets). Much like @FakeSueBode, this account does not exist.

@scttdvd is not a Wedge resident. He lives three blocks from Lowry Hill East. We’re putting him on the list anyway. When he attends LHENA meetings, you’ll often hear amazed groans of geographic confusion from neighbors when he’s asked to give his home address (Wedge LIVE can report that Kingfield residents seem to be exempt from this treatment).