Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fatal Shooting Stems from Out of Control Bus Route

Yesterday evening when my phone rang off the hook, with several people calling repeatedly but not leaving messages, I knew something was wrong.  I called back, to find out that a man had been fatally shot after getting off of the 19 bus in front of my home.  Thank the Lord for small favors, but no one in my house was harmed, my dog was okay, and my home appears to be unscathed--although shell casings or evidence of some kind was left by the trash can on my corner.

As the evening unfolded, I had much to ponder, both from a personal and policy perspective...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ascension Church Plans for Demolition of 1707 Bryant Ave N

It came to my attention this week through the Old North Minneapolis Facebook page that Ascension church wants to demolish a property they own at 1707 Bryant Avenue North.  As one can see from the photos, this house is in wonderful shape.  Even if some work is needed, I have little doubt that the place could be successfully rehabbed.  So the unanswered question is why this house should be torn down at all?

There does not seem to be any real need for Ascension to expand to that site.  (and even if there is, has anyone explored moving the home to one of our many vacant lots nearby?)  There isn't anything particularly negative associated with the place, other than its pending destruction.  Instead, it would seem from the Old North Minneapolis speculation that Ascension is moving towards demolition simply because they don't want to deal with the property any longer.

Now, in any case where a perfectly viable house could potentially be wasted, I would rise up in anger.  But I am a pastor's kid (technically a son of a bishop by now) and a long-serving council member at my own church.  So when I see another Christian instiution making this mistake, I speak not only as a preservationist but also as one church leader to another.  And I cannot more forecfully admonish Ascension for this decision.

(Warning:  I'm about to preach here.  And I mean PREACH.)

There are any number of Biblical passages that spring to mind for why a Christian institution should not destroy a gem of a home such as this; the responsibility of man having dominion over God's creation in Genesis, or the communal transformation that happened when Nehemiah rebuilt a beseiged Jerusalem spring to mind as especially relevant.  But the passage I keep coming back to is Matthew 25: 14 - 30, Jesus' parable of the talents.

For readers unfamiliar with the story, a talent was a measure of currency.  Jesus tells a tale of a master who is leaving on a journey and entrusts three servants with his money.  The one who received five talents made five more, and likewise the servant who was given two talents doubled what the master had given him.  A servant who was given only one talent buried it in the sand out of fear that the master would punish him if it were lost.  And although he returned what was given him, he was cast out because he did nothing with the gift that the master had entrusted him with.

And so it is with Ascension and 1707 Bryant Avenue North.  God has given this church a gift, in the form of a beautiful, historic home.  What could be done with such a gift?

When I was in college, I was a founding member of a program called "Project Neighborhood," where ten students lived in a home (that was in terrible shape but restored, and was in the most challenging part of my alma mater town of Grand Rapids, Michigan) in Christian community. Our goal was to grow closer to Christ together while reaching out to serve the surrounding neighborhood--not through proselytising, but just to help where we were needed.  Fifteen years later, there are almost  half-dozen such homes throughout that city.  Closer to home in north Minneapolis, Redeemer Lutheran owns a property that they have used for just such a purpose.

Even closer to Ascension, the Old Highland neighborhood has multiple homes for nuns and there is another spiritual resting place known as Alafia.  Ascension need not look far at all to find examples of how to use similar properties to fulfill God's great commandment to "Go forth and make disciples of all nations."

The master in the parable of the talents would even have been satisfied with the meager gains of putting money in the bank and letting it gain interest.  Likewise, Ascension could take the money they would use towards demolition and partially subsidize the moving of the home to another vacant lot.  Or they could just sit on the place until housing values rebound even more and a sale in the future could bring a nice financial windfall.

The parable of the talents has always resonated a clear message to me:  When God gives you a gift, you damn well better try and do something with it.  Even if you fail, that attempt is far, FAR better than taking what God has given you and burying it in the sand.  Now I can completely understand that finding a solution to what to do with this house won't be easy and will carry some risk.  But there is not a single verse in the Bible where God excuses his servants from taking action because they were lazy or afraid.  On the contrary, children of God are specifically called to action in the face of such obstacles with the promise that our God will see us through.

The servant who invites God's displeasure buries his talent in the sand.  And ironically, burying a gift from God in the sand is quite literally what Ascension would do if they demolished this home.  Instead, there are any number of options available for them to pursue that would result in either a way for them to further their ministry, or at a minimum provide a home to a family and make use of the physical resources that an old home contains.  And so as one church leader to another body of fellow Christians, I call on Ascension to set aside plans for the destruction of this gift and to seek out ways to better serve our community and our God.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Shifts in Policy Signal Major Changes for Minneapolis Housing Enforcement

I'm not sure if I'm dreaming and someone needs to pinch me, or maybe I'm in the Bizarro Universe where everything is the opposite of what it seems.  But I recently attended a community forum put together by 5th Ward Council Member Blong Yang around city housing and regulatory services policies, and I left with nothing critical to say.

The Problem Properties Unit and the Department of Regulatory Services seem to be shifting in culture, and doing so in ways that northside (and other citywide) housing activists have been pushing for over the last few years, if not longer.  Many of the changes being rolled out are ones that we in the community have been saying for quite some time would be common-sense reforms, and yet we were quite frankly treated as pariahs or out-of-touch crazies who just didn't understand the process.  (As if an almost religious adherence to bureaucracy was some sort of noble pursuit that community members had wantonly abandoned.)

What kind of reforms are we talking about?  Well...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why I Can't Get Excited About Minneapolis Banning Styrofoam

I still remove phone books from vacant homes, but that is thankfully needed far less frequently now.
Recently the city of Minneapolis proposed a ban on styrofoam containers.  The logical part of my brain says this is a positive development and our council should be hailed for a move that will be great for the environment and put our city among the leaders in the nation around this issue.  The illogical part of my brain, on the other hand...

Monday, June 2, 2014

"The Jordan Garden House" Had its Slummy Contract Canceled

1716 26th Avenue North is often referred to as "The Jordan Garden House" due to its proximity to the "peace garden" at the corner of 26th and Knox Avenue North.  (Although the Jordan Area Community Council does not own the house.)  The house has been a vacant eyesore for years, since it went from one owner to tax forfeiture.  And since Hennepin County has had low or nonexistent standards for who they'll sell tax-forfeited properties to, this one was purchased by the infamous Ken Welch of Assertive Properties.

The story that sticks with me about Welch with this house is that reportedly a local non-profit developer was interested in making an offer to buy and rehab the house.  The developer figured Welch would be open to a deal, as the house simply couldn't be financially viable in its boarded and vacant state.  The annual VBR fees alone had to make the property untenable.  Instead, the offer was rebuffed on the grounds that the place was still financially worth keeping even in that condition.  Why would that be, I wonder?  I have my own theories, but welcome any ideas folks may have.

For the purpose of this post, however, the important development is that Welch/Assertive no longer owns the house.  And here's how that happened:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hennepin County vs. The Wirth House

A year later and the house at 3431 Colfax Avenue North still sits in bureaucratic limbo.  I wrote a previous blog post about how the city of Minneapolis was needlessly proceeding with demolition, and to their credit they have both held off on tearing the structure down and worked with partners in an attempt to find a solution.  There are still city staffers just itching to pull the demo trigger on this one, but as a whole the city is really moving in the right direction on issues like this.  But now the holdup is with Hennepin County and it's not clear if a solution for rehab will be available anytime soon.  We certainly do not have anyone at the county willing to go beyond the bureaucratic call of "duty" at this time.

How did we get here?  Well...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

26th Avenue is a Bumpy Embarrassment - Which is Why You Should Call 311 More Often

To the credit of our city officials, 26th Avenue North has seen quite a few potholes filled, CM Yang and his staff have been incredibly responsive since I brought the issue forward, and the corridor is slated for a makeover beginning (finally!) next year.  Its condition is still deplorable and worthy of mention to keep the pressure on our city to follow through with long-overdue repairs.

In early April, the Star Tribune posted an article titled, "Where you live in Minneapolis matters for pothole fixes." The gist of it being that--spoiler alert!--folks in north Minneapolis don't get the same level of basic services as the ritzier parts of town.  City officials were credited with the explanation that other areas get more and better service because they report issues more frequently.  That led to some rather entertaining backpedaling by our mayor and others, which can be summed up this way:  "That allegation is not true at all and anyway, we are taking the appropriate steps to correct it."

While that was going on, I made it my own personal mission to document each and every pothole on 26th Avenue North.  My first step was to...