Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
There's a technical mortgage term that's been deservedly getting bad press, called "dual tracking." That's where a person with a delinquent loan tries to work out an arrangement with the lender, and while a loan is in review for some form of modification the lender continues to move ahead with the foreclosure process. Often this is done without the borrower's knowledge, with the end result being that the borrower loses his or her home without fully comprehending that they were even in such danger in the first place. Dual tracking is being regulated out of practice by the federal government, and Minnesota has been considering its own legislation to curtail the process.
Apparently though, when a house in Minneapolis is at risk of demolition, the city employs its own version of dual tracking. Not too long ago, I pointed out that there were viable structures on many Green Homes North parcels. KSTP did a nice follow-up piece, and the city even opened up some of these houses to inquiries by private parties who could do rehab work. Unbeknownst to those parties--who, by the way, are willing and able to put forward viable offers for rehab--Minneapolis has not slowed down their demolition processes in the least.
One house in the Willard-Hay neighborhood, pictured above, is another example of...
...a potentially viable structure that is on the Green Homes North property list and just appeared on the city's weekly planning applications for demolition. 1915 Penn Ave N isn't a gorgeous house, and I would even agree that homes built today can be more desirable than this one. Here's the thing: There are DOZENS of vacant lots on Penn Ave N in either direction of my house. Hey developers, you want to build new construction on Penn? TAKE YOUR PICK. Why do we need to tear down even one more house on Penn to attract new construction? Why not wait until a developer comes along with a proposal? And if that offer is for rehab, entertain it, or if demolition is requested, tear the house down then.
Speaking of tearing down another house on Penn, 2300 Penn Ave N is also slated for demolition. Because apparently the city collects vacant land on Penn Avenue North in the same way a ten-year-old collects Pokemon cards. I predicted last summer that this house would be torn down, after a far more appealing property to its north was demolished for no apparent reason. But yet to the south of 1915 Penn lies 1911, a burnt-out, arson-damaged, graffiti-covered insult to architecture known as a Dream Home. The one property everyone can agree should go, and it's been sitting like that for years.
And here's another thing: Intermedia Arts is doing a series of community design forums about Penn Avenue, from Highway 394 to the 44th Ave N/Osseo Rd. intersection. I can picture community input that wants to build on existing housing stock. When the report is finally published, the city turns around and says, "Yeah, about that existing housing stock...there isn't any." Has anyone at city hall even READ "The Lorax"?
What's worse though is that one of the previously profiled Green Homes North parcels at 2046 James Avenue North, which fronts a park, is completely fixable, has intact interior features, and is located within a formally recognized development cluster, is also heading for the landfill if the city has the final say. The James property is the one the city opened up for private investors, and as a result got a legitimate offer, and then moved forward with demolition anyway.
The house is not torn down yet, and will hopefully be sorted out. It's possible that CPED made the overture to private investors and Regulatory Services got their wires crossed on the demolition. But if you happen to live on that block, what does it matter? Oh sure, a house gets torn down unnecessarily, but government bureaucrat #1138 was able to show that wasn't his fault. So he still gets a favorable performance review from one of the city's 500 HR generalists, and it all evens out, right?
Here is how preservationists tend to view these scenarios, and whether we're correct or not, it is a commonly-held perception. We've been howling into the wind for years about the demolition problem. Someone like Nicole Curtis comes along, and she is able to demonstrate that these houses can indeed be saved. So even though a nationwide example that's clear as day to anyone paying attention proves that these houses can be restored--even though the city couldn't BUY a better marketing campaign for its dilapidated housing stock if it WANTED TO--the pace of demolitions doesn't slow down even marginally. If anything, demolitions speed up. And they speed up on the very houses that are being negotiated for preservation.
This sends the signal, whether intentional or not, that the city of Minneapolis is not truly interested in housing preservation, that it is not truly interested in maintaining its tax base, and that when someone comes along who wants to invest their money and create local jobs, Minneapolis would rather tear down houses. That's not a conclusion I want to come to, but when houses that clearly can be saved repeatedly end up in a landfill, I don't know what other conclusion to reach.
Because the city is engaged in their own form of "dual tracking," I believe it's time to put a minimum six-month moratorium on non-emergency demolitions across Minneapolis. When people who want to invest their money in the city are being shunned by its economic development arm, something is fundamentally broken. No more houses should be torn down until that problem is fixed.