Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This Rant Brought to You by the Green Demolitions North Program

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 parcelsKSTP 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.


  1. Is there a conflict of interest between someone on the city's demo-end of this equation and a parasitic demolition company?? It appears very little logic is operating here on what properties get leveled and where (parcels of already empty lots). Where is the accountability? Who is hypothetical bureaucrat #1138?

  2. You mean demo companies that do this?

  3. I don't think that CPED or the City of Minneapolis understands that the Northside is not a industrial or commercial area. It is a residential community of working class homes and these older homes reflect the lifestyle, historic character, and identity of current and past residents.

    Every structure destroyed represents a family that has lost a home.

    The City has yet to identified what goal they hope to accomplish and residents are clueless what their future holds.

    The "Green Homes" and "Neighborhood stabilization" initiatives are wasteful and amount to no less than a residential urban renewal program that commits huge amounts of public capital in an effort to reshape the North Side into something that it isn't and may never be.

  4. For some reason you would not post my comment before, but the City wants as many new homes built as possible as the initial permits of these new houses would be upwards of $150,000 and therefore their assessed value would also be over $150,000 and then they could raise the assessed values on all the other existing houses in NOMI and collect tons of new cash!

    1. The actual cost of investment in each home involves the administrative costs for Courthouse Bureaucrats, money to demo and clear the lots, subsidies for shoddy and inefficient non-profit construction, and a Huge public relations campaign to ensure it's "success" and validate the effort by politicians.

      And with all this they still haven't solved the underlying reasons buyers don't want to invest on the Northside - Crime and Nuisance Behaviors as a result of allowing the area to be saturated by poverty and slumlords. So, in all likelihood they will have to resort to subsidies for more low income residents which will validate that $150K + break even figure.

      Will that make existing homes more valuable? No.

      It may raise the assessable value, which in turn will just force more households underwater and into foreclosure where greedy investors will continue to snap up properties that will ultimately become vacant.

      The City needs to address the disease rather than throw money at the symptoms!

  5. The City does not give a shit as we all know. They just want to raise as much revenue as possible and if they can get assessed values on houses in NOMI up to $150,000 + across the board, that is what they will do!

  6. First, even if the life cycle design of these homes were equal to what they are replacing; there is no way you could increase property values on the existing homes by introducing this fraction of inappropriately designed structures dispersed throughout our community.

    The manufactured building materials in todays world are far inferior to those used in older homes and will not stand the test of time. Unlike, 50-100 years ago the building industry is based on cost of manufacturer. Short term efficiency is balanced by built in obsolescence which may serve the building trades industry well but is not a model for community planning.

    What will those home values be in 25 years when all the vinyl products, OSB, and mandatory air handlers need replacement.

  7. So what you are saying is that these new inferior product homes are not as good as existing housing stock. So now the City will increase the values of the better quality existing homes even more! Thanks a lot!


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