When the foreclosure crisis first began to affect north Minneapolis and Hawthorne, residents examined what would bring people back to the neighborhood. Well before “green” became a buzzword, they decided that people most likely to help revitalize the area would have a “pioneering spirit,” and that a combined message of economic and environmental renewal would be especially appealing.
Hawthorne set a goal that the new construction would meet LEED-ND standards and received a $500,000 grant from the Home Depot foundation to spur environmental aspects of new construction and rehab of existing homes.
The EcoVillage area (four square blocks surrounding 31st Ave and 6th St N) received a “cluster” designation from the city of Minneapolis and the Northside Home Fund, allowing it to receive focused attention from partners such as Problem Properties Unit, City Inspections, and Minneapolis Police Department.
Through such partnerships and the active participation of our residents, the EcoVillage area has seen significant improvements, especially since the spring of 2008. By the end of the summer, there were fifty-three properties in the cluster that were boarded, vacant, foreclosed, or a combination thereof.
Hawthorne development partners such as Project for Pride in Living (PPL), Minneapolis CPED, Public Housing, and Hennepin County owned or had pending offers on thirty-one of these properties. To emphasize how important our resident participation is to the success of this development, bear in mind that there are currently only fourteen properties in the EcoVillage that have not been in some state of foreclosure since 2006, and that eleven of these properties are owner-occupied.
Through collaboration with the police department, four properties that have been open-air drug markets (one was dubbed “The Apartment Complex Of Anarchy” by a police officer who patrolled the area) have been shut down. A fifth property owned and occupied by a drug dealer and pimp is in foreclosure because our efforts have greatly reduced his illicit income.
Hawthorne also discovered substantial lending discrepancies on a property at 415 31st Ave N. It was sold in early 2007 for a purchase price of $235,000 when our appraisal valued it at $137,000, a price most considered to be very generous. Marginal repairs had been made to the structure prior to sale, but nothing to justify such a high price. The house was never occupied and became a target of squatters, arson, and crime. Hawthorne sued Citimortgage, the company that funded the loan, on grounds of improvident lending practices and owning a nuisance property in the city of Minneapolis. With the help of attorneys from the Housing Preservation Project, we settled the suit on terms favorable to our community and became the first neighborhood group in the country to achieve such success.
Hawthorne has planted a Tree Nursery in the EcoVillage and had three residents receive light construction assistance from Rebuilding Together Twin Cities. We plan on doing energy audits and beginning energy-efficient rehab work before the end of 2008 and breaking ground on new construction in 2009.
We are in the planning stage of Phase III, which will include multi-unit housing and some commercial anchors on the corner of Lyndale and Lowry Avenues. And we have five properties that are candidates for a zero-interest loan program through the state of Minnesota, which may attract members of a nearby Islamic Center as new residents. We still have concerns of crime and safety, as well as the potential that unscrupulous investors may purchase properties in and around the area. But thanks to our bold resident leadership, our successful partnerships, and staff contribution, we remain confident that the EcoVillage will be an example of how to do redevelopment the right way.
Visit PPL’s Web site to learn more about the project.