Community Responses

Frogtown/Thomas-Dale St. Paul 

Nieeta Presley's Response

Aurora St Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASANDC) is a community development agency that has served the Frogtown and Rondo areas of Saint Paul for last 36 years. Our services include physical development (the construction and rehabilitation of affordable homes and retail space), economic development (an entrepreneurship training program and business retention work), and human/social and political development (political education, a resident leadership and youth development training progarams) . “Our mission is to foster positive relationships within and between . “Our mission is to foster positive relationships within and between the neighborhoods we serve and to support our members in effecting the quality of life in their communities”.  Our vision is “to improve the economic and social well-being of the people we serve”. ASANDC has galvanized the community to push for alternative redevelopment vision from one which could leave community members saddled with burdens to one that builds wealth, improves the quality of life, and lifts people out of poverty yet not out of the neighborhood. Due to the Green Line development, Frogtown-Rondo, housing costs and pressure are rising especially fast in Frogtown-Rondo which a main contributor to gentrification.

Frogtown-Rondo is a racially concentrated area of poverty (RCAP), where over 50% of residents are people of color and over 40% have incomes below 185% of federal poverty level. 63% of residents are renters, including 70% of African-Americans, and many face housing challenges such as substandard housing, barriers to access (e.g. criminal record, rigid screening), severe and rising housing cost burdens, and a threat of displacement (regionally, African-Americans are three times as likely as other renters to expect eviction within two months). Frogtown-Rondo residents have historically been excluded from decision-making, most notably in the construction of I-94 through Rondo, a community whose tightly woven fabric was infamously disrupted when Interstate 94 was constructed through the neighborhood in the 1960s thus laying the foundation to be cumulatively impacted by yet another mega infrastructure project (namely the Greenline LRT).

The problems that ASANDC continues to work on are barriers to stable and affordable housing in Frogtown-Rondo that new construction cannot solve. So far, through our Frogtown Rondo Action Network (FRAN) community base research, surveys show the most concerning barriers are: rising rents; increasing application fees; substandard housing; landlord negligence and retaliation; rental discrimination; and application denials based on background and credit checks. In fact, the national crisis in rising rents and housing cost burdens for the poor is worsening. 

Many residents, who come into our office, also expressed to us through word-of-mouth that they faced challenges related to the rising costs of rent and ongoing threats of gentrification and economic displacement, especially in Frogtown-Rondo. Many feared being priced out of their homes and their community. We have also engaged former Frogtown-Rondo residents who seek to return to the area but can no longer find housing within their price range. In particular, many residents were concerned with a lack of adequate, livable affordable housing and increasing economic displacement through gentrification. Many also expressed horror at some of the improper practices of landlords and their minimization of the challenges often facing their current and potential tenants, which they viewed as intertwined with the challenge of affordable housing access. One such resident is Lavenna Ransom said that her family has: Jean Pieri) been looking for months for months for a market rate home to rent or buy as their own Rondo area. Lavenna said the price of a 3BR+ is roughly $1,000 to $1,300+.  And that the required income is three times the rent. (Pioneer Press - October 21, 2016 – “the Green Line Blues: Housing prices spike in the Central Corridor (University Avenue) poorest neighborhood – Tad Vezner

In an article from The Twin Cities Daily Planet (October 10, 2016) – “Renters Collectively demand justice, equity from Minneapolis and St Paul” – “Twin Cities residents are losing their homes as more and more housing is sold to developers looking to upscale their housing complexes, according to the MHP report. The developer boom has led to a decrease in affordable housing units, increasing the costs of affordable housing, and – as Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) Executive Director Chip Halbach pointed out – may lead to an increase in family homelessness unless immediate action is taken.

“It is a situation that has worsened to the extent that stronger reactions and actions are needed. [Without those reactions and actions] it looks like there will be continued investment and loss of more of these properties….”

Nieeta Presley was appointed as Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (ASANDC) Executive Director after serving 1 ½ years as its Community Organizer in 2002.  Ms. Presley has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Metropolitan State University in which she self-designed her degree using her previous University of Minnesota nursing course work, her life experiences, and other business course work. She placed an emphasis on project planning, budget management, policy analysis, community and economic development, and non-profit management.  She is a Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Careership graduate of 2001 and has completed training in housing finance and real estate development, grant writing and fund development.  Ms. Presley came to ASANDC after working 16 years at HealthPartners in their Utilization Management Department as a Utilization Authorization Examiner.  She also was trained while there to provide diversity awareness training for current and new employees.  During her HealthPartners’ tenure, she lead several initiatives to change the how HealthPartners approaches its delivery of health care and services.  She was responsible for HealthPartners systems’ to be more culturally competent and respectful.  She was awarded two employee leadership awards for her gallant work at HealthPartners.


Tia Williams, Tou SaiKo Lee and MK Nguyen's Response

CURA’s Gentrification research is amplifying the voices of the community who have been telling stories of displacement for years. Stories need facts and numbers to back them up, especially on an issue as amorphous as “gentrification.” Numbers and facts combined with community action might just be enough to turn the tide on this displacement tsunami we are experiencing along the Green Line.

CURA digs into the definition of affordable housing and lays out the numbers in a seminal way; bringing light to issues the community has been struggling with for years. Since the Green LIne went down community members have been sounding the alarm around the fact that the “affordable housing” being built along the Line is not within their reach. The Community Stabilization Project demanded that we use the City median income in place of HUD’s in 1992!!!! THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

Today the housing system puts virtually all of its public subsidy into housing at 60-80% of regional median income, it does not reach your typical Frogtowner. “That dramatic mismatch between the regional median income and what families earn at a neighborhood level is particularly pronounced in places like Frogtown. In stark comparison to the $90,400 area median income for the region, median renter income in much of Frogtown is below $25,000.”

Only 366 of the more than 6,300 new affordable housing units produced were affordable to families earning 30% AMI or less. THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

We must take the conversations about our local community developers use of subsidy to develop housing at 60-80% of median income out of our inner circles and place it where it belongs; on front street, where policy can change it. The Community Stabilization Project demanded that we use the City median income in place of HUD’s in 1992!!!! THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

“These projects have some of the same requirements of a luxury apartment in Woodbury. The research concurs: Additionally, affordable housing units often come with

the requirement of higher credits scores, caps on the number of tenants per bedroom, and stringent background checks for all potential tenants, all of which makes the new affordable housing developments not only unaffordable for historic residents, but also inaccessible.” Housing advocates are developing alternative rental admissions and occupancy policies that should be supported by elected officials and the industry. THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

Rent Control, long a forbidden word (in all seriousness it is really forbidden through state statute) is now being used in the halls of the State Capitol. The report finds that across St. Paul after the -inflation median rent rose 3.5 percent from 2000 to 2014, while it rose 31 percent in Frogtown during the same period. In Frogtown, the median rent went up $414 per month due to inflation. RENTS HAVE INCREASED $414 SINCE 2014!! THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

Frogtowners have known for years, what is now crystal clear in research. Unless serious and intentionally interrupted, market forces will displace poor families and soon. FNA believes that the folks who brought us the Green Line; the Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey County, The Central Funders Collaborative, The Metropolitan Council and the State need to work with community NOW to avert a crisis. THIS IS FROGTOWN AND THIS IS HOME.

Frogtown is the home to one of the last community own cooperatives in the state. Residents of The Wilder Square Cooperatives, along with FNA have created a Taskforce to fight against a corporate management company’s attempt to dissolve the historic cooperative and start raising rents immediately. The Residents are fighting to preserve the 168 units of deeply affordable townhomes. Wilder Square was established in 1974 and is a true example of how NOAH is or can be a benefit in protecting Frogtown. THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

We also believe that there is always enough time to do the right work. If the change we need to see moves at the speed of trust, then the pace of development must match the pace of community engagement and ownership over project. The gifts held by the people in Frogtown are vital to what makes St. Paul one of the most livable cities in country. We need to protect that. This means we need to start seeing see the real value of Frogtown as sacred and worthy of protection. This means we need to start seeing housing as a human right and not a market commodity. THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

Frogtown is known for its evolving cultural knowledge and relationship to place. It holds a multitude of worldviews, cosmology, ritual, language, social organizational forms, and other practices. Our abundant creativity and resourcefulness is reflected in the businesses alongside University, our murals, our cultural centers embedded in neighborhood corners, the community and backyard herb, vegetable, fruit, and medicine gardens shifting soil across the neighborhood, people in Frogtown hold deep experiences and knowledge in turning something from nothing, doing more with less, and transforming problems into possibilities. FNA’s recently published Small Area Plan (SMAPL) is a perfect example of who we are; artist centered, deeply grassroots and centered on solutions! Anti-Displacement policy is at the heart of the community’s vision for the next decade. THIS IS FROGTOWN. THIS IS HOME.

Now, a lot of different interests are here and it is disrupting our flow. The people who make the neighborhood an irresistible resting spot are the same people who are getting displaced. It takes a long time for people to learn about each other and build relationships that lead to efforts mentioned above. Displacement disrupts this continuum of people moving from isolation to belonging. We need the people who are already here to stay here. THIS IS FROGTOWN!


Tia Williams, Co-Director FNA, long time Frogtown Resident, coming home soon

Tou SaiKo Lee, Community Artist, Outreach Organizer, FNA Board member, Frogtown Resident

MK Nguyen, Saint Paul Promise Neighborhoods, Frogtown Mom

Hamline-Midway St. Paul 

Erin Pavlica's Response

So here is my concern for my neighbourhood, after living here for 18 years. Progress can be beautiful and devastating all at once. I love not having prostitutes share my bus stop corner anymore but it has been sad to see so many businesses, that I could WALK to, leave Midway (& Union Park since most of the retail is technically in their district). We are sorely lacking basic businesses that we all frequent outside of our 'hood. Bread bakery, family-friend pub, and an ice cream parlor to name a few! Rest in Peace Borders Books.

I am excited for the stadium yet skeptical. My boys are MN United season ticket holders, yet I want the stadium owners, developers, and the city to be held accountable for the future development. I see storefronts that have remained empty for years. I see monthly rental costs unattainable for the average small business. I worry that the artist rendering was to lure people in and give them a false sense of hope when nothing is set in stone besides the stadium itself. The last thing I want to see is Snelling and University become corporatized. I want Saint Small to stay just that, but with more focus on sustainability. Be it alternative transportation, green space, walkability, and less person-on-person crime. We have beautiful diversity in Midway, I don't want that to change. 

Crime is everywhere. I have lived in Suburbia and a bigger city than this (7 states and 2 other countries) is out there. But community activism is the absolute way to reduce crime. Sure, we need a solid relationship with our police force, but we also need community members to be involved with our youth, who might not otherwise have opportunities or outlets. 

Recently I saw a house listed in Midway for $324,000! I had sticker shock. While I am excited my property value is going up, I worry about low-income families, like mine, who can barely afford the maintenance costs of their properties. I also worry about my neighbours, who rent, having rents that aren't affordable anymore. We have had a few houses turn over, through foreclosure, to out-of-state companies. One near me is owned by a company based in Atlanta. This is zero investment in the vitality of this community, in my opinion. 

Change happens when people show up. And so many people keep showing up here. Social media has connected us for the better, but it also gives way to more arm chair activism. Just talking about it won't change anything. You have to show up! I am a doer and connector, so this is something I am passionate about. 

Renee Spillum's Response: Gentrification is Not Happening in Hamline Midway

This study makes a claim that Hamline Midway is experiencing gentrification – a poorly defined and even more poorly understood phenomenon that pervades public consciousness in times of economic growth, notably the 1990s and mid 2000s, and in the last few years in the Twin Cities.

The narrative is compelling, often told with dramatic, even violent language. It exploits a natural human fear of change and characterizes any visible investment in a neighborhood as a threat. The apartment construction happening in the region after the lull we got used to during the recession is interpreted by many citizens as harmful to their way of life (rich white homeowners make this claim with gustofrequently with racist subtext). This anxiety is heightened in the Midway due to long term planning for high density development around the coming soccer stadium. My neighbors justify their fears by calling the changes “gentrification” despite the facts: Hamline Midway is becoming poorer and less white, has no evidence of increasing displacement, and continues to experience serious disinvestment.

Here are some facts about the census tract highlighted in CURA’s study:

The population living in poverty rose from 17% 2000 to 27% 2016.

Median household income fell from $46,000 to $44,000.

The white population declined from 78% to 70%.

Median rent is up $12, adjusted for inflation.

CURA’s definition for gentrification includes an influx of gentry, displacement and increase in investment, diametrically opposed to the reality in my neighborhood. The only evidence of “an influx of gentry” Midway meets is that the percent of the population with bachelor’s degrees increased more rapidly than the city. The fact that more than 30% of the population is currently enrolled undergraduates and a quarter of the land area of the census tract is a University is a better explanation for this statistic than an influx of white affluent outsiders. If only 5% per year of Hamline’s diverse undergraduates already living in the neighborhood stay here after they graduate, this shift is fully explained. Yet CURA’s narrative repeatedly suggests that new wealthy or white residents are shifting social norms, potentially with consequences for disadvantaged populations. I agree that as a society we have a lot of work to do on this issue, particularly around interactions between the police and people of color. However, it defies logic to use Hamline Midway’s increasingly poor and diverse population as a backdrop for that agenda.

CURA does not attempt to measure displacement. This is a critical flaw that scholars somehow have determined can be omitted without invalidating quantitative research. It is commonly excused due to the unavailability of data, not because there is adequate justification that displacement is not the most relevant feature of gentrification. There is no evidence to suggest there is any systemic displacement in the Midway. In fact, the population is more stable than the city as a whole for both renters and homeowners, which is frankly remarkable considering the high undergraduate population:

2016 5-year ACS

5 years +

15 years +

Tenure in Current Unit 


St Paul


St Paul











Lastly, and most frustrating to me, CURA suggests that median home price increase is a sufficient proxy to show increased investment. As our housing shortage has intensified, homes in the Midway and other affordable communities face enormous price pressure, and it should be no surprise that cheaper neighborhoods see faster price increases than the city average. This could be the fatal flaw of CURA’s entire quantitative study – interpreting a regional housing shortage as proof of gentrification in many poor neighborhoods where home prices are forced up due to lack of adequate supply without a meaningful change in the composition of those neighborhoods.

In commercial areas, where changes are more visible and anxiety producing, construction activity for the stadium and cranes in the skyline in richer parts of the city overwhelm the facts on the ground, where perpetual disinvestment is still the rule. The only new construction during the study period is a CVS and a Hamline University building, along with a nearby affordable housing project plagued by seemingly permanent vacant commercial space on the first floor. There are currently 8 vacant storefronts in the one mile commercial corridor of Snelling Avenue that bisects the “gentrifying” census tract, including a decrepit restaurant that’s been empty for years despite high demand for existing kitchens. At least 40% of Snelling businesses are operated by POCI, mostly immigrants. There has not been new market rate housing built in the entire neighborhood for half a century.

This is not what people think of as gentrification.

Anecdotal changes happen around us all the time. Businesses move within the neighborhood (Valvoline, Furniture Barn, Mosaic on a Stick, Fluid Ink Tattoo). New immigrant owned restaurants open. A vacant car lot is purchased nearby and an affordable housing development rises in its place. A long-time resident adds solar panels to their roof.  What hasn’t happened here is the systemic change that those visible investments cause my neighbors and CURA’s researchers to fear and falsely claim – flipping of commercial property for huge profits, serious systemic rent increases, an “influx” of white residents or businesses. When we start to characterize any investment in a lower income community as bad for that neighborhood, we encourage areas of even slight concentrations of poverty to actively fight reinvestment, as if that vacant restaurant building serves our community best as it is.

Hamline Midway Response Image

Studies like this one stoke fear of change, which can only increase the type of displacement advocates believe they are exposing. While the racial tensions discussed at length are serious and deserve attention, one cannot reasonably blame those on gentrification over a period where the neighborhood has become less white and more poor. Those of us interested in encouraging justice and equity need to be more careful with our narratives. We can start to tell a new story about our neighborhoods – we can start to demand not to be left behind as structural redlining concentrates new investment only in wealthier neighborhoods. We can seek solutions in partnership with real estate developers and investors instead of reflexively writing them off as greedy enemies. We can demand enough housing be built to put tenants at an advantage, and for that housing to be fairly distributed through the city. If we allow our natural fear of change to drive our community agenda, we can probably prevent new development in the Midway for decades to come. I just do not believe that is my neighborhood’s best future.

Renee Spillum is Senior Project Manager for Seward Redesign, a community development corporation that promotes the health, vitality and self-determination of the Seward neighborhood in Minneapolis. She holds a Master of Public Policy with a concentration in Housing and Community Development from the Humphrey Institute, where Dr. Goetz was her advisor. Previously, Renee has worked as a Section 8 housing inspector, and in fundraising for affordable housing developments. She has lived in the Midway area for 15 years, as a renter and now a homeowner, and has served on the neighborhood board and land use committee since 2010

North Minneapolis 

Shannon Jones' Response

Gentrification – This is the word of the day.  Who controls the land?  My great grandmother, raised my grandmother who was born in 1918 in North Minneapolis, as was my mother, as was I, and now I am raising my children here. People identified us through our family lineage, we were and are part of a deeply connected community.   People knew who we were because of our longevity and the relationships born out of our relationship to this place.  I grew up going to Sunset Hill (26th and Theodore Wirth Parkway) to go sledding, riding our bikes to the river with my Dad to see the boat races, going to church, school, Kings Supermarket, all of these things in my neighborhood, I belonged here. 

The Lewis and Calhoun’s article “The Right to the Community” is an article that I would say gives a well-rounded perspective of the changes in North Minneapolis particularly the gentrifying parts of the community.  The following statement stood out to me and embodied many of the thoughts that I have about these changes. “Today, rapid urban restructuring throughout the Twin Cities ensures that a community once manufactured to contain undesirable low income Black residents, is now slowly becoming attractive to a rising population of white families”.    I am a black woman in my 40’s and I have experienced the disinvestment and lack of faith in such a relational and culturally rich community.  The quoted statement stood out because now that this community is becoming attractive to white families, I am hearing the conversation switch from service focused language to wealth building language.  The approach to my community has been what services can we provide these people?  We were viewed as a community full of deficits, violence, poverty, and always in need of help.  The idea of investing in people, structures, schools, businesses has not gone past a conversation until white families became attracted to the community once abandoned by outsiders and placed low on decision makers’ priority list. Never abandoned by the community though.  We remained steadfast, we continue to fight for education, we continue to support each other by exchanging goods and services, we are not always bound by the regulations that state how we can do business because we know those systems are not always supportive of our needs and our success.  We remained because we belonged, and that sense of belonging is often undervalued.

The historic designation of the Homewood community is a great example of conflicting interests when a community becomes desirable to those with different interests and goals. This process makes me ask the question about historic designation.  Is it only about the architecture?  Are we preserving the history of the land?  Are we ensuring our elders and families that have lived here for generations can afford to stay in a community that they have invested in, economically and emotionally? Will the drumline that used to march up Plymouth for Juneteenth still be able to celebrate here?  These conversations around land and property and who gets to live where seems to lead without people being the main focus.  Now that North Minneapolis is deemed desirable, investments that the community has needed for years is now available for the new residents and the residents they are trying to attract.  I have watched the attempt of rebranding the Northside to Nomi, near downtown to The North Loop.  How does someone else get to come here and rename our community? Did anyone ask the existing community members how they felt about that?

This article brings to light the paradox that happens in communities and why gentrification seems so scary.  Communities across the board want investment, they want good schools, businesses, a sense of belonging and a strong social network.  Communities of color have been left out of wealth building systemically for generations, and in my opinion we still have limited access to opportunities that result in generational wealth and thriving communities.  This limits if not silences the voices of community members who can’t scream loud enough or don’t have enough capital to be heard in decision making spaces. 

Gentrification is much deeper than who owns or controls the land but, who influences the culture.  Who gets to control the narrative? Who decides what to invest in? I would argue that displacement happens well before historical families move out of the community.  It begins to happen when they no longer feel as if they are part of the fabric of the community.  When their faces are no longer reflected in the art.  When the kids who used to be able to play basketball on the corner, now get the police called on them.  When construction workers of color get the police called on them because the neighbors think they are doing something undesirable. When the neighborhood mechanic can no longer fix cars because the new family doesn’t understand the economics and the wealth of having an expert on the block that can fix anything with your car.  Gentrification is about losing the historical and cultural norms of a community, it’s about someone else coming in and telling us how we can live in our communities, along with losing the choice of living in a community because we can no longer afford it.  It’s about our assets being seen by someone else as deficits and/or criminal and them having the political will and backing that reinforces that. It’s about no longer having a sense of belonging because someone else had the power to make you feel uncomfortable in your own home. The statement “…who gets to define the urban agenda in North Minneapolis is now under debate.”  I would argue this has always been under debate.  Outside influencers have always tried to define the agenda in North Minneapolis, and we have always fought for our voices to make it into the final plan.

I will end with this.  I appreciate this article capturing the diversity of voices in my community.  I hope it sparks a deeper conversation about how we can prevent this pattern of community disinvestment and investments that have long term negative consequences on particularly communities of color.  This is a deeply personal problem for me as I myself wonder if the changes in my community are for me or for my replacement.  I am concerned that historical designations don’t preserve the essence of the community.  I am concerned that if this community is displaced somewhere else, that somewhere down the line some decision maker will again see that community as desirable and once again that community will move.  I would urge everyone to always think of the people first and listen to what they have to say.  Then if you are bold enough, act on behalf of the people.

Shannon Smith Jones is the Executive Director of Hope Community after having served as the Director of Community Engagement at Urban Homeworks, both of which combine an emphasis on quality affordable housing with a strategic focus on engaging and working towards an equitable community. She received her B.A from the University of MN in Family Social Science, and is a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory. She brings with her 15 years of community impact experience, a strong passion for housing justice and brings to her work a community focused asset based approach.

Jeff Skrenes' Response

It seems like nobody can agree on what “gentrification” really is, but everyone knows it when they see it. The most common expression of the term is that people are forced to move directly due to rising costs of living, although I see it as a more slow and insidious change that rarely draws a direct line to people’s immediate housing choices. Gentrification can be a gradual change in demographics that is more like the anecdote of the frog in the cooking pot who does not realize the water is boiling around him. Likewise, neighborhood demographics and costs typically don’t change so quickly that poorer people are immediately relocated.

To the degree we do see rapid changes, that generally happens along transit corridors or in upscale neighborhoods. The controversial Orth House development in Uptown is an example of low-income renters being forced out of their homes because the land they reside upon is worth more to a developer than the existing structure. Thankfully, we have not seen that degree of displacement in north Minneapolis in recent history.

As a housing professional - both as a non-profit neighborhood worker and as a home mortgage originator - I tend to view gentrification through the lens of “who gets to live here and how much does that cost?” Given my field of work, I can best express that cost through home ownership requirements.

So when the Homewood neighborhood raised concerns over a historic designation study as a risk of gentrification, I wanted to see what the numbers tell us about affordability and that cost over time. What some data tells me is that the designation study area is already gentrified, the problem of affordability is getting worse, and designation studies may actually help contain the most extreme forms of gentrification.

I have my own affordability calculation, and it goes like this:

Purchase price minus down payment equals loan amount. At typical market rates for 30-year fixed mortgages, we get the principal/interest payment. Add in payments for taxes, insurance, and mortgage insurance, and that’s our housing cost. Usually an affordable housing payment is between 28% and 31% of a household’s monthly (pre-tax, pre-deduction) income, but in today’s rising market we’re seeing costs go much higher than that. For this calculation, I’m going with 35%. So we take the housing payment, divide by 35%, and get our monthly income needed to make a home affordable. Multiply that number by 12, and we have the annual income a household needs in order to affordably own a home in an area.

And this is where we find out if certain areas are gentrified, and if so, by how much?

For instance, the average purchase price of a single-family home in the Willard-Hay neighborhood as of October 2017 is $149,500. At 4.625% over 30 years, that’s a $745.58 principal/interest payment. Taxes for a homesteaded property would be $165.33, a decent home insurance policy would cost about $110 per month, and if you used a first-time homebuyer loan you could get mortgage insurance as low as $90.63. Put it all together and you have a payment of $1,111.54. In order for that to be 35% of your income, you’d need to earn just over $38,000 per year.

By contrast, a year ago the average property in Willard-Hay would have required an income of $31,850 to be affordable. In my Jordan neighborhood the 2017 income needed is $33,500 and a year ago that was $27,580.

For the Homewood designation area, there is a stark difference. With an average sales price this year of $217,000, the principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and mortgage insurance payment comes to just under $1,600. To keep that payment under 35% of a household’s income, we would need $54,600.

So when a household needs to earn almost 50% more just to have access to affordable ownership, then I hate to break it to you but your neighborhood is already gentrified. In that context, what does a historic designation accomplish?

One of the consequences of historic designation is that it is much more difficult - not impossible as the aforementioned Orth House saga shows, but certainly harder - to acquire properties for the sole purpose of demolition and new construction. Homewood residents may look to the south and lament the higher values in Bryn Mawr, but we are not too far off from the prospect of our land being worth enough to justify the kinds of purchases that only upper-income families or rich developers can afford.

House values are already increasing faster than the rate of inflation, meaning incomes aren’t keeping up with the cost of ownership. The added costs of a designation, perceived or real, is not a significant factor in housing affordability in such a context.

I don’t think I need to run the same set of calculations for acquisition, demolition, and new construction. Just ask yourself, how many poor people do you know who are going through that process to buy their homes in southwest Minneapolis or Edina? Large-scale development of multi-unit housing along transit corridors can certainly provide needed affordable housing units, but who benefits from ownership at that point? Some already-rich developer does.

And that is precisely what a designation could prevent; the acquisition of land for purposes that the average owner could not achieve or compete with on their own. We can create a historic designation process that waives or reduces fees. We can direct city staff to equitably support and guide owners instead of our culture of enforcement and punishment. Done right, historic designation can be a tool that prevents, not causes, gentrification.

Jeff Skrenes is a Mortgage Loan Originator with eighteen years of experience in home mortgage and non-profit housing work. He specializes in first-time homebuyers and down payment assistance programs. Jeff has been recognized by Minnesota Housing as a top-producing loan originator for their bond and assistance loans. 

He brings his passion for quality housing to volunteering and has served on the board of the Jordan neighborhood.  He helped create a series of housing assistance loans for the Jordan neighborhood. When Jeff isn’t working, he enjoys cheering on the North High Polars football team, cooking spicy food, and appreciating Theo Wirth Park with his dog Rayne.

Northeast Minneapolis 

Brenda Kayzar's Response

I appreciate CURA’s invitation to respond to the blog post about gentrification in Northeast (NE). A disclaimer; I did not review the ‘Snapshot” of interviews within the context of CURA’s full gentrification study. My response focuses on the interview content and is a critique of how narratives can misshape our understanding issues such gentrification when taken out of context. 

Narratives are often devoid of the contextual nuances of history and economic and demographic fact, and are rarely representative of all experience. Use of the term gentrification highlights the narrative dilemma. Neighborhood narratives present gentrification as the scourge yet it is a symptom of the disease of housing provision. Embedded in the history of housing provision are institutional and social practices responsible for our present state of inequity. More recent paradigm shifts in ideology and practice can’t reshape the wood and brick legacy of class, race and gender inequity implanted in the inventory of over 135-million housing units[1] that remain on the land; ill-suited to present and future household needs[2]. They can’t undo ownership of this built legacy, which is distributed in a stunningly unequal manner[3], yet ownership is one of the main tools used to shape neighborhoods. 

Present day housing concern, therefore, can’t be separated from the process of selecting - or accepting by default - from an already existing and distributed built history. Discourse about gentrification can’t be separated from the legacy of institutional practice and planning and financial tools that historically served only select households, investors, and developers. The narratives about neighborhood change in NE, however, are separated from this important contextual understanding.  The interviews do not reflect the nuances of the community’s history, and economic and demographic facts are absent. This is not a critique of the interviewees, it is recognition that as community members we ‘live’ in our own present, and ‘experience’ in own lives. This is evident the causality interviewees find in people and activity rather than historical property development practices and ownership. To the interviewees change is the consequence of the latest incomer, the product of a successful artist conversion, or result of a maker’s endeavor. 

Rent and property value increases and new development are disconnected from ‘who benefited’, through past ownership or property sale. Perceptions are decoupled from how current and long-time property owners manage the revenue opportunity of neighborhood progress through rental increases and property sales, aided by revitalization policies and the availability of financing. The disconnection downplays the impact of larger processes, and of cycles of disinvestment and reinvestment. For example, many interviewees rhapsodized the area’s blue collar history linked to a succession of European immigrants, and an era of generational homeownership and local industrial activity. The fondness was not extended to more recent immigrants whose diaspora originated in Africa, Central America and Asia, a point worth highlighting. Should we not ask why the generational cycle of white European occupancy ended? What prompted later generations to retreat from NE? 

Some emigrated as industrial employment opportunities dissipated, but some chose to relocate to new homes with the aid of mortgages not available to people of color. They left NE’s growing diversity for neighborhoods and schools with more familiar and homogeneous populations.  Eschewing NE lessened demand which was interpreted as a sign of neighborhood decline.  Disinvestment was a problem for existing property sales and owners became absentee landlords awaiting a market turnaround. The era of decline, however, created affordability for new immigrant groups, artists, and owners seeking to repurpose moribund buildings. These social and economic nuances are lost in truncated narratives. Instead of interrogating the institutional and social practices that produced cycles of change and ongoing inequities, artists and other starter-income households are bequeathed the title of gentrifier. 

Generalizations obfuscate the ways in which absentee owners continue to shape place at-a-distance. Today, only 44% of households in NE are owner-occupied[4]. Most decline era incomers didn’t achieve homeownership, the security to stay in place, or the ability to await profits from their property at a distance. Yet the at-a-distance influence of previous generations of property owners is instrumental to our understanding of current gentrification threats. Long-time property owners make land available for sale and for new development. They increase rents in accordance with market change, and like existing residents, incomers also struggle financially, although race, ethnicity, and class will not be dependent factors in eventually overcoming this struggle. 

Intuitively, the interviewees understand the unequal distribution of wealth and ownership. Yet the historic context of their own struggle is not fully comprehended, and therefore, articulated and their discontents are placed on the backs of the latest incomer. Hence my critical appraisal of a presentation of narratives as insights to what is happening in NE. Re-telling a generalized gentrification narrative with its stated villains misallocates time and energy needed to imagine, demand and facilitate real changes in housing provision. Bearing witness to a history of discriminatory practices, and accepting that we are, in essence, fighting over the crumbs of affordability in and already inequitably distributed existing martial landscape is a better place to start – and brings forth the realization that gentrification is a symptom of the disease. Rather than pit existing resident against incomer, cure the disease. Foster productive discussions about the role government, finance and development played and continue to play in influencing housing supply and the molding of the existing built legacy.

[1] Based on the 2016 American Community Survey which estimates there are 135,702,775 housing units in the United States. 

[2] According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities and HUD, roughly 25% of households in the U. S. receive some form of federal subsidy. A large number of those households are constituted by the elderly. Of the non-elderly and disabled households, 75% are constituted by working adults. Yet although just over 5-million households receive a subsidy, 68% of low-income households paying over 50% of their income for housing remain unassisted.   

[3] According to the U. S. Census, although the homeownership rate was roughly 66% as of 2015, that average reflects a rate of over 71% for white households but only a little over 46% for African American households.

[4] 2015 data from Minnesota Compass shows an ownership rate of 44%.

Dr. Brenda Kayzar is the Collaborative Strategist and Owner of Urbane DrK Consulting where she provides strategic planning, research and advocacy leadership support to government, nonprofit and arts organizations. She applies a hybrid of experience within higher education, and business and nonprofit leadership toward efforts aimed at shaping better outcomes for communities, arts organizations and creative workers. She’s authored numerous works in academic presses exploring the economic, political and social contexts of urban change, focusing on revitalization policy and development impacts as well as the creative placemaking planning paradigm which is now shaping older neighborhoods and downtowns. She is regularly enrolled by civic leaders to address issues such as gentrification and has served on several civic panels and working groups. She’s also served on community and nonprofit boards, including the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, the arts organization that produces Art-A-Whirl.

Michael Tolan's Response

The recent growth of Northeast Minneapolis follows a familiar blueprint of neighborhood change seen across the country, including a few decades prior in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District: Artists move into a former industrial area which has experienced disinvestment; they create a sense of vibrancy attractive to outsiders; and they are eventually unable to afford the area whose success they made possible.

The featured comments by residents and business owners in Northeast echo that pattern of revitalization and displacement, as well as the viewpoints expressed by other community members we at the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota interviewed through our efforts to investigate cultural assets in Northeast. In our work, we focused on the social and cultural value of the places community members have been able to establish because of the area’s affordability—places like coffee shops and cafes, locally owned restaurants and businesses, and artist studios and galleries.

Their answers give some insight into why, socially, this cycle occurs and what stands to be lost. What exactly is it about a place like Northeast that has made it so attractive to outsiders? What qualities make it so ripe for commodification and a spike in demand that’s led to a rapid decrease in affordability?

As a former industrial hub of Minneapolis, Northeast has a long tradition of attracting immigrants—first from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and now from other places across the globe. Businesses representing the Latino, Hmong, Somali, and other communities dot the streetscape along Central Avenue.

Largely because of this immigrant community, Northeast has historically been rich in “third places,” a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe where people spend time away from home and work and accrue social capital. These are places where people can build community and relationships, and become connected to civic and social groups. The many dive bars and churches which define Northeast have long served this purpose, and continue to do so.

As artists moved into Northeast from the North Loop, they augmented this culture of great places, repurposing abandoned industrial warehouses into studios and opening art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants.

The rising popularity of Northeast has no single explanation, but we chose to examine it through the lens of successful places. Community members—whether they were homeowners, renters, artists, or small business owners—we spoke to consistently highlighted the authenticity of Northeast. They viewed this authenticity largely in terms of businesses and the arts, as well as through the historic homes and churches and the industrial legacy of Northeast found in the railroads and cobblestones.

We came to understand authenticity to mean small, local, and unique. Authentic places are ones that reflect the community and its history. They create a rich sense of place because they’re exclusive to the community in which they’re deeply rooted. The value of and attraction to these places has been accentuated by the increasing homogeneity of American culture—a sense that you could be in one place, but any place at all because of a sameness that pervades everything from the style of new apartment complexes to national chains.

Authentic places are an antidote to this sameness. As American society becomes more standardized, people increasingly prize authenticity and individuality. Places like local bookshops, diners, and art studios are important to people both because of the services they provide, and because they represent a culture of authenticity.

The irony is that authentic places tend attract homogenous ones. The density of great places increases the desirability of Northeast, making the area less affordable for those very people and places which made it attractive in the first place. Demolition of older buildings which provide affordable rents decreases the supply of small, affordable spaces for entrepreneurs. High rent prices in newer developments exclude all but national and regional chains and luxury boutiques, as lenders often pressure developers to exclusively lease to these “safe” tenants. Meanwhile, rents of older commercial and residential properties rise for many reasons. This can push out entrepreneurs, longtime businesses, and preclude new ones from emerging in the first place. For those who stay, they often experience a sort of cultural gentrification, in which they no longer see themselves represented in their neighborhood or feel welcome there. They feel that new groups “set the rules” for socially permissible behavior in the community.

All agree that neighborhood change is inevitable—even desired. The artists haven’t always been in Northeast, nor have the same businesses from the early 20th century endured to the present. You’re more likely to hear Spanish and Somali spoken on the street than Swedish or Polish. The narratives shared by Northeast stakeholders in this snapshot emphasize the idea that the community opposes not change more broadly, but the current type and pace of change.

Revitalization isn’t neutral. Without concerted planning efforts, growth stands to benefit wealthy outsiders, rather than people of color and low-income residents who helped usher in the wave of growth. In Northeast, community members have been experiencing an inequitable growth that doesn’t always reflect their vision or needs, but rather those of outsiders.

Policy makers and politicians of all leanings can largely agree on the importance of small businesses, entrepreneurship, and artists. The economic, social, and cultural benefits have been well-established. The success of these places, however, threatens their very ability to exist without deliberate and diligent policies to support them and the people who have built them.

An ideal community includes a spectrum of affordable to high-end residential, commercial, and industrial spaces. Land use and zoning policies, regulation on developers, and planning documents ought to reflect that principle of tiered affordability.  Technical assistance programs and access to capital must be readily available to support great ideas. And, most importantly, community members must be empowered with the resources to guide change in line with their vision in order to benefit from growth.

Michael Tolan currently serves as a Community Engagement Coordinator with Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Michael works with community members to identify cultural assets and opportunities to preserve and activate them. He aims to increase civic engagement around place, encourage residents to become active participants in the development of their neighborhoods, and develop policies that encourage cultural preservation and sustainable change.

Michael holds a B.A. in Classical Studies from Carleton College and is a graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, a national program centered on public policy, civic engagement, and leadership development.

South Minneapolis 

Jessica Lopez Lyman's Response: Bodies Who Leisure in Midtown

I was born and raised in St. Paul’s Midway and have lived on and off in South Minneapolis neighborhoods (Longfellow, Corcoran and Powderhorn) for over ten years. As an artist, previous renter now landlord, previous student now full-time academic, I can trace my personal transformation alongside the neighborhoods I have lived. When I moved back from California after attending graduate school, I was shocked by the changes in the Midway and Frogtown neighborhoods. The light rail with its fancy mixed-usage housing and commercial spaces up and down University Avenue eroded my childhood memories. These were the blocks where I went trick-or-treating in the 1991 blizzard, walking with my family to my grandmother’s house. The snow, way above my knee, meant I was dragged most of the way by my father. These were the blocks where I first fell in love, learned to drive, and developed lifelong friendships. Across the river in South Minneapolis similar changes have occurred.

While the scholarship and community organizing around gentrification is extensive, I want to respond to two points in this study regarding culture. First, gentrification requires a change in naming practices by residents. The fear of “uptowning” is a legitimate concern as new, often middle class and white residents, move into the area. I would argue, however, that while we, as residents, fear uptowning, the real detriment to our community has already happened — the neighborhoods have been “Midtowned.” Walk up and down Lake Street, especially near the Midtown Global Market and you will see blue and yellow banners proudly hanging Midtown pride. Business owners along the corridor push for this branding as a way to unify a racially diverse area and simultaneously spotlight the avenue as a tourist destination for outsiders. Nancy Mirabal (2009) argues in her study on gentrification in San Francisco, the erasure of neighborhood names and the renaming of areas are vital to displacement.[1] With all the new names in Minneapolis — North Loop, South Loop, Near North – I become dizzy as I try to remember what was before. The five neighborhoods in this South Minneapolis study have unique, culturally specific histories. Gentrification requires new residents to believe nothing of value existed before, and requires long time residents to forget. There is resistance in remembering what was present before a $20 candle store came to the neighborhood or remembering the dreams that gave rise to Black-owned small businesses on 38th and Chicago Avenue.

Second, gentrification is fueled by the fantasy of play. Foundational to the creative economy is leisure. The creative class’ award for working hard, is playing hard. Entire cities transform to bring the freshest and hottest amenities to urban epicenters. In Minneapolis, new professional sports stadiums, transit overalls, greenways, bike lanes and walk-able corridors entice the creative class. Under a racist capitalist settler colonial system, however, not everybody is free to play. Part of our history as a nation-state is coming to terms with the reduction of Native bodies and bodies of Color (especially African and Black) to merely a means for labor production. Ritual, performance, and leisure were stripped from these communities. Fast forward to 2017.  We witness the residue of this work continue to manifest in our police departments, neighborhood watch programs, and park systems. When interviewees in this study highlight the “white women running in the neighborhood” as a sign the neighborhood is changing, these residents are identifying a historical and racialized practice of disciplining certain bodies and allowing other bodies to move freely in public space. To challenge leisure politics, we need to play in public space and protect those who do not have the privilege to do so without being harmed. I am inspired by groups like Left Wing TC soccer who play in Powderhorn park, the Ecua-Volley players at Sabanthani, the Black bicyclist groups and Tamales y Bicicletas who slow roll around the neighborhoods, and the Native Water Protectors that shut down Cedar Avenue to play their drums. We don’t need greenways or bike lanes or micro-breweries. We need to support the businesses that “promise [to] not go nowhere,” and tell each other the stories of what existed before Midtown.

Jessica Lopez Lyman, Ph.D. is an interdisciplinary performance artist and Xicana feminist scholar interested in how Native folks and People of Color create alternative spaces to heal and imagine new worlds. She researches Midwestern Chicanx/Latinx experiences and works in the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

[1] Mirabal, Nancy. 2009. “Geographies of Displacement: Latina/os, Oral History, and the Politics of Gentrification in San Franscico’s Mission District.” The Public Historian. 31.2 p. 7-31.

Anna Meyer & Roxanne Anderson's Response

The gentrification that is in process in South Minneapolis is growing and ever apparent. The building our business and community organizations we are stakeholders in are in is now on its third owner in just three months. The price of the building  increased by over $100,000 with each flip of the building ownership and now the price has gone up again. This building was listed at $250,000 at the beginning of 2017 and now less than 12 months later is being quoted at $525,000, more than doubling in price. This of course affects us directly because with each turn over, rent increases. Our future in this building that we and so many others have invested our lives into is even more unstable as we don't have a clear picture of what the new owner intends for us or the building. We only secured a 12 month lease. We need to buy a building that community can have confidence will continue to be there for and with them. We need funding sources for long term, stable ownership. Anyone out there got half a million they wanna donate?

The predatory building and home buying that is happening, i.e. offering lower than market value to struggling owners, is changing our neighborhoods. If there were real accessible programs available for current owners of commercial and residential properties, and current business owners, we could help long term residents and business owners stay in the neighborhood. Instead, those folks are forced out by rising property taxes, predatory development corporations, foreclosures, etc. and new folks move in.

The city does have several programs for business owners and for property owners, but they are hard to find and access. The programs also don't often compliment one another, or make it easy to even collaborate between business owners and landlords.

The process of owning and running a business is quite stressful. When, as a business owner, you are unsure about the longevity of the space your renting for your business it makes it almost impossible to plan for the future.

Development or redevelopment is not a bad thing. The displacement of residents and business by those developers is tragic. The lack of sharing of the development derived resources that come into the neighborhood with the existing communities in that neighborhood, is gentrification. The solution to the food desert in our neighborhood was a coop, which is more expensive to shop at and inaccessible for many. The coop received millions from the government to open and run, but yet the long standing food shelf across the street from the coop often doesn't have fresh food available for most of the community of folks who cannot afford to shop at a generic grocery store let alone an organic coop. That's so messed up.

Even the writing of this response has proven difficult for us. It brings up fear, anxiety, feelings of not being in control of our business, uncertainty about the future and frustration because we don't have the resource to just buy our spot. It brings up the reality that unless you have a boatload of money or great credit that you are at the mercy of those who don't really care about you, your home, your business, or the people you serve and live in community with.

Anna Meyer & Roxanne Anderson

Roxanne Anderson and Anna Meyer, co-owners of Café Southside, are both life and business partners. Recently, Roxanne and Anna announced that Cafe SouthSide would close on Friday, February 23, 2018. In a statement from Roxanne and Anna they note, “We have been trying for months to negotiate a fair and equitable agreement with the building owner. After years of beautiful connections, artful expressions, happy reunions, resistance, healing, community connections AND sub-par space accommodations, property turn over and gentrification we have decided to refocus our energies and efforts.”

Roxanne Anderson aka DJDaddyRocks is a local broadcast journalist who's been on the airwaves of KFAI Radio’s Fresh Fruit since the late 90’s. Rox is also a community organizer who’s been working in social service for some 25 years and is an award activist - 2016 Co-Grand Marshal for Twin Cities Pride, honored by the University of Minnesota with a Community Excellence Award, Lavender Magazine’s 100 Fab Community Organizer Award, Twin Cities Black Pride Community Service Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Rox has been featured in Curve magazine, Lavender Magazine, Star Tribune, The Column, Rolling Stone and several Radio and TV stations for their community leadership and activism.  Currently Roxanne is the Board Chair for the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, co-owner of Cafe SouthSide, the co-founder and director of RARE Productions, a multimedia arts and entertainment company focusing on producing and promoting queer artists of color.  Rox is a skilled and highly sought facilitator and is a parent, producer, promoter, DJ and likes to write and take pictures, and is a SouthSider for LIFE!!!

Anna Meyer is a light skinned mixed race queer femme who lives, works and loves in South Minneapolis. Anna has been working in local and national LGBTQ and POCI communities for over two decades. She spent over 15 years working with youth and families experiencing homelessness in the Twin Cities and in Washington DC. She has worked for equity and supported community in a variety of movements, organizations and methods throughout the years. She is skilled in creating, supporting and holding space for folks to be seen, supported and resourced with a harm reduction based holistic framework. She has been an advocate with and for youth, people of color and indigenous people, queer, trans and gender non conforming folks. She is the Co-Owner of Cafe SouthSide, works with RARE Productions and is focused on healing within our communities. Anna also helps organize sex positive education and events for the POCI kinky communities. She is an artist and is a fierce believer of art and expression as revolution and survival. Anna loves to spend time in the woods, by the water and with her two rescued pitbulls.