Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Prioritizes Profits over People
By Kadra Abdi
After months of privately strategizing how it would introduce and implement its plans to privatize 6,000 units of public housing in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) received some free marketing via a prominent article in a Sunday edition of the Star Tribune. Complete with a page-wide photo of MPHA’s Executive Director Greg Russ, the article reads more like a puff-piece in a lifestyle magazine than a serious piece of journalism.
Rather than questioning the future of public housing in Minneapolis, the article echoes the housing authority’s official message that privatization of public housing is inevitable. Despite opposition from residents, MPHA will proceed via the “Rental Assistance Demonstration” (RAD), a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program which Russ describes as “a proven HUD approach.” Absent from the article is any realistic, resident-centered examination of RAD, just as MPHA (despite its promises of resident participation) has never allowed such an examination before going “all-in” on a plan to convert all of its properties. Rental Assistance Demonstration was originally intended to be a pilot project, not to be implemented on a larger, national scale without an impact assessment.
RAD is a program with growing public concerns:
Maxine Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office in 2015 raising critical questions and demanding a review of the program. Waters criticized the program – highlighting its failure to engage residents and community. In a recent press release, she wrote: “despite RAD’s potential to have serious, negative impacts on tenants (such as an increase in rent, relocation, or displacement), HUD is failing to adequately track these impacts and monitor potential violations of resident rights under relevant statutes and HUD policies.”
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition also addresses the long-term impact of RAD, stating: “HUD is permanently privatizing 185,000 public housing units,” converting them to either project-based voucher or project-based rental assistance programs. These conversions can profoundly impact residents’ lives and the price tag of the nation’s affordable housing stock. Following review of RAD, the U.S. General Accountability Office concluded the program requires a thorough impact assessment, “HUD does not systematically use its data systems to track effects of RAD conversions on resident households (such as changes in rent and income, or relocation) or monitor use of all resident safeguards...Without a comprehensive review of household information and procedures for fully monitoring all resident safeguards, HUD cannot fully assess the effects of RAD on residents.” HUD officials stated that they intend to develop procedures to identify and respond to risks to long-term affordability, including default or foreclosure in RAD properties. However, HUD has yet to do so.
In his latest book on public housing, Ed Goetz asserts: Only 1 in 5 residents may move back if they can afford the increased rents. However, MPHA maintains that residents will not lose their units as a result of RAD conversion, but this is a technicality. Residents can't lose their unit as a part of the process itself, but after the conversion is completed, residents are subject to whatever new rescreening or application processes the new owner chooses. According to HUD’s RAD guideline, residents "will be subject to any ongoing eligibility requirements for actions that occur after conversion." Property owners who purchase buildings from local agencies "have the ability to rescreen tenants at the time of a tenant’s annual or interim recertification in accordance with their screening/eviction procedures found in their policies." In other words, residents are at risk of losing their housing because of RAD. MPHA avoids admitting this by only claiming it won't be a part of the RAD conversion process itself. The entire process is dehumanizing.
Throughout the country, poor communities of color are at risk of losing their homes because of RAD. We cannot allow this program to deny people access to housing. This is part of a national strategy pushed by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson.
RAD works like a sieve, filtering residents out of their homes each step of the way. Residents who are relocated for rehab projects are displaced and experience difficulty returning. The units that would have been allocated for public housing residents can be converted to higher rents, no longer serving the same population. Private owners can impose new requirements, rescreen residents, or evict tenants to gentrify the community.
Recently, MPHA held meetings required by HUD to communicate RAD to Elliot Twins residents - a predominantly elderly and Somali community. Both meetings resulted in residents walking out after feeling frustrated, undermined, and disrespected by MPHA staff. MPHA has failed to effectively communicate its displacement plans to elderly residents and silenced allies when challenged. In both meetings, MPHA provided misleading information to the residents or failed to answer critical questions. RAD meetings were not to inform or get residents approval - but to notify of plans to move forward with privatization. MPHA’s RAD plans and process were not even mentioned in the Star Tribune article.
MPHA is using RAD to intentionally mislead residents and the public instead of using an open planning process that encourages active participation by residents, community, the City Council, and the Mayor. Further, its plans for the future of public housing must include alternative equitable and sustainable approaches. MPHA needs to ensure that all public housing discussions are resident-centered and provide accurate information to allow for an informed discussion about any plans for the future of residents’ homes. As an activist, I am deeply concerned about MPHA using RAD as another step towards dismantling public housing altogether and adding to existing inequities. The 11,000+ residents of public housing, the thousands on the waiting lists, and concerned community members deserve better: real coverage and a resident-centered, in-depth approach of the nationwide gentrification and privatization push coming from the Trump/Carson Administration as currently aided and abetted by the MPHA.
Kadra Abdi is a researcher, activist, and social entrepreneur living in Hopkins. She has a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Her work focuses on issues of equity, inclusion, accessibility, and intersectionality. She is the founder and CEO of Synergy Consulting, a research and strategy consulting business and a co-founder, writer, and curator for Ubuntu: the Collective, a platform that spotlights emergent issues impacting the global black diaspora.