Como neighborhood group sees threat in anonymous letter

by Eric Swanson

Tensions were high between landlords, a City Council member and neighborhood residents at a Southeast Como Improvement Association meeting Tuesday evening.

Discussion focused on an anonymous letter the association’s board members received last week.

The letter condemned the city and neighborhood associations for ongoing housing inspections in the area. The anonymous author said the sweep is going to force landlords to lease properties to low-income, Section 8 housing tenants.

“If you think students are a problem, wait until Southeast turns into a mini-North,” the letter states. “Welcome, drug dealing, trash, noise, crime.”

“This is a threatening letter to any organization,” board member Joan Menken said. “It is probably one of the most racist remarks anyone could make.”

“The attempt to intimidate us is clear,” board secretary Connie Sullivan said.

A landlord present at the meeting said he believed the letter was sent because city zoning laws are archaic and discriminatory against student renters.

“The landlords have no choice. The zoning codes are not up to date with the times we live in,” landlord Rick Estrem said.

Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow, 1st Ward, said the city is doing what it can to make housing safe, and he said the September fire in Dinkytown was the catalyst for the inspections for the neighborhood associations.

“The fire may have prompted this, but the fire wasn’t an issue of over-occupancy,” Ostrow said. “This is something the neighborhoods have been pushing for a long time.”

Ostrow admitted zoning codes are out of date for many neighborhoods but said the inspections now are to enforce the present codes. He said he does not believe the City Council will change zoning laws any time soon.

Several board members said they want to enforce the current laws but said several students living in a house can cause problems.

“If you have students living in a house, the house deteriorates quicker. There is trash everywhere, and there are parties up the kazoo,” Sullivan said.

The board went on to say that more than 50 percent of the housing in the Southeast Como neighborhood is rental housing, and they are not against students living in the neighborhood.

Bill Dane of the University’s Student Legal Service, who also sits on the board, said no students have been evicted in the University area since the housing sweeps began.

“No one has been displaced, but that could change with the new year,” Dane said.

However, several board members said they knew of one house where resident’s were forced to move out because of wiring issues, although board members did not know specifics.

However, the inspections will likely not end until later this month, Dane said.

“There is a lot of speculation that the number (of students displaced) is going to be through the roof,” board member Wendy Menken said.