Como residents demand city support

by Than Tibbetts

Residents of the Southeast Como neighborhood packed a conference room adjacent to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office Wednesday to express frustration with a lack of city services.

Holding red and green signs with phrases such as “Como in Crisis,” the residents said they feel abandoned by the city as crime rates have risen and more renters enter what was once a neighborhood filled with single-family dwellings.

Como resident Wendy Menken told Rybak the neighborhood was reaching the end of its endurance and many residents had either moved out or were contemplating leaving the area.

“And no one seems to be paying attention,” she said. “Basically we’re all just at the end of our ropes.”

Several layers of change and problems in the neighborhood, which is just north of the University’s Minneapolis campus, contribute to a declining quality of life, Menken said.

Several residents said they have had to deal with more crime and nuisance complaints, including “roving groups of college students” and underage drinkers. Other partygoers in the area leave trash scattered across the area, they said, or have defecated in lawns and verbally harassed homeowners in Southeast Como.

Resident Charlotte Wild told Minneapolis Chief of Police Bill McManus that she had seen parties with 6-foot-high fires in the backyard, and that police have problems responding to the complaints in a timely fashion.

McManus suggested that a coalition be created to address these issues.

“These issues are festering in your neighborhood,” he said. “And they shouldn’t be.”

The loss of owner-occupied housing also had some of the residents up in arms. Residents say absentee landlords and real estate speculators are purchasing single-family homes and converting them to rental units, sometimes without the proper permits and licenses.

Resident Joan Menken said deplorable houses around her home were selling for $300,000.

“It’s exploitation of the housing stock in this area,” she said.

Residents avoided saying student-renters were the cause of the problems in the area, but said large party houses are a conduit for more serious crimes to occur.

Several residents told stories of hourlong waits for police to show up after calling to report a problem.

Second Precinct inspector Valerie Wurster said the stories are not indicative of police response, though the average response time has increased slightly in recent years.

Others expressed frustration in trying to work with the University on some of the crime and housing issues.

Kendre Turonie, coordinator for student and community relations, said her position was created to help resolve many of the issues the residents presented.

“They are frustrated, but I believe we’ve made good progress,” she said.

Rybak said he was concerned about the neighborhood’s problems and would respond to them in writing.

Roberta Brown, who has rented in Southeast Como for 30 years, was one of several residents who complained of serious livability issues and said she was running out of options for fixing them.

“It’s time for me to get out of Dodge because of the crime rate,” she said.