City hears Riverside Plaza tenant concerns

Riverside Plaza tenant Marian Ali becomes emotional while speaking at the Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood  on Friday evening. Ali expressed that she felt unsafe living in the West Bank apartment complex.

Liam James Doyle

Riverside Plaza tenant Marian Ali becomes emotional while speaking at the Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on Friday evening. Ali expressed that she felt unsafe living in the West Bank apartment complex.

Elizabeth Smith

Cedar-Riverside community members and Riverside Plaza tenants convened Friday at the Brian Coyle Center gymnasium to formally assert complaints about the apartment complexâÄôs management to city officials. For two years, community members have voiced grievances ranging from broken elevators to feeling unsafe in their homes. Minneapolis officials documented the complaints for the first time on Friday and said they will begin assessing them soon. Ward 6 City Councilman Abdi Warsame facilitated the session, while representatives from city offices, including the Department of Regulatory Services, documented the issues. âÄúThe most important thing is that tenants feel like they arenâÄôt being listened to, and theyâÄôre being taken for granted, even though they pay rent,âÄù Warsame said. Officials listened patiently as an interpreter translated each of the residentsâÄô grievances, many of which were met with cheers and applause from the audience. All of the complaints pointed to the apartment complexâÄôs management company, Sherman Associates. Sherman AssociatesâÄô Director of Marketing and Communications Valerie Doleman said its representatives attended FridayâÄôs meeting, but werenâÄôt asked by the meetingâÄôs facilitators to sit on the panel. Some residents said they have seen the buildingâÄôs security guards smoking marijuana in hallways or stairwells. Doleman said those concerns havenâÄôt been brought up between Sherman Associates and the Riverside Plaza TenantsâÄô Association in previous meetings, and they havenâÄôt been formally reported. She said the security guards are required to wear body cameras. Warsame said it can be difficult for tenants to express their concerns to the management group because of the cultural divide that exists between residents and the buildingâÄôs managers. Nine-year resident Assad Birhie said he thinks Somali-speaking security guards would make the residents feel more comfortable. Sherman Associates is requiring extra sensitivity training for all of its Riverside employees this month. Apartment employees are already required to undergo sensitivity training upon being hired as well as throughout the year, Doleman said. Executive Director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota Mohamud Noor met with Sherman Associations and other community leaders late last month to produce a list of action items for the buildingâÄôs management to improve. He said he didnâÄôt sign the agreement they were discussing because he felt the residentsâÄô concerns of discrimination within the complex werenâÄôt addressed appropriately. Doleman said the sensitivity training is designed to discourage discrimination. âÄúThe aim of this was not to be a negotiation between the owners,âÄù Warsame said. âÄúThis was just to listen to the community and to understand their concerns.âÄù In 2012, Riverside Plaza completed a $132 million project that aimed to make the complex safer and more attractive. It was funded with both public and private money. Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said considering the stateâÄôs large contribution to the project, she plans to investigate how the money was spent. The director of the cityâÄôs Department of Civil Rights, Velma Korbel âÄî who attended FridayâÄôs meeting âÄî said the cityâÄôs next step is to analyze the complaints. From there, she said, sheâÄôll decide what she and others can do for the tenants.