After high-rise fire, Cedar-Riverside begins to heal

Community members gathered Saturday to discuss safety concerns.

A boarded window on the fourteenth floor is rimmed by scorch marks at the Cedar High Apartments on Monday, Dec. 9. On Nov. 28, an early morning blaze claimed the lives of five of the building's residents.

Kamaan Richards

A boarded window on the fourteenth floor is rimmed by scorch marks at the Cedar High Apartments on Monday, Dec. 9. On Nov. 28, an early morning blaze claimed the lives of five of the building's residents.

Emma Dill and Brooke Sheehy

Following a deadly building fire last month, the Cedar-Riverside community is beginning to heal despite lingering questions.

The fire killed five residents in a 25-story high-rise owned by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. During a community meeting Saturday, Cedar-Riverside residents impacted by the fire said they still have concerns about the cause of and response to the blaze. But community members said unity will help the neighborhood move forward.

The fire started by accident around 4 a.m. on Nov. 27 in the bedroom of a unit on the building’s 14th floor. Its cause is undetermined, according to a Dec. 2 investigation report released by the Minneapolis Fire Department.

The units on the 14th floor were not equipped with sprinklers, which were installed only on the building’s main floor and in lower mechanical equipment rooms. 

Ward 6 Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame recently drafted an amendment to the City’s budget that allocates more than $2 million for MPHA to install sprinklers and other fire suppression tools in high-rise buildings.

“We want to reassure [constituents] that this is an issue that we’re paying attention to and that we’re not taking lightly or that we don’t just use as a political benefit,” said Warsame’s Senior Policy Aide Ryan SanCartier. “There is money in the budget that the mayor recommended that we want to make sure is shown to be helping prevent situations like that from happening in the future.”

During the Saturday meeting, residents asked questions about the building’s safety. The neighborhood would like to see MPHA play a larger role in community conversations, said Bosteya Jama, co-executive director of the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

“As a neighborhood organization, we need public housing to come out and answer people’s questions and concerns,” Jama told meeting attendees.

According to MPHA, 10 households of the 191 apartments in the building had to temporarily relocate due to fire or water damage.

“This event is unprecedented in MPHA’s history,” MPHA Director of Policy and External Affairs Jeff Horwich said in a public statement. “There are no words to express our sense of loss for the residents that our staff see everyday. We consider them friends, and care for them deeply.”

Horwich declined further comment. 

Riann Meyer, an attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, encouraged meeting attendees to contact the organization if they had concerns about the living conditions in the high-rise.

“Under Minnesota law, a landlord has a duty to keep an apartment or a home in reasonable repair,” she said.

Firdaus Aden lost her mother, Nadifa Mohamud, in the fire. She said despite lingering questions, the community should unite to support for those impacted by the fire.

“Whenever things like this happen, it’s more important that people unite and work together as a community,” Aden said. “This is a time for togetherness. It’s not a time for pointing fingers.”