Study recommends housing inspections

A joint study advises the inspections in the neighborhoods surrounding the U.

by Charley Bruce

Minneapolis city departments are reviewing the first draft of a study assessing the impact the University has on surrounding neighborhoods.

The city and the Board of Regents will present the “U of M Twin Cities Campus Area Neighborhood Impact Report” to the Legislature on Feb. 15 as part of the stadium deal passed last session.

The study, a joint effort by the University, the city of Minneapolis, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and neighborhood groups, recommends the Minneapolis Department of Regulatory Services increase housing inspections in the neighborhoods surrounding the University.

Barbara Lukermann, senior fellow emeritus at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and research associate at CURA, coordinated student researchers on the project. She said the change from family homesteads to rental properties around the University is an obvious one.

Students often pay a high price to live in residence halls and after their first year decide to move off campus, she said. The increase in student population at the University has brought an increased demand for off-campus housing.

Lukermann said investor-homeowners can turn properties into multiperson dwellings for a “nice profit” and can outbid a single-family buyer.

Lukermann said this change has led to abuse and over-occupancy in surrounding neighborhoods, where students pay “$400 to $450 a bed” for poor quality housing. Additionally, she said the city’s inspection department isn’t sufficiently staffed to keep up with necessary inspections.

“Students are being shortchanged,” Lukermann said.

The study is a part of the bill passed by the legislature last session to partially fund construction of TCF Bank Stadium.

Jan Morlock, director of community relations for the Twin Cities campus, said the study pointed to a decline in housing conditions, housing safety concerns and a high crime rate.

The report identifies stresses the University puts on surrounding neighborhoods to deal with them before they become expensive to the city and University to fix, according to Dan Cornejo, the proposal’s primary author.

Potential students and professors don’t only look at the school they may attend, but also at the community they may live in, said Cornejo, president of Cornejo Consulting.

Attracting quality students and faculty to any university is difficult, and a study like this identifies the negative aspects of the University, Cornejo said. The University and the city can attempt to eliminate these unattractive qualities.

Cornejo said he facilitated meetings and gave presentations to business groups, community organizations surrounding the University and student groups from October through November of 2006. Then he consolidated the results.

“We tried to reach out to all of the stakeholders,” he said.

Morlock estimated the study will cost the University between $40,000 and $45,000, but the study is not yet complete.

She said this draft has the main ideas, but the Minneapolis City Council could make minor changes to it before the Feb. 15 due date.

Lois Eberhardt, Minneapolis’ public works interagency coordinator, is one of Minneapolis’ representatives on the Stadium Area Advisory Group. She said the University area is a unique part of the city, and thinking of the four neighborhoods as a unit brought a new perspective about the area.

The study also recommends creating an organization that would include members of the surrounding neighborhoods, the University, the city and other interested parties.

Eberhardt said this type of organization has been tried before, but can’t put initiatives into action without the funding requested in the study. Minneapolis has already spent about $10,000 on the study, she said.