New housing group opposes inspection sweeps in Como area

Eric Swanson

A few Southeast Como residents are causing a stir with the Southeast Como Improvement Association by forming a neighborhood group behind the association board members’ backs.

The group, called Safe Affordable Student Housing, plans to push for zoning law changes in the neighborhood. By banding together, the group also aims to take away power the Southeast Como Improvement Association has with the city, said Rich Estrem, a Southeast Como resident, landlord and spokesman for the new group.

“The so-called safety sweeps in the University area are a discriminating injustice against students,” Estrem said, adding that sweeps should include all of Minneapolis.

At a recent Southeast Como Improvement Association meeting, Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow, 1st Ward, said the city implemented the inspections at the request of the neighborhood associations – one of the housing group’s main objections to the existing neighborhood association.

Group members recently mailed postcards to Southeast Como residents, and on Sunday they blanketed the neighborhood door-to-door with fliers.

Estrem said the flyer was intended to inform Southeast Como residents about the recent inspections that resulted in over-occupancy violations.

The flyer focuses on what it calls “out-dated zoning laws” and advertises a meeting tonight at Van Cleve Park Community Center.

At the meeting, housing group members plan to talk about the future of zoning and student issues in the Southeast Como neighborhood.

Estrem said students and landlords will benefit from changes to Minneapolis zoning laws.

“There is no reason five students cannot live together safely in a five-bedroom house,” Estrem said.

Southeast Como Improvement Association members said they had heard little about the group but planned to attend the meeting to become more informed about the group’s intentions.

“I agree with (Safe Affordable Student Housing) on 80 percent of the issues,” said Todd Reubold, a Southeast Como board member who has spoken with Estrem. “But the real problems (in the neighborhood) are the absentee landlords.”

Neighborhood association board members said they were not given a flier or mailed a postcard with information about the meeting, and they believed this was an intentional exclusion.

“It’s clear that whoever sent the postcard and flyer specifically excluded SECIA board members and supporters of the board,” said Bill Dane, a neighborhood association board member. Dane is also an attorney with the University Student Legal Service – which represents students involved in legal issues – which some members of the new group say is a conflict of interest.

Dane said he was skeptical of the group because its postcards did not say who the group is or how to contact it.

A few local businesses were willing to support the new group’s effort, Estrem said. Joe’s Market employees met with him and distributed flyers at their front counter. The market and deli is located on Como Avenue Southeast.

“It’s nice to include businesses in our group. They have all been hassled by SECIA,” Estrem said.

He said the Southeast Como Improvement Association has asked several businesses in the past to “beautify” against their wishes, which they viewed as harassment.

Safe Affordable Student Housing is a separate group from the University Concerned Landlord Association, a group of landlords who also recently banded together on affordable student housing issues.

Patrick Burns, a lawyer and spokesman for the University Concerned Landlord Association, said he had not heard much about the new housing group but was glad more people are coming forward against the city and neighborhood associations’ actions.

“If they are interested in affordable housing, then we have something in common,” Burns said.