Local Housing Issues Draw Ire, Activism, Investigative Journalism

Mitch Bendis

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, shelter is one of the most basic physiological requirements for human survival. Today, off-campus housing is the crux of a contentious discussion between students, University administration, the community, and elected officials. Shoddy construction, sky-high rent, and landlord ineptitude have led to a rising sentiment, within the University especially, that the status quo on housing is no longer acceptable.

Controversy arose during the summer of 2016 when news broke that popular restaurants Village Wok and Big Ten would be permanently closing their doors. The reason behind the unfortunate closures of the Washington Avenue staples? The development of The Hub, a 27-story luxury apartment complex where the restaurants stood at the time. Over a year later, Big Ten is a distant memory, The Hub has its skeletal structure up, and crews have been slowly working toward its completion. The muted protests from students over the construction of The Hub, however, were nothing compared to the current firestorm over Prime Place.

Prime Place, a somewhat built apartment building in Prospect Park, has been the center of a dramatic battle between landlord and residents for the entirety of this fall semester. It started with an expose by Minnesota Daily, which called out Prime Place for several ethical red flags such as fire code violations and incomplete construction. Prime Place was accused by several residents of behavior much akin to bullying when they asked to be released from their leases due to health concerns brought on by the inhumane conditions of the apartment. The article by the Daily released the floodgates onto Prime Place, which recently caught the ire of the Trades Council when a representative called the project another out-of-state contractor coming in and performing “unacceptable work.” 

The Prime Place controversy became a rallying cry for the University of Minnesota community, centering a movement that began actively fighting off-campus landlords a month ago. The University Student Legal Services (USLS) recently published an extensive list of predatory landlords in the neighborhoods around campus. This list, USLS warns, is not complete or entirely comprehensive but is an excellent starting point for students looking to move to off-campus housing. Landlords in the area often prey on students, as they are first time renters and usually have no idea how to scrutinize a lease. Hopefully, this list will provide students with the basic skills needed to safely find off-campus housing and introduce them to resources like USLS that can be a tremendous help to the process.

The Minnesota Student Association (MSA) is also targeting predatory landlords. Minnesota Daily claimed last month that MSA is planning “to launch a landlord accountability campaign that educates students on housing issues.” The article claims that this campaign will be launched in late November, but nothing has come of this promise yet. In fact, MSA’s only comment about the supposed campaign is nestled deep within their Progress Report, and it too only says it will come in late November before sending readers off into an endless loop of links that claim to have more information. While this author firmly believes MSA is a profound waste of Student Service Fees money, an actual campaign for off-campus housing help would be incredibly beneficial to students. However, it is unclear whether or not this will actually come to fruition.

Elsewhere in Minneapolis, tensions over affordable housing are running high. Since Minneapolis became a predominantly renter city seven years ago, elected officials and activists have worked to protect renters in the area. A war has been brewing between city officials and landlords for some time now, with landlord associations suing the city over ordinances twice in the past year. The rising tide against predatory housing city-wide got a face with Ginger Jentzen’s campaign for city council, who declared “affordable housing and rent control” to be a top priority in a hypothetical Ward 3 represented by Jentzen. Jentzen’s proposed solutions mainly consisted of fluffy words that usually amounted to making the rich pay for everything, but her supporters’ frustrations were well-founded. Jentzen may have lost the hotly-contested election in Ward 3, but this will not be the last time Minneapolis hears of rent control. 

A big university in a big city means a lot of students, which is a huge incentive for housing developers to build expensive housing run by nefarious landlords. A problem this big will not be fixed overnight, but providing students with the resources and empowerment necessary to make good housing decisions is the logical way to ease suffering.