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Housing enforcement: Black mothers want equal dignity from the city of Minneapolis

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Housing enforcement: Black mothers want equal dignity from the city of Minneapolis

Feb 28, 2024 | 6:59 am ET
By Arianna Anderson Brianna Lofton
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Housing enforcement: Black mothers want equal dignity from the city of Minneapolis
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The Minneapolis City Hall clock tower covered in snow in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

We are Black mothers. One of us has five children, ages 2 to 21, while the other has four kids under the age of 11. When our rental homes in north Minneapolis became unlivable for our young families, we filed complaint after complaint with the city’s Regulatory Services Department. 

Sadly, we both experienced repeat visits from city housing inspectors with no resolutions; each time they found no violations or failed to force our landlords to address and remedy our complaints. They didn’t listen, so we were forced to sue the city.

We are two of 10 plaintiffs whose experiences show that the city fails to enforce its housing codes in north Minneapolis. Our stories are not singular, and we know there are countless more like ours, which is why we are speaking out.

Arianna felt from the beginning that city housing inspectors were on the side of the landlord, going so far as to call him a “super good guy” during one visit. I was certain our Section 8 home had lead paint, but was told no. Later, the city was forced to conduct paint tests, which confirmed my suspicion: My family was exposed to lead.

We might have been fortunate if lead paint was our only issue, but it was much, much worse. We had electrical issues and broken door knobs. My son was once stuck in the bathroom for hours and had to be rescued by the Fire Department. A cracked foundation and leaky shower led to water damage to our walls and ceilings, and invited chronic black mold. As a result, my kids suffered debilitating respiratory issues and asthma attacks.

After years of receiving no help from the city, I took my landlord to Hennepin County Housing Court, and won. Still, my landlord refused to address all of my complaints. As a result, I chose to move.

Sadly, our move was complicated by the fact that we were using Section 8 vouchers. Every other Section 8 house on the Northside was just as bad or worse than our rental property. So when the city failed us, we were forced to find a more expensive Section 8 rental in Crystal despite our wish to stay in north Minneapolis.

Brianna has had a similar experience. Our rental home’s windows were not weatherproofed and the bathroom pipes leaked. Both hazardous issues resulted in water damage and our basement soon became a haven for mold. For months, my refrigerator also ran off an extension cord from another outlet in the kitchen.

First, I contacted my landlord, who was not responsive. Then, I went to the city for help. Despite repeated visits by housing inspectors, the city did nothing to compel my landlord to fix any of the problems.

In December 2021, after months of inaction, I hired a third-party company to conduct a mold inspection. It came back positive for elevated mold levels. Ultimately, by August 2022, I’d had enough and knew the city was never going to act on my behalf. It was time to find a habitable home to protect my kids and their health.

Unsurprisingly, for both of us, our children’s chronic infections, respiratory issues, and open sores were resolved only after we moved. But why did this human rights travesty have to come to this?

The city’s inaction represents a pattern. We know society is immune to the calls of Black women. Our pain is ignored in medical settings. Our Black sons are viewed as older and don’t receive the same grace afforded their white peers. The city represents more of the same. City Hall didn’t listen when we repeatedly called, and it didn’t treat us with the same dignity as our wealthier, white neighbors in other parts of the city.

The Northside represents only 16.7% of Minneapolis’ total population, but almost half of the city’s rental housing complaints. Nearly half of Northside households are renters, and among renters, 72% are occupied by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Over a five-year period, from 2018 until 2023, north Minneapolis wards had 4,629 housing complaints. Compared to the three wealthiest wards in south Minneapolis, we had more than nine times the complaints to their 495. 

For the three wards that make up south Minneapolis, only 26% of households are renters. Of those renters, only 25% are BIPOC. And yet, those three wards are provided more housing inspectors than the Northside.

The racial ramifications are clear: If you are a Black tenant in north Minneapolis, you will not receive the same enforcement zeal compared to tenants in other parts of the city. The laws already on the books will mean less for you than they do for other tenants. And that’s why we were forced to sue the city of Minneapolis. 

As Black mothers, we simply ask for the same dignity under the law as our white neighbors in south Minneapolis. We hope — for our kids’ sake — our case will achieve that change.