Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Across Downed Power Lines, Broken Trees

“We’ve got a lot more to do, but you need to also understand, we’re there together and we’re going to do more,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak at a block party on the 3000 block of Logan Avenue in North Minneapolis on Saturday, as city officials and nonprofits gathered to remember the one-year anniversary of last year’s May 22 tornado.

“Thousands of homes are rebuilt now but we’ve got more to do,” the Mayor continued, alternating between tones of optimism and calls to action. “Thousands of trees and debris has been removed. We’ve got more to do. Thousands of lives have been patched up a little bit, but thousands more still are challenged. We have a lot more work to do.”

The “Rebuild Block Party” was organized by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, the Jordan Area Community Council (JACC) and a Rebuilding it Right team from the American Institute of Architects to once again rally a community that came to each other’s aid on May 22, 2011, and to engage citizens in thinking forward.

“What we want to do as we rebuild is to engage the local community to think about what they want their neighborhood to look like,” said Andy Barnett of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “What’s the neighborhood they want to be proud of?” Barnett said that Habitat has restored 30 homes and 18 roofs in the tornado’s path

Residents on the 3000 block of Logan were among many who came to each other’s aid. Polly Peterson of JACC said that, just two blocks to the east, “residents came out of their homes following the tornado and crossed downed power lines, broken trees and crushed cars to help their neighbors. … We envision the continued growth of our block clubs to create more neighbor-to-neighbor support.”

U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison said he was proud of local government’s response to the tornado, though he admitted he was disappointed that North Minneapolis didn’t receive FEMA money following the disaster.

Asked what more can be done for renters in the neighborhood — who constituted many of the tornado’s victims, Ellison admitted a bias against renters and toward homeowners. The Congressman recently pushed for legislation that would give renters 90 days to remain in a home if the landlord is foreclosed upon.

“We need to rid ourselves of this institutional bias against renters. We operate on this unfounded assumption that renters have a smaller stake in the community. I think that is a myth. But I also think that home ownership is good.”

“We do need more affordable housing, more good rental options. A lot of people who move on the north side move to someplace else on the north side because they like it, because their families are here, relatives, churches.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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