Disaster Turned Into Opportunity in North Minneapolis

Click on Image of Vacant Lot to Learn More About the City's Green Home Initiative

Minneapolis is turning a disaster into an opportunity for Northside residents.

The City of Minneapolis will build 100 “green homes” in areas hit by the foreclosure crisis and those affected by last year’s tornado.

A “green” home has energy efficient appliances, include better insulation and siding (not vinyl), quality shingles and re-used and refurbished materials in the design. The mix intends to attract new homeowners and renters to the north side.

“A green home is an economical home which means more money in your pocket each month, making home ownership sustainable,” said Minneapolis City Council President Barbara A. Johnson (Ward 4). “The initiative is yet another great partnership with the development community that is bringing new energy and investment in North Minneapolis.”

In the Jordan neighborhood and along a large stretch of Penn Avenue North, blue tarps, boarded-up windows and abandoned houses still mark the streets. Trees, the urban canopy that shaded many homes, were wiped out by the tornado that roared through North Minneapolis in May 2011. Add what many refer to as a tsunami of home foreclosures and a changed North Minneapolis landscape is apparent.

Amidst all this, the City of Minneapolis is striving to preserve and enliven some of these historic neighborhoods. Well before the one-year anniversary of the 2011 tornado, trees were distributed to neighborhoods to replenish the canopy they depend upon. Now the city aims to build 100 ecological homes in a project called Green Homes North. The idea is to build sustainable homes based on green standards and do it with local minority and women contractors and workers and locally-sourced green products. Green Homes North will target areas of North Minneapolis where neighborhood stabilization is most needed and the vacant lots that pock mark the area. The city finished accepting proposals.

“I want people to be excited about moving to North Minneapolis,” says Alissa Luepke-Pier, a North Minneapolis architect who supports the project and has worked with Rebuild it Right.

According to Pier, North Minneapolis is home to many vacant, city-owned lots — and those are the prime targets for these homes. Luepke-Pier says that she wants to make sure these homes are built right, using quality materials. After the tornado, she and a group of fellow architects and designers formed an all-volunteer organization called Rebuild it Right. Their motto: Quality was taken out, so quality should be put back in. They gave free consultations to more than 80 homeowners who hoped to make repairs following the tornado. The goal was to convince insurers that a house that looked great and was built to last before the tornado should be rebuilt the same way.

Rebuild it Right is helping the city select the winning designs, but plays a small role.

“More green homes means less power outages and more conservation,” says Pier, referring to Minnesota’s record heat wave in July. She hopes that green home construction will also save a family more money in the fall and in winter.

“We all know that energy costs are going up. The goal is to make heating and cooling of these homes more efficient. An affordable home is not only affordable to buy, it’s affordable to live in,” explains Luepke-Pier.

Cherie Shoquist, the city’s foreclosure and recovery coordinator, says that building green homes in North Minneapolis is the next phase in revitalizing the neighborhood hurt by foreclosures. The hope is that building better homes will create better neighbors, more homeowners, better landlords, better tenants, and thus more stability.

Shoquist, who also worked as a legal aid attorney for North Minneapolis residents, believes in the rehab and re-investment of foreclosed homes.

“These quality, well designed homes will be marketed to renters to help them become homeowners. The idea is to keep people in North Minneapolis,” says Shoquist.

While city officials and others are singing the initiatives praises, there are others who believe that this will not fix the Northside and that the money could be invested elsewhere. What they want are jobs, expressed Northside activist KG Wilson to a reporter recently.

” I don’t think it will stabilize anything,” said Wilson. Instead of homes, he says factories or businesses should be built to offer employment to those in need of a job but lack transportation.

Renters will receive some help from various grants and government programs to be able to afford these homes.

Funding from the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and the Family Housing Fund will provide $1 million in grants and up to $2 million in loans to private and nonprofit developers with demonstrated new home construction knowledge and experience. The city hopes that, with energy costs expected to rise, these homes will set the new standard not just in North Minneapolis but all over Minneapolis. That’s what the architects and designers who are submitting their proposals hope for as well.

Luepke-Pier loves the Northside. She says she is committed to making Northside neighborhoods attractive to live in. Building houses that conform to green standards and are well built is part of that strategy.

“When people look at these houses, I want them to think to themselves, ‘I have to have that house!’
It wouldn’t matter that it’s in North Minneapolis,” Luepke Pier said.

Allison Herrera

Allison Herrera, originally from San Luis Obispo, Calif.,  studied media and Spanish at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she earned her bachelor s. Since moving to the Twin Cities, she has been a news producer for KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio, communications coordinator for Twin Cities Public Television's arts series MN Original, and producer for the Association of Minnesota Public and Educational Radios Stations for the series MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds.

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