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Northeast Minneapolis skeptical about yet another luxury apartment plan

“It doesn’t really seem like they’ve got the neighborhood’s interests in mind."

“It doesn’t really seem like they’ve got the neighborhood’s interests in mind." Solhem Companies

On Monday night, a crowd of residents sardined themselves into the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization’s board room in Northeast Minneapolis. Nailah Taman says they seldom have to prepare for 120 to show up, and they all had something to say.

“There was definitely a lot of tension in the room,” she says. “A lot of people were very upset.”

They were there to hear from Solhem Companies, a Minneapolis firm with big plans for a little spot on 13th Avenue near University. Next to the Anchor Fish and Chips, Solhem hopes to build a four-and-a-half-story apartment building with more than 100 units and one story of underground parking. It would replace three duplexes on the site now.

In an interview with KSTP, Solhem's Curt Gunsbury described the intended approach as “thoughtful." They’d keep it relatively small and use classic 1920s brick found in the surrounding blocks. They’d set aside extra sidewalk and storefront space to “enhance the vibrancy of the current streetscape,” and include retail on the first floor.

But one thing they wouldn’t do is keep it affordable. These would be luxury units, costing somewhere between $1,100 and $2,000 a month.

“It doesn’t really seem like they’ve got the neighborhood’s interests in mind,” Taman says.

For the past year, the board has been surveying residents for what they want in terms of development, and “affordable housing” is always the No. 1 concern. Some neighbors have been moving four years in a row because their landlords keep jacking up the rent, and they’re quickly getting pushed out of Sheridan altogether.

It's a problem echoing across the city. The latest report from HousingLink, an affordable housing listing service, shows there’s literally nothing on the market for families making $30,000 or less. Forty-seven percent of Minneapolis renters already live in housing they can’t technically afford.

Sheridan President Joy Smallfield says it took years and commitment from mom-and-pop shops to make 13th the desirable, “quaint thoroughfare” it is today. At the meeting, neighbors asked the developers why there hadn’t been more actual outreach about the project, why the units had to cost so much, and why Solhem couldn’t guarantee spots for small businesses in that first-floor retail space – instead of, say, a Starbucks or a Chipotle.

Solhem didn’t respond to interview requests, but according to a recording of the meeting, the developers said they had investors to think of. Even city incentives aren’t enough to give them a proper return on their investment.

“They didn’t really seem to want to meet the community in a compromise on anything except aesthetics,” resident Dominic Wright says. He lives in one of the duplexes on the site, and he’ll be looking for something a little more within his price range if he’s eventually forced to move.

A vote from the city’s planning commission is pretty much all that stands between Solhem and its goal of breaking ground by winter. Councilman Steve Fletcher told KSTP “a lot would have to change” before he’d be in favor of the project, but residents are still worried. 

Taman sees all of Minneapolis at a “big turning point.” After the city’s 2040 plan eliminated single-family zoning, city planners nationwide have been watching to see if Minneapolis manages to incentivize and otherwise wrangle developers into growing the housing stock for everyone, regardless of how much they earn.

But residents of neighborhoods like Sheridan fear that by 2040, they’ll have been shoved clear to the suburbs by a wall of luxury apartments.

“I am pro-density, because I’m pro-new housing,” Smallfield says. “But do we really need this kind of housing?”