Neutral third party appointed to assist Lowry Grove residents in moving out of park


“Residents of Lowry Grove remain hopeful that their long fight to save their homes will prove victorious,” Ned Moore said. Moore, development director of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, has been advocating on behalf of the residents.

Mobile home residents have lingering hope of HUD investigation

In the protracted battle over ownership of Lowry Grove, a manufactured housing community in St. Anthony Village, the residents and their supporters sustained a significant blow when on Sept. 22 Hennepin County District Court Judge Joseph Klein ruled in favor of the property’s new owner, The Village corporation, which plans to clear the land for redevelopment.  

Though disputed by many, according to Klein, the 15-acre property’s former owner Phil Johnson performed a legitimate and legal sale to Traci Tomas, vice president of The Village, which means Lowry Grove residents will have to move their mobile homes off of the property in the spring. While some of the newer homes can be relocated, others are “planted” in Lowry Grove and will have to be demolished.

Another blow came when the St. Anthony City Council appointed a neutral third party to assist residents in receiving the possible compensation the state allots them through the Manufacture Housing Relocation Trust Fund.

Out of 95 manufactured homes, 38 have already been relocated or demolished by the choice of their owners and received compensation from The Village, according to Tomas, who said in May that she would pay for the relocation costs of residents until a neutral third party was appointed to do so. 

She said so far she’s been approached by about 40 percent of the park residents.

However, many other residents are fighting back, hoping that the 70-year-old park will have a continued future for low-income families and individuals. The park is located at the northeast corner of Stinson Parkway and Lowry Avenue.

 

Feds in the ring

On Oct. 10, resident leader Antonia Alvarez and Minneapolis-based non-profit Aeon, an affordable housing advocate and partner to the Lowry Grove residents, announced that the federal government is getting involved and is looking to investigate the situation further.

This is largely because the Lowry Grove Residents Association and Aeon filed a housing discrimination complaint against Johnson. The complaint alleges that Johnson’s sale to Tomas in June violated the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination on the basis of their race and national origin.

According to Ned Moore, development director of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (Assembly for Civil Rights), a faith-based social justice organization, the complaint cites local racial demographics, showing that the percentage of Latino households in Lowry Grove is 10 times greater than the overall percentage of Latino households in St. Anthony, a first-ring Minneapolis suburb.

“This is therefore a disparate impact case with persons protected by the Fair Housing Act disproportionately burdened,” the complaint concludes, specifying that this burden stems from the actions of the Lowry Grove Partnership under Johnson and The Village under Tomas.

 

Remaining hopeful

“Residents of Lowry Grove remain hopeful that their long fight to save their homes will prove victorious,” Moore said in a statement, explaining that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development intends to investigate the Fair Housing Act complaint that was submitted by residents and advocates in early September.

“We have driven many miles, and slept very little, but we are optimistic that these efforts will return the land to us,” Alvarez said following a meeting in Chicago with John Meade, enforcement branch chief of the Chicago Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Center with HUD.

At the Oct. 11 St. Anthony City Council meeting, Lowry Grove residents turned out “in force,” as Moore put it, demanding that the city hold off on the process of appointing a neutral third party.

During the public hearing, dozens of residents stood to speak on behalf of those who may soon lose their homes. The comments went on for just under two hours.

Residents contended that St. Anthony needs, and should promote, the diversity that Lowry Grove provides. They stated that studies have shown that racial and socioeconomic diversity is healthy for communities and schools; that if Lowry Grove were to close, its residents would no be able to find similarly priced housing within the city, effectively being pushed out. 

They currently pay a $450 site rent per month.

But the appointing of a third party had already been postponed in August upon the residents’ request, until the judge had made his decision. 

If all goes as planned by The Village, residents will have to be off the Lowry Grove property by mid-March 2017, which means time was diminishing to appoint someone to assist residents with compensation.

 

Background

As widely followed and reported in the media, former owner Johnson sold the Lowry Grove land on June 13 to Tomas.

According to residents, Lowry Grove provides low-income individuals and families an affordable place to live and an opportunity for homeownership.

They fought the $6 million sale by attempting to exercise their right of first refusal with the help of Aeon.

Aeon founder and CEO Alan Arthur submitted a countering purchase agreement by hand to Johnson on June 10, an action many thought would at least delay the sale for further review, but after a weekend inspection of the counter offer, Johnson and Tomas both agreed that it did not meet the standards required for eligibility by state law regarding the sale of manufactured home parks. 

The sale was made complete the following Monday, much to the dismay of many Lowry Grove residents, especially Antonia Alvarez, who went on to become a driving force in the land ownership battle that has followed the sale. 

 

Moving forward with redevelopment

Tomas wasn’t shocked at Klein’s ruling.

“We are pleased with, but not surprised by, Judge Klein’s ruling,” Tomas said in an email on Sept. 23. “From the beginning, we’ve realized that this is a difficult situation for the residents. That has never been something we’ve taken lightly.”

According to Tomas, The Village has been committed to following the state statute that regulates the sale of mobile home parks every step of the way. 

“Allegations that we violated the residents’ rights to due process or did anything illegally are completely untrue,” she said. 

But HUD may be looking into that going forward, and has requested Tomas to slow down in the process of moving people out. 

With a neutral third party appointed, however, some Lowry Grove residents are concerned that plans for Tomas look a little brighter. 

To get the ball rolling, Tomas said she, in partnership with professionals from Elness Swenson Grahm Architects, Inc., Marquette Advisors and Landmark Environmental, have drawn up a “sketch plan” for the Lowry Grove site. 

The preliminary plan reveals that five large apartment-like buildings could be built, with for-sale townhomes surrounding those buildings. 

According to the plan, buildings A and B would be rentable mixed-income apartments, buildings C and D would be rentable senior housing and building E would be rentable “micro” apartments, which Tomas had called affordable. 

Those units probably won’t accommodate a family of four, however, and will not be as affordable as the current site rents for Lowry Grove residents, Tomas said.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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