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The Short, Sad History of a House at 3330 Chicago Ave. South

A rental property at 3330 Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis was home to twelve different families over a period of five years. This was a solidly built, three-storey building with seven bedrooms split between three living units, once owned by David C. Sundberg. Its present owner, Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), has announced plans to demolish the building because, it says, the cost of bringing the building up to code exceeds its market value.

While he still owned the building, Sundberg received eight to ten bids from private contractors to correct code violations identified by a city housing inspector. These ranged from $2,000 to $20,000 for a “Cadillac job” done by a contractor who has rehabbed more than 250 homes in Minneapolis. The MCDA, on the other hand, estimated that this work would cost $175,000. It provided no breakdown to support this cost estimate.

The MCDA purchased the property at 3330 Chicago Ave. S. from a private lending institution, AmeriQuest, which had financed Sundberg’s original purchase. Sundberg had stopped making payments on the mortgage during a period when the building was condemned by the city and it seemed unlikely that the condemnation would be lifted.

The condemnation was imposed by city inspector Robin Utto during a period when Sundberg was engaged in evicting troublesome tenants. Neighbors - notably Barbara Clifton who lived across the alley, kitty-corner to this property, at 3343 Columbus Av. S. - complained to city officials about this nuisance and demanded that something be done.

Sundberg’s troubles began when he admitted a tenant, Haroldleana T., from Denver, who sublet the apartment to another person without his authorization and who brought in two adult sons and a boyfriend. Sundberg evicted her in May 1997 for nonpayment of rent and permitting unauthorized residents. A tenant on the second floor, LaToya A., persuaded Sundberg to rent a unit to her pregnant sister who had two small children. Their older teenage children promptly moved in along with friends. These friends terrorized persons in the neighborhood, prompting complaints from Barbara Clifton and others.

After receiving threats against his life from LaToya A., Sundberg contacted the police. He went to the precinct station to make the complaint after the police had done nothing in ten days while the threats were repeated. The police reluctantly produced a written report, but took no action.

In the meanwhile, the city housing inspector, Robin Utto, began peppering the building with work orders. One issue was that the city had reclassified the building from a three-unit to a two-unit building. Sundberg responded by renting two of the units to the same family, effectively making it a duplex. Ed Virnig, of the city’s zoning department, told Sundberg that was legal. However, inspector Utto told Sundberg that the zoning department didn’t know what it was doing and ordered the building vacated on June 5, 1997.

Sundberg contacted assistant Hennepin County Attorney, Andrew LeFevour, to help evict the tenants pursuant to the inspector’s order. However, the judge ordered Sundberg to continue housing them until June 16.
Sundberg pleaded with inspector Utto to allow an extension of time to comply with the judge’s orders. Utto refused, saying that she would condemn the building unless the third floor was vacated and several minor repairs were made. Sundberg asked for a meeting with Merlyn Larson, director of inspections.

At the meeting, attended by Utto and several supervisors, one supervisor asked to see a copy of the lease proving that Sundberg rented two units to the same person. Sundberg did not have the lease with him so it was assumed that he was lying. The inspectors also criticized Sundberg for going above Utto’s head in requesting the meeting.

Utto condemned the building on June 7. The inspections department ordered a full code compliance, which is customary when buildings are condemned. An inspector subsequently noted that this building did not have a “full basement” - only a 7/8th basement. At the time, city officials were insisting the buildings needed full basements before condemnations could be lifted.

The City Council member for the area has the power to waive requirements of a full basement. Sundberg contacted Council Member Brian Herron about this. Herron told Sundberg to clear this request with the neighborhood block club, whose recommendation he usually accepts in such cases.

Sundberg contacted Barbara Clifton of the block club and learned that there would be a block-club meeting on July 29th; however, the agenda was full so Sundberg could not bring his issue to this meeting.

In the following month, Sundberg obtained signed petitions from 35 persons in the neighborhood asking that a waiver to the full-basement requirement be granted. Clifton stated at the next meeting that these statements would not be taken into evidence since only block-club members’ opinions counted. Furthermore, even though Sundberg’s case was on the agenda, a committee member moved that it not be considered. Another person, who was not on the agenda, was allowed to present her petition instead.

The following month’s meeting was canceled. In the month after that, Sundberg learned that Clifton had secretly collected names of persons opposed to the waiver and had presented them to the committee. Several were obvious forgeries. There were then several more months of delay.

Finally, in the meeting for December 1997, Sundberg was allowed to make his presentation. A structural engineer recommended the waiver. However, the committee voted to defer the decision until January. Sundberg was given four minutes at January’s meeting to make his case. Then committee members voted to deny his request for a waiver. The building remained condemned.

AmeriQuest took possession of Sundberg’s property on June 25, 1998. The bank subsequently sold it to MCDA.

On the bright side, Sundberg learned that the city had meanwhile dropped its requirement that condemned properties have full basements before condemnations are lifted. Council Member Herron told Sundberg that he ought to be proud that his building had played a part in this decision.

Postscript:

The block club which had stonewalled Dave Sundberg - Clifton, Marks, Didler, et. al. - used another legal device to push his building closer to demolition. This was the city’s nuisance-properties ordinance, sometimes called the 249 Ordinance. That ordinance allows the city’s director of inspections to place buildings which are boarded for a certain period of time which which otherwise meeting certain criteria at the disposal of the City Council. Neighborhood input is a part of the process.

In this case, the City Council met in February and March 1999 to consider the fate of the house at 3330 Chicago Ave. S. A member of Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee, Steve Meldahl, who has rehabbed over 250 houses in Minneapolis, testified against the proposed demolition. The Council voted not to demolish the building.

Meldahl subsequently entered into negotiations with AmeriQuest, then the building’s owner, to purchase it. His offer included payment of back taxes, a delinquent water bill, and other costs. AmeriQuest was ready to strike a deal. However, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency learned to the negotiations with Meldahl and offered to pay AmeriQuest $12,000 for the property.

The building’s new owner, the MCDA, then decided to demolish it at an estimated cost of $20,000. As recently as August 27, 1999, the MCDA’s executive director, Steve Cramer, confirmed that the process was too far along to stop the demolition. Meldahl repeated his willingness and ability to rehab the building at a low cost. he said he would put his work crews immediately on the job.

This represents a situation where the MCDA circumvented the City Council’s decision not to demolish the building. After demolition, this city agency will have spent $32,000 for a vacant lot. Why? At no cost to the taxpayers, Meldahl offered to bring the building up to code, put it back on the tax rolls, and provide housing for some needy families referred, perhaps, by Lutheran Social Services.

Director Cramer had publicly stated his desire to increase private-sector participation in the process of providing affordable housing for low-income city residents. yet, in this case, the agency which he managed came down on the side of demolishing a structurally sound house at 3330 Chicago Ave. S. when a clear private-sector alternative existed.

Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee toured Sundberg’s house and thought it highly salvageable. But it was not salvaged. The group picketed the demolition crews when they began their work. Members of the state legislature were invited to see for themselves how tax dollars were being spent. A prominent legislator, later top aide to the governor, sent a letter of inquiry about this building to the MCDA. He received no response.

A few years later, it was payback time. Over at the state capitol, Minneapolis city government was in the dog house.

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The following is a leaflet distributed at MPRAC's protest demonstration on the day of the demolition:

 

3330 Chicago Avenue South

BORN: IN MINNEAPOLIS, MN, AT 3330 CHICAGO AVENUE SOUTH

DIED: SEPTEMBER 8, 1999, SAME LOCATION

She led a respectable straight life, always keeping up appearances. She had kept Updated Wiring, Updated Plumbing, a Newer Roof, Combination Windows, and an efficient Hot Water Boiler.

She was a very good house; she worked everyday without fail. She served faithfully through two World Wars, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Great Depression. Through her spirit, she enriched and enlarged the lives of many people. And may her memory give guidance to those of us who remain, including those public officials who wish to regulate all affordable housing out of business.

She was sentenced to death by Minneapolis CCCP SAFE because of her kind heart and her willingness to house the downtrodden, the last of which were alleged Gang Members. These alleged criminals, even though known, remain unpunished today.

Council Member Brian Herron issued a rprieve but was overruled by MCDA (Minneapolis Community Destruction Agency) who hire the Hit Man to do the Brutal Murder that took the life of 3330 Chicago Avenue South - on the very ground where this building was born.

Everyone gathered here today would like to know the REAL REASON why 3330 Chicago Avenue South was murdered.

Memorials preferred to Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee

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