East Phillips Roof Depot redevelopment gets green light and funding, a win for community organizing

Vision for the East Phillips Roof Depot redevelopment.

In the waning hours of the state legislature, an agreement was cut between the state, the City of Minneapolis, and the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) that enables EPNI to buy the old Roof Depot warehouse and redevelop it into a community amenity.

The redevelopment will include affordable housing, an indoor urban farm, space for local businesses, job training facilities, services for unhoused people, a large solar array, and more. It will be a community-owned asset.

The neighborhood wanted to acquire the Roof Depot site years ago, but the City of Minneapolis bought it with plans to relocate its Water Works facility there.

The legislative deal provides the city with money to recoup its expenses and move the Water Works yard elsewhere.

The deal hinges on EPNI raising $3.7 million in private funds by Sept. 7.

Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Minneapolis), who represents the East Phillips neighborhood, said in a media release she was pleased the state and city partnered to find a solution.

“With a third of East Phillips residents living below the poverty line, the community is in great need of affordable housing, investment in jobs and infrastructure, and sustainable development. While this project will be a long road, I’m thankful we were able to make progress on this investment in our community. I am confident the vision for the Roof Depot will one day become a reality.”

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The City of Minneapolis, the Vatican, and truth telling

A couple of big news events happened in the past two days, one global, one local. Yesterday, the Vatican repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. Today, the City Council approved a Consent Decree on police reforms reached between the city/Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR)..

The two might seem unrelated except by proximity in time. But both the Vatican and the city seem to shrink from owning up to their actions and the harm they’ve done.

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Outside investigation: City of Minneapolis has a toxic work environment, including racism

I have published then unpublished this post twice, not feeling quite right about the conclusions I’ve drawn.

Here is where I feel stuck.

The city of Minneapolis asked the lawfirm Greene Espel to conduct an outside review of staff complaints against Heather Johnson, the former City Coordinator and current City Operations Officer.

The review came in response to a complaints from 17 current and former staff in the City Coordinator’s Office, which housed the Division of Race and Equity. The staff wrote Johnston April 28, 2022, beginning: “This letter is the result of building frustrations about ongoing harm caused to current and past City Coordinator Office (CCO) staff, particularly Black and Brown staff. This harm stems from a toxic, anti-Black work culture …”

From summer, 2020 to Fall, 2021, all but one of the staff in the city’s Division of Race and Equity resigned, the letter said. There were eight resignations in all, including four African American women.

The report concluded that Johnston had not created a “toxic, racist workplace.” (That is not to say that there aren’t (or weren’t) workplace problems.)

The report said such problems are systemwide, and “are larger than a single person.”

While the report focused specifically on Johnston, it’s difficult to read it and not draw larger conclusions about the city’s workplace culture.

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American Indian organizations show support for efforts to stop Roof Depot demolition

Mainstream media missing the story: Minneapolis’ hypocrisy

Marissa Cummings speaks at today’s press conference.

More than two dozen Native American organizations showed their support today for an Indigenous-led, non-violent direct action, occupying the Roof Depot site in the East Phillips neighborhood. The action was a peaceful and prayerful gathering to highlight neighborhood demands to stop city plans to expand its Public Works yard onto the site. It would bring more traffic and diesel exhaust to an already polluted neighborhood, including the Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex.

A massive police response cleared the occupation last night. The city already has erected concrete barriers to block entrance, MPR reported.

For years, the neighborhood has wanted to redevelop the Roof Depot site into a community-owned asset, with an indoor urban farm, affordable housing, large solar array, and more.

At a press conference today, Marissa Cummings, President and CEO of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, read letters from the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) regarding the Roof Depot controversy.

The MUID letter supported the Urban Farm, a “better, community-led, green initiative” in place of the city’s plans. It would “better mitigate the negative social determinants of health caused by environmental racism,” the letter said. It also denounced “the militaristic actions taken by the Minneapolis Police Department … to dismantle a peaceful and ceremonial occupation at the Roof Depot site.”

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Struggle over Roof Depot redevelopment enters new phase, civil disobedience likely

Roughly 70 people gathered outside in the cold Sunday afternoon to hold a Healing Circle in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood. During an open-mic, they expressed sadness, anger and frustration over the city’s plans to expand its Public Works facility near 26th Street onto the Roof Depot site.

The Roof Depot site is vacant, but for an unused warehouse. The city plans to tear down the warehouse to accommodate more Public Works staff and equipment. It would bring more diesel fumes to an already over-polluted community. Neighbors say they can’t take — and shouldn’t have to take — any more air pollution, and the illnesses and death that comes with it.

The resistance entered a new phase Sunday, with talk of direct action to block the warehouse’s demolition. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) dreams to convert the warehouse into a community-owned asset, with an urban farm, affordable housing, and an income-generating solar array, hangs in the balance.

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No one is protecting East Phillips from air pollution, notably those who promised to do so

It’s part of a larger pattern of regulatory failures

(Correction: An earlier version misstated the pollution contribution from individual industries to East Phillips’ overall pollution problems. It has been corrected. This post also was updated with information from the MPCA.)

The City of Minneapolis has declared racism a public health emergency, pledging to “allocate funding, staff, and additional resources to actively engage in racial equity in order to name, reverse, and repair the harm done to BIPOC in this City.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has committed to environmental justice, saying it will focus “on developing strategies to reduce pollution and health disparities in communities most at-risk.”

Unfortunately, neither of those promises are protecting the residents of East Phillips, one of Minneapolis’ poorest and most racially diverse neighborhoods, and home to Little Earth, a 212-unit housing development that gives preference to Native American applicants.

The neighborhood has several pollution sources: Smith Foundry, an iron works; Bituminous Roadways, an asphalt plant; the city’s Hiawatha Public Works yard, and Hiawatha Avenue, a major thoroughfare.

City leaders should know that East Phillips is part of the “pubic health emergency.” The city’s 2021 Racial Equity Impact Analysis said residents living in the area “experience much higher levels of cumulative pollution than residents from majority white city neighborhoods … leading to [higher] levels of asthma and hospitalization for children and adults.”

(East Phillips asthma levels were more than double the state average in 2019, MinnPost reported.)

Unless things change soon, East Phillips will soon get even more pollution and related health problems, further exacerbating health disparities.

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East Phillips Urban Farm shows the City of Minneapolis’ disregard for its promises to stop systemic racism

Roof Depot site.

East Phillips community leaders have a dream: To increase the livability of their notoriously polluted neighborhood. And they have a plan:  Renovate the former Roof Depot and Sears warehouse site into a community-owned multi-use resource. It would include an indoor Urban Farm – producing healthy foods in what is now a food desert –  space for small business, jobs training programs, low-income housing, and a large solar array.

Six years ago, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) was negotiating to buy the Roof Depot site, but the city of Minneapolis intervened and bought the property. The city wants the land to consolidate its Water Works Maintenance Facility, currently in Southeast Minneapolis, with Public Works operations already on Hiawatha Avenue next to the Roof Depot site. 

The city is blocking what would be a community asset and replacing it with a project that harms neighborhood livability.

The city is breaking multiple promises its made, and policies its passed, to address the kinds of racial injustice that exist in East Phillips.

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Minneapolis announces Truth and Reconciliation Working Group

At the end of last year, the city of Minneapolis announced a new truth and reconciliation work group made up of City staff, community leaders and experts “to study the meaning of reconciliation and research different models of truth and reconciliation commissions.”

This follows a Minneapolis City Council resolution approved last October establishing a truth and reconciliation process. The goal: Begin implementing specific solutions to specific harms that created and perpetuate racial disparities, with a focus on healing with historically Black American descendants of slavery and American Indian/Indigenous communities.

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