Categorized | NEWS

“And the state of our NENA community is…”

Posted on 20 February 2018 by calvin

Housing, crime, environmental quality, and community engagement, in the more than a dozen issues discussed
Photos and article

Photos and article by JAN WILLMS
Nokomis residents had the opportunity to have a conversation with politicians, community, organization, and educational leaders at the 2nd annual Nokomis East State of the Neighborhood meeting Jan. 17 at the Morris Park Recreation Center, 5531 39th Ave. S. The event was sponsored by the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA).

Photo right: Theer was standing room only at the 2nd annual Nokomis East State of the Neighborhood meeting Jan. 17 at the Morris Park Recreation Center.

Two panels addressed the audience and answered questions on various neighborhood concerns.

Andrew Johnson, Ward 12 Council member, said that housing is a top priority in 2018 for the City Council and the Mayor. “We have an affordable housing crisis going on,” he told audience members. “The majority of people in the city are renters, and in the grand scheme of things we have an opportunity to play a role and make housing more affordable.” Johnson said the Nokomis neighborhood is a hot real estate spot, and there are concerns that low-income residents are getting priced out.

“It is an issue we should all care about,” Johnson noted. “We can continue to be a place where working-class families can live, or be a place where only those with money can afford to stay here.” He distributed a map of land use recommendations that include single-family, family, and 2-3 story multifamily residential land uses.

Photo left: Andrew Johnson (left) and Peter McLaughlin.

Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County Commissioner (District 4), said that historically, the county has not done much with housing, but has now gotten involved in development near light rail stops near Hiawatha and 46th. “One of the things we need to try to do is find a way to maintain a mix of housing opportunities for first-time home-buyers, middle-class families, and lower-income families who need a place to stay, the homeless—the whole spectrum.”

McLaughlin expressed concern about real estate trusts coming in, buying up apartment buildings that are relatively affordable, putting on a new coat of paint and jacking up the prices 50-60 percent. “We have to figure out strategies to intervene in the marketplace,” he said.

According to Jean Wagenius, state representative for District 63B, the state has two major roles: setting policy and bonding. She said $140 million in bonds has been recommended for affordable housing across the state. The governor put in $130 million in his request, which she said is great. Wagenius also said she has drafted a bill that would allow the state to invest in energy efficiency in buildings in exchange for landlords keeping rents down in those buildings. “I am working on that now,” she said. “It’s a tough one, but I’ve had tough ones before.”

Jeremy Schroeder, a council member for Ward 11, said he also is looking at ways to get more energy efficiency for landlords. “Right now, landlords have all the power,” he claimed. “I could see that change if the housing market changes, and it wasn’t such a tight market.” Schroeder said that asking how to keep things affordable is a tough question.

Photo right: (l to r) Jean Wagenius, Jeremy Schroeder, Michael Sullivan.

For Mike Sullivan, Minneapolis Police Department Inspector, serving the Third Precinct, housing issues center around homelessness. “In my one-and-a-half year experience downtown, I learned that you could not arrest homelessness,” he said. He worked over by the Walker Art Center, where a number of homeless residents can be found, and he said people were not arrested but outreached. “We worked very closely with St. Stephen’s Homeless Shelter and Native American groups,” he said. He advised that if someone is begging, do not give them money because you are only contributing to an addiction. “Contribute to an organization that serves the homeless instead,” he said.

Addressing the issue of improving the environment, Johnson said the Nokomis neighborhood is a leader on pollinators. He said there have been conversations about turning Highway 55 into a pollinator corridor. “We are also looking at pollinator plantings on 34th Avenue around reconstruction,” he said. He noted a lot is going on around Lake Hiawatha and the golf course. Johnson also said he is looking at other priorities, like bioswales. Bioswales are landscape elements designed to concentrate or remove silt and pollution out of surface runoff water.

Photo left: NENA Board Chair Mike Ferrin speaking, with Lauren Hazenson (left), LaShawn Ray (center) and Suzanne Stephenson seated behind him.

McLaughlin cited problems with the ash borer and the need to prevent another blight similar to Dutch Elm disease. He talked about the importance of continuing to invest in buildings and transit. “If we can get a system that will go all the way to Brooklyn Park and up to Eden Prairie, connect to St. Paul and the airport, we will have a transit system that will be the envy of the country,” he said.

“We’re on track to get $47 million for transit,” Wagenius said, “but that money can only be spent on certain things. One of those things is electric buses. We also want to see electric school buses. They can sit still at night and recharge.”

She said there is a problem for residents west of Lake Nokomis suffering from very high groundwater, which results in water coming up in basements and water bubbling up along the street. “We can’t move forward as long as we can’t walk around Lake Nokomis because of water,” she said. She added that she has written a letter to DNR summarizing these issues.

“Groundwater is a big, complex issue,” said Schroeder. “We’re working to get to the bottom of it, but we all need to work together. I’m passionate about the environment, and I want anyone to reach out to my office if they have any questions.” He said he is anxious to move towards sustainability.

Regarding a question about community policing, Sullivan said he hopes to have his officers increase communications with residents by attending community events.

Johnson explained that the ward he represents has a low crime rate. “Yet, we can do more,” he said. He mentioned NENA crime and safety meetings, and he said he would like to increase the number of block clubs. He said there is panhandling around some businesses, but that panhandling cannot be banned as long as people are not being harassed.

“If you see someone who looks like they need help, call St. Stephen’s Homeless Shelter at 612-879-7624. They will send someone out to talk with them.”

McLaughlin said the county has responsibility for juveniles going through the system. “If kids are in foster care, we want to make sure education is a priority,” he stated. “We want to make sure they have access to diagnostic services. We want to get those young people on a positive path.” McLaughlin said that although treatment and detox are available for youth who need them, a better job needs to be done on prevention.

Wagenius said she wants additional training for all police officers in crisis intervention, management, and bias.

Addressing livability issues head-on is what Schroeder hopes to do.

Sullivan said all his officers have been trained in crisis intervention and all have received procedural justice training in the past year. “We want to work with the community and let them know they can trust us,” he said. “We are focusing on curfew enforcement and protecting and working with kids.”’

A second panel visited with NENA residents about their agendas for 2018. LaShawn Ray, the principal of Keewaydin Elementary School, said he is looking forward to a lot of things in 2018: the best possible schools, building quality citizens for the future, instilling values, and helping kids make the best decisions they can. He also emphasized the importance of reaching out to all parents to get them involved.

Suzanne Stephenson, a librarian for Hennepin County Library Nokomis, said she also hopes to reach out to community members. “We’re here. How can we help?” is her message to residents. She emphasized the seed library and said they would also like to highlight local artists.

Heather Wambach, a patron experience supervisor with Hennepin County Library, Nokomis, and Roosevelt, said storytime is very popular. “We could offer it three times every day, and it would be full,” she said. She is hoping to reach out to parents who cannot get to the library for a storytime in the middle of the day.

Isaac Russell, neighborhood and community engagement commissioner for District 3, also stressed outreach. He described a set of recommendations that neighborhood associations will review before being sent to the City Council for approval. “This is very important, and basically what we are doing for the year,” he said.

Jack Dickinson, communication chair for Nokomis East Business Association (NEBA). Said his organization provides an outlet to meet one on one with small businesses. He said NEBA tells stories, such as the owner of McDonald’s Liquor who came back from WWII without the use of his legs and was very active in improving conditions for the disabled in the Twin Cities. “We have summer concerts, the tree lighting, and outdoor block parties,” he said.

As far as how Nokomis East could support these schools and organizations, Ray talked about a lack of mentors for some of his students. “Take a student, or maybe a family, under your wing,” he suggested. “We’re asking for time, if you really want to make a difference.”

Stephenson also called for volunteers. “Not just in the library, but it could be tutors or teaching. Be our eyes and ears,” she said. Wambach added that telling the library’s story is another important need.

”The best way to help is to go to NENA,” said Russell. “Our internal goal is to have recommendations to the City Council by the end of March. Ask yourself what it is you want from your neighborhood associations.”

Dickinson recommended becoming a member of NEBA and supporting small businesses, especially during reconstruction. “Attend our events—they are fun,” he added.

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