Families become housing refugees in Whittier's march toward gentrification


"It's almost because they're renters they're supposed to know they're not permanent," says Jennifer Arnold of Inquilinxs Unidvs por Justicia, a group that advocates for affordable housing,

The notices arrived at the end of May and early June. All of the 38 tenants at 2611 Pleasant Ave. S. in Whittier save for one received them. You must move out within 30 days, they read, due to a "renovation project." 

This struck residents as odd. Most of the units had gotten new appliances and flooring within the past three years. Those upgrades had been undertaken by the previous landlord, Jason Quilling.

But Quilling had sold the building to a California entity called Villa Nova Real Estate Holdings. The person behind the firm is a commercial pilot named Jeffrey Wachner. 

His company hired Nexus Real Estate Services to do the work in the trenches. That is, notify and displace the current residents. Some have lived at the address for 25 years. 

Jennifer Arnold of Inquilinxs Unidvs por Justicia, a group that advocates for renters and affordable housing, believes Villa Nova is renovating the building to appeal to the higher-end market. As one of Minneapolis' hottest rental neighborhoods, Whittier's apartments can command about $1,100 and $1,500 for one- and two-bedrooms, respectively. 

The tenants being forced to relocate had been paying around $900 for one-beds and about $1,100 for two-bedrooms. 

"I think the people with the real responsibility are the owners…," Arnold says. "Then they can distance themselves from what's going on and they can get people do their dirty work for them. And then the person doing their dirty work can say 'it's not my fault' and 'I don't have the ability to make a decision' in this circumstance." 

These are tough words to swallow for Jose Zamora, who lives in the building with his wife and two kids. Unlike the 20 or so families that have already vacated, the Zamoras still don't know where they'll live come August. It's easy to understand their procrastination. 

"From what we've heard from some of those who have left," says Arnold. "they've found new places, but are saying they're in horrible shape. The stuff available in their price range is just really rough. I think that's the biggest barrier for people who haven't moved out yet. They want to stay in the neighborhood because that's where their kids go to school. They don't have cars. That's where they work. I mean, that's their community. 

"The stuff they're finding out there… makes it hard to accept moving into a place that you know is roach-ridden. That's been the hardest thing for people. They're going to have to step out of this and into some hole or they're going to have to move to Richfield, which people don't feel like they can do."

Residents met with Nexus' Mike Tempel in June. According to Arnold, he pledged to help look into alternatives for those who were having trouble. Tempel gave them a sheet that had apartment websites like rentpath.com. It also showed a couple of available units in the area, like a two-bedroom at 21st and Pleasant for almost $1,200 per month. 

"What he provided wasn't much help," says Arnold. "I think what this example is showing us once again is that renters are just numbers to these landlords, no matter the fact they've been there for 25 years when nobody else wanted to live there. It's all about how much they can charge. It's almost because they're renters they're supposed to know they're not permanent." 

When asked if he had anything to say to the displaced residents, owner Wachner had "no comment."

Tempel did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.


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