Friday, February 29, 2008

Another "remote showing"

I continue to be fascinated by the phenomenon of
"remote showings." My real estate agent has been
busy and so I called up a seller's agent to see if
I could procure a door code and do my own
"showing," as it were.

I couldn't get in touch with the seller's real
estate agent, but the office assistant felt she
had enough authority to give me the door code,
on my own say-so of who I was.

"Remote showings" seem to be--increasingly--
the standard procedure for house showings on
the North Side. Well, I say standardize it.
It would be so much more efficient (and fun)
if a buyer could just tour house after house,
on their own--no real estate agent, no
pressure--with a big list of door codes.

On another note...why doesn't the MLS
listing have "neighborhood" listed?
This is really useful information, since
the neighborhoods have different
reputations and the different
neighborhood associations have a
lot of variation. Info like "subdivision"
is useful...yeah, if you're a geek who
loves reading abstracts. (Guilty)

But I really think the MLS could be
a lot more useful if the "neighborhood"
of each property (Hawthorne, Jordan,
etc.) were also listed.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Amazing North Side price drop!

I have been watching the MLS since about November,
but yesterday I saw something I had never seen
before: the price of a house dropped below four

Specifically, a 3 bedroom house missing its
plumbing was for sale for a mere $9k.

Incredible. My friend Shiva, who has made a
fortune in real estate, swears the market will
go even lower.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TJ Waconia linked properties--Definitive List

I am trying to create a definitive list of properties linked to
the TJ Waconia scandal, pulling in information from all over.

So here are the properties I have pulled off a recent City of
Minneapolis "Findings of Fact" involve revocation of
rental licenses.

3243 6th Street N.
4335 Knox Ave. N.
3447 Oliver Ave. N.
2934 Queen Ave. N.
2639 Girard Ave. N.
3234 Humboldt Ave. N.
1207 Knox Ave. N.
(I had this one earlier from
my "television list" that I managed
to "freeze frame" from a news
3229 Humboldt Ave. N.
3306 James Ave. N.
3240 Sheridan Ave. N.
3235 Vincent Ave. N.

Here are the properties I managed to pull off the
"freeze frame" of a news report on T.J. Waconia.

1000 Upton Ave. N.
1012 39th Ave. N.
1124 5th St. N.
1207 Knox Ave. N.
(Also appears in the "findings of fact" so it is a link
between the two lists) (I'm not sure why that
fascinates me)
1430 5th St. N.
1505 Russel Ave. N.
1526 Upton Ave. N.
1625 Irving Ave. N.
1631 Washington Ave. N.
1643 Sheridan Ave. N.
1643 Upton Ave. N.
1651 Sheridan Ave. N.
1706 Vincent Ave. N.
1710 Queen Ave. N.
2315 Jackson St. NE

Quite arguably, it was that moment that created Johnny
Northside and gave him his special blogging powers
to expose evil doers and help the valiant citizens of
the North Side achieve a dream of urban utopia.
(Pose with fists on hips, cape blowing in the wind,
square-jawed cartoon superhero grin, helmet
shining like the sun) (Or a divorced dad who needs
to lose 20 pounds and pay more attention to his
haircut but can type like a madman, take yer

Here is the list I got from the "TJ Waconia victims
blog" when somebody came on there and said,
"Here is a fairly comprehensive list. Do with
it as you will." Later I was told, "this is about
half the properties."

5139 39TH AVE S
7079 139TH AVE NW (Anoka Cty)
4417 VAN BUREN ST NE (Anoka Cty)
7077 139TH AVE NW UNIT 78 (Anoka Cty)
7094 139TH AVE NW UNIT 64 (Anoka Cty)
7084 139TH AVE NW UNIT 53 (Anoka Cty)
7057 139TH AVE NW (Anoka Cty)
7074 139TH AVE NW UNIT 56 (Anoka Cty)
1259 TAYLOR ST UNIT 13 (Scott Cty)
1033 DWANE ST (Dakota Cty)
7077 NEWBURY RD (Washington Cty)
7080 ARTHUR DR (Washington Cty)
1259 TAYLOR ST UNIT 2 (Scott Cty)
6892 E CRAIG CT (Dakota Cty)
6830 E CRAIG CT (Dakota Cty)
129 COMO AVE (Ramsey Cty)
1259 TAYLOR ST UNIT 12 (Scott Cty)
3914 74TH ST E (Dakota Cty)
7076 139TH AVE NW UNIT 57 (Anoka Cty)
1279 TAYLOR ST UNIT 3 (Scott Cty)
1279 TAYLOR ST UNIT 9 (Scott Cty)
1269 TAYLOR ST UNIT 16 (Scott Cty)
14630 CHROME AVE W (Dakota Cty)
14765 S CHILI AVE (Dakota Cty)
1269 TAYLOR ST UNIT 15 (Scott Cty)
1259 TAYLOR ST UNIT 8 (Scott Cty)
1269 TAYLOR ST UNIT 2 (Scott Cty)
1279 TAYLOR ST UNIT 15 (Scott Cty)
13389 DAFFODIL PATH (Dakota Cty)
501 WACONIA PKWY N (Carver Cty)
1299 TAYLOR ST UNIT 8 (Scott Cty)
17076 TRILLIUM LN (Sherburne Cty)

As I learn of more properties linked to TJ Waconia, Universal
Mortgage and other mortgage fraud scammers (alleged)
I will keep adding the properties here. So much additional
information can be had by feeding the property address
into websites for the City of Minneapolis and the County
of Hennepin.

In fact, as these homes hit the market (and they
inevitably will) actual pictures of the homes and
other information--like whether they have
plumbing or if the pipes have been carted off
to fund crack cocaine--will be easy to turn up
if your fingers do the walking on what George
Bush calls "the Internets."

What is not so easy to find out is which houses have
squatters. Really, the only way to find out that
information is to go there and see for yourself
while obeying all state, local and especially
federal laws.

ADDENDUM, OCTOBER 2, 2008, "The List of 17."

These are properties which were, back in 2003, linked to "T.J., LLC" and a former partner named John Stenroos, but may not be caught up in the current mess.

577 D. Woodduck Drive, Woodbury, MN 55125
2527 West 87 1/2 Street, Bloomington, MN 55431
101 West Branch Street, Princeton, Minnesota, 55371
109 West Branch Street, Princeton, Minnesota,55371
117 West Branch Street, Princeton, Minnesota, 55371
2315 Jackson Street Northeast, Minneapolis, MN 55418
1013 Dayton River Road, Champlin, MN 55316
4016 80th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, MN 55443
8951 Duwayne Ave., Lexington, MN 55014
8953 Duwayne Ave., Lexington, MN 55014
3726 3rd Street, Columbia Heights, MN 55421
609 Wells Street, St. Paul, MN, 55101
4253 McCleod Street, Columbia Heights, MN, 55421
2930 Sheridan Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN 55411
11425 Elmwood Ave., Champlin, Minnesota, 55316
11330 Quince Street Northwest, Coon Rapids, MN 55448
1012 39th Ave. N., Minneapolis, MN 55434

Monday, February 25, 2008

Vacant house fee increase is INSANE

I just put an offer down on a house on the North Side, and I told my real estate agent to add the following contingency:

"Buyer may withdraw offer prior to closing if the Minneapolis City Council changes the vacant house fee prior to closing to any amount over the current $2,000."

I don't think I need to get into the reasons for this very much. The proposal to increase the vacant house fee to $6,000 is beyond crazy. These North Side properties aren't moving NOW, so what happens when the fee gets increased to--in some cases--half the list price? Crazy piled on crazy, with half a gallon of crazy syrup poured on top. STOP THIS INSANITY BEFORE IT

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Representing" the North Side

Here is some further conversation that took place after I
told the sender of that email "you make great points. You
should submit a guest piece to my editor."

Thanks John -- good idea, I think I'll do just that! I didn't
know where the article Alan Kwong posted came from when I
responded. I was defensive though, I know that ... it happens
all the time. There are a great many things worth saving in
our community and I can't stand idly by watching any of them
be destroyed. So I jump into Ninja Northsider mode.

I hope you can see how your summation of Northside activities
spurred my defense mechanisms. And telling us we've created our
own bad rep .... wow, that one really got me. It's the media and
the bad eggs that are doing that. The rest of us are fighting
to overcome that negative stereotype everyday by
telling our good stories, picking up trash, helping our neighbors
keep their homes up, working with landlords to screen for decent
tenants, etc.

As for the cop, I don't doubt the accuracy of your story. I don't
know why, but I expect the cops to be ambassadors as well as peace
keepers and maybe that's asking too much. But I get asked all the
time "Why do you say here?" [sic, must mean "stay."]

The answer is simple ... it's my home.

And as for buying a home here, the Northside Home Fund
and Greater Metro Housing Corp have money to help.
Call the Folwell Neighborhood at 612-521-2100 and
they can get you in touch.

Also, last fall when so many homes went on the auction block,
I had an idea. I posted to craig's list that I'd be willing to
help acclimate newcomers to the restaurants, parks, stores,
art sites, neighborhood groups, etc. so I'll
extend that offer to you, as well. As a life-long Northsider,
I feel it's my duty. I might even know something about the
neighborhood you're considering buying in ... I HIGHLY
recommend Old Highland, of course, but with all
areas, there are some pockets that are better than others.

I'd like to add something here. It must be very frustrating for
North Siders who do so much work to help their neighborhood,
and then something happens like a nice older woman being stabbed to
death and people say, oh, there's your North Side, there.

However, who "represents" the North Side? Is it only the people
who work tirelessly to do good? Unfortunately, it isn't. The
woman who beat the child to death, the dealers standing on
the corner as home buyers drive through to seek out
their first impressions of the North Side, all these folks
also "represent" the North Side.

When the tagger called "Kill Bill" puts his tag on a
vacant house, and adds the words "North Sides Finest"
(yes, he knowsnothing of possessive apostrophes)
is that tagger not REPRESENTING the North Side?

Ask the tagger. He would say he is "representing."

Having ice cream socials and art is nice, but if
the North Side wants those vacant houses filled up,
a very robust and stern new chapter needs to be written

And I'll add something else: those dealers are not being
trucked in from Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center every
morning. They are from the North Side, they are locals, and
their families might be some of those "three generation"
families who get mentioned so often when the highlights
of the North Side are trotted out for discussion.

Being around for three generations doesn't mean you've
been doing good for three generations. Each individual
case should bear individual scrutiny. Being around for
three generations doesn't give anybody a free pass if it's
three generations of committing crime.

Who "represent" the North Side? Those who are doing things
good or bad to create the cumulative reputation of the
North Side. You can plant flowers all you want, have
ice cream socials, but when open air drug markets thrive
and children are beaten to death, it's not going to be
the flowers and the ice cream getting all the attention.

The media is not to blame. Everybody knows when there is
death and murder, the media will cover it. The people
who do the bloody, terrible things that rates the media
coverage are the ones to blame, not the media. At the
end of the day, the North Side creates its own rep,
and the "bad apples" are just as much part of the
bunch as the good apples. Hard to hear, yes.
Frustrating, yes.

But one should never tire of doing good.

(If you do an image search on Google using the terms
"north side" and "Minneapolis," the picture at the
top comes up among the images. It comes from a
City Pages Story about another day on the North
(Click for link)

Counter Argument, "Good luck with that"

This is an email I received from a very
involved and community minded North Side
resident in response to my column "Good
luck with that." She makes a very articulate
and passionate defense of the North Side.

Oh, yeah, the picture above is of the
kitchen at 2631 Penn Ave. N., mentioned
in the column.

[Name deleted] here. This excerpt from the story is far from accurate: "A
4-year-old child killed and stuffed in a garbage bag, the first murder of 2008.
A taxi driver attacked with a hatchet. A 70-year-old woman stabbed to death,
apparently for her credit cards, the suspects hardly old enough to shave. That
pretty much covers the past few weeks on the north side."

It does NOT pretty much cover the past few weeks on the Northside -- not even
close! It only sums up what the MEDIA deemed important enough to profile.
During this time, the Northside also welcomed the opening of a new deli & Gelato
at Papa's on 42nd & Thomas. The Northside Arts Collective hosted TWO events to
help our members spur some creativity and prepare their work for our new Arts &
Culture Resource Catalog. The Workhouse Theater is playing Steve Martin's "The
Underpants" to sold out crowds (this will be the last weekend so get your
tickets now!) Debbie Duncan and the Wolverine Jazz Trio played to a near sold
out crowd at the Capri Theater just this last Saturday. The GLBT Northsiders
kicked off the year with a social at the new Rix on 44th & Penn and .... that's
what I can think of off the top of my head. But there's a lot more good stuff
happening here -- and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

I like that John is looking for a home here to help better the community .. but
like Alan said, there are plenty of people working EVERY SINGLE DAY to help make
this a better community. We just haven't made it on the radar of the local
media. And I'm ticked off that one of our public servants on the police force
would try to discourage someone from buying here! Makes me wish the City could
require our police to live in the city limits.

And what does this mean? "And, I might add, the frank observations of one
columnist in a college paper can hardly hurt the reputation of the north side as
well as the north side manages to create a bad rep all on its own." Only a few
bad apples have had anything to do with the bad rep here. The majority of us are
hardworking, loyal and committed residents who volunteer our brains out to help
make this a decent place to live, work and play. And we wade through these bad
apples every day to show them we aren't going to let them win!

I hope that John finds a nice place to live, the pickings are certain good for
that! And if you want to know about the rest of the great stuff going on, write
to me at and I'll get you on
our email list for the twice-monthly arts newsletter chock full of more of these
kinds of great things that make our community the place we've all chosen to call

Purchase of Penn Plymouth Shopping Center

This is the article the Minnesota Daily ran about the purchase of
Penn Plymouth Shopping Center.

Because I heard about the purchase from the news release, and
rushed down there that weekend, my opinion column actually
came out a day ahead of the news story. I later got an email
from "Tom Doubting" a.k.a. "Darwininsts Are Dumb" who
said my column had been discussed on a talk radio show.

Tom said he could tell it was my column and not some other
piece about the purchase because of "some things they
were saying." Apparently, the talk show thought the
purchase of the property was a waste of money and
showed the University had too much discretion, or
money, or...something.

I don't agree with that at all. I think the purchase of
Penn Plymouth was a good idea and will prove itself
in the long run. The only thing I wanted to urge about
the purchase was to avoid destroying the "Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr" mural inside the old Lucille's

I'm actually very excited about the idea of buying
a house in that neighborhood near Penn Plymouth
because the area could be the site of a future "north
campus." I can hardly wait to see what comes of
the University's dream and I want to support the
University's, for example, standing
behind efforts to RID THE NORTH SIDE OF ALL

Good luck with that

This column in the Minnesota Daily, "Good luck with that,"
was one of my most creative and heartfelt. This picture shows the
house which was mentioned in the
column at 2631 Penn Ave. N.

All the same, it didn't generate the response and controversy
of my other column, "Don't all stampede at once." One reason
might be because critics didn't have a lot of wiggle room when
it came to somebody highlighting North Side issues. In
between "stampede" and "good luck" came the stabbing
of a 70-year-old woman in her home and the 4-year-old
child who was beaten to death.

All the same, there was one printed response, which made
no substantive points but simply engaged in name-calling.

Publicize names of North Side drug dealers?

Donald Eugene Jackson, drug dealer,
accused of murdering a cyclist in
South Minneapolis.

I had a great conversation with another guy who is interested in
buying a house on the North Side, but frets about all the crime.
We talked about the idea of a website or blog that might post
the names of individuals arrested for and accused of drug
dealing on the North Side.

Personally, I feel there is too much emphasis on "shutting
down the corner stores" where drug dealers hang out.
Why vent fury at the store owners, who are forced to
make do with the situation because, after all, the police
aren't going to be showing up to constantly bust the
dealers or protect the stores. So what do the owners
do? They do the best they can.

When the stores get shut down, what do we have? An
empty store and the dealers just shift to another
location. Sure, one should deal harshly with stores
that sell, for example, glass pipes. That's not "making
do" that's becoming part of the problem.

I heard there was a live radio show asking listeners
"what are the locations on the North Side where
drug dealers can always be found?" But why
focus on locations or stores? FOCUS ON THE

The police department should post their names
and faces on a website, like the St. Paul police
department does with prostitution... so much of
which takes place in and around Frog Town,
where I currently make my home, such as it
is. Heaven knows the website isn't updated very
often, but they do get around to it every month
or few months.

So the police posting the names and faces would
be the best option. Second best option would be
a media entity, like these foaming at the chops
right wing hot talk radio wing nuts. I don't see
eye-to-eye with 'em on most things, but this
might be a place where I could find a lot of
common ground.

Third best choice? Somebody like me. Somebody
like me could collect the would
be harder...and post them. But it's "third best"
for the following reasons:

1.) Not as official as the police, not as much easy
assess to the info. The police would be the best
ones to pull off such a project, if they would put
time and effort into it. Seems like such websites
have a tendency to be announced with fanfare
but then quickly fall into being out of date and
not maintained well.

2.) Not as "high profile" as a police website or
a media entity.

So, at present, I think the best thing I can do is
urge the idea, air the idea, and promote the idea
of a website or blog that would publicize the
identities (including addresses) of accused drug

And, of course, they'd only be "accused." Yeah,
well, the website could make that clear. Like
TJ Waconia is only ACCUSED of mortgage
fraud, and we're all just waiting for the other
shoe to drop.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Adopt" vacant Northside houses, more comments

(Foreclosure map, Minneapolis)

Here is the comment somebody left for me at Stenback's
"Behind The Morgage" blog, responding to my anecdote
about whether Minneapolis police will actually respond to
reports of squatters, like the squatter activity I witnessed at
2125 Lyndale Ave. N.


That's an excellent story. I can add my own recent experience as well.

My wife and I live in Steven's Square. Much like the "open air drug markets" of North Side, the parking lot at Hennepin and Groveland does a similar active business.

We recently had a neighbor in our building start sharing his apartment with drug dealers. Within days, people were trying to buzz into the building (to get past the security door) at all hours, we would see deals being made in the hallways, and find people passed out on the stairs. We also started having numerous fire alarms caused by smoke from their apartment.

Working with police and the apartment management (who was quite active in helping, including hiring security guards) it still took months to get this guy evicted. After he was evicted, people he had "borrowed" keys to, continued to squat in the apartment, and that took additional weeks to deal with, involving numerous calls to police.

My wife and I have been looking in the North East area for homes, and one of my major concerns is with the numerous foreclosures and squatters. My experience is similar to yours and I have no end of skepticism about this plan.

The comment was left in direct response to something
I said on that blog, so I feel it's OK to use it here. The
Behind The Mortgage blog rocks, and I learn so much
over there.

"He's not helping"

Here is some email feedback I received in response to my column
"Don't all stampede at once." I'm not printing the name, but it
was a University faculty member in one of the more "hard
science" departments, as follows:

I loved your column today. We reciently [sic]
considered buying a home in north Minneapolis.
We decided to drive through the area to get a
feel for it before we contacted a realtor. That
was enough for us. We laughed and laughed
as we read your column today. My wife kept
saying, "He's not helping!"


This comment above brings me to a point about
"first impressions"
and how problematic it is to
have young men standing on the
corners, rather
obviously engaged in drug sales by--for example
beckoning complete strangers in passing cars
by eye contact
and jerks of the head.

If somebody decides to "give the North Side a
chance" and go
there to look at houses...they
might not have a problem with
empty, boarded
up houses (after all, those are the bargains
are seeking) and they might even tolerate a little
of graffiti because, hey, it's just silly teens
their silly teen angst. Slap
a little paint over it, and it's gone.

But one look at an "open air drug market," and
the tour
is OVER and that person AIN'T COMING

First chance, first impression...gone. Blown.
up another potential North Side resident
who will
never be a North Side resident.

And while most tagging is harmless, some
tagging is
more menacing. On and around Penn
Ave. N., I
keep seeing the tag "Kill Bill."

Tagging with the word
"Kill" in it automatically
goes in a more serious and
worrisome category.

It seems like persons who have lived in the
see open air drug markets and tagging as
just warts and blights, something one gets
used to. Don't mess with the taggers or the
drug dealers, and they won't mess with
you, right?

It's such a city attitude: if you don't stick
your nose in the business of the criminals,
you won't get murdered. Denial is the
foundation of this attitude, and that's a
flimsy foundation. Tell it to the 70-year-old
woman who was stabbed to death in her
North Side home for her credit
cards. How did she stick her nose in
anybody's business and get murdered
as a result? She didn't.

The "defenders of the North Side" seem
unable to grasp what kind of impression
certain things make on the outsider
there for the first time. Always there
is the
plea, the demand, to "look deeper,"
"keep an open mind."

I remember the first time I saw Grand Forks,
North Dakota. It was "Gateway Drive" with
its junkyards and the industrial stench of
Simplot. And the first time I saw El Paso?

Don't even get me going. I was with my

then-spouse, and I remember how she
literally wept because our first views of
the city were so ugly. It was undiluted
ugly that
assaulted the eyes.

Even Seattle, quite a beautiful city,
used to make a lousy first impression with
that awful, ugly Kingdome. Not that
I was in favor of tearing it down. I
figured it was possible to make it
look better by painting it to appear
a giant cheeseburger and dubbing
the dome "Burger King Dome" or
"Hardees Dome" or (being it was
Seattle) "Boca Burger Dome."

So what is the "first impression" of the
North Side of Minneapolis?

Graffiti and young men
standing on corners, jerking their
heads at passing cars. "Come on,
let's do some business." Boarded
up buildings, and the first thing you
need to watch out for are homeless
squatters with drug problems, mental
health problems.

Until there is the political will to clean
up graffiti within 24 hours on the North
Side, goodbye first impression and
goodbye new residents.

Until there is the political will to arrest
drug dealers one time, two times, ten
times, a dozen times until they get
the freaking hint and stop doing business
on that corner, or any corner of the
North Side, goodbye first impression
and goodbye new residents.

You can't hide reality by writing cheery
columns. One could write the cheery
columns and--believing the hype--one
might go to the North Side seeking a
bargain on a house. But reality will
intrude upon hype every time. What's
needed is cold, hard dealing with
reality and not hope and hype.

Bust the open air drug markets. Paint
over the graffiti. Patrol the neighborhoods
so people aren't murdered in their homes
by roving packs of North Side teens.
The people you need to bring to the North
Side are the people who want to take
on this challenge, otherwise speculators
and slum lords will be the ones buying
the empty buildings, because they will
make their money on the North Side
but not have to live there.

And when massively-increased safety
and security
exists for, say, a year or reality and in
people's collective
sense of security, based on what they
around them with their freaking open
eyes instead of singing "la-la-la love in
my heart"...then new residents MIGHT
to buy the vacant homes. MIGHT.

Let me emphasize "MIGHT."

I'm not helping? I think "helping" means to
with reality, not be another supporter of
hype that won't actually stand up to
first impressions
when somebody takes
the leap of faith and makes a
house hunting
visit to the North Side.

Yeah, I'm ready to buy a house on the North
Side...but I'm a different breed, cold and hard
inside. This is the only math which allows me
to have a place in the Twin Cities near my
precious son instead of throwing it all away
on rent.

So I can understand why those two faculty
members from the U turned around and ran.

Only the desire to live near my son keeps
ME from turning around and running.

(The images in this post are of an "open
air drug market" in another city. Though
the individuals in the pictures are being
especially brazen, these images are not
much different than what I have seen
on the North Side, and what continues
to be there every day)

"Adopt" vacant North Side houses

City asks citizens to "adopt" vacant houses.

(Photo, above, by David Joles was part of the Star
Tribune article)

StarTribune links are such a pain in the butt, because usually you
get the "suscribe" page instead of the article. Most people will
just give up. I wish newspapers were smarter than this, but many of
them aren't.

Alex Stenback of Behind The Mortgage dot com calls this
program "Adopt A Dump." Here are the comments I
added to Alex Stenback's posting on the subject:

The article says the city is asking people to "call 911" if they see individuals inside the buildings who don't belong.

That's so funny, because a few months ago I was looking at a house at 2125 Lyndale Ave. N. which not only was being used by a squatter, but the squatter kept repeatedly kicking in the front door to the point the real estate company had stopped replacing the locks. Stuff was left inside by the squatter, including sleeping bag, cigs, and a bus transfer that was quite recent.

I ran into some police at the GIGANTIC liquor store which dominates the corner of Lyndale Ave. N. and W. Broadway, and I tried to make a report about the squatter. They flat out told me that unless I had some property interest in the house, they weren't going to take my report of somebody trespassing at the house or go there that night to check.

That night, I called the non-emergency number and made a report. They took my report and promised to do something, like go by there and check on the property that night. But I went back a few nights later and guess what? Nothing had changed, except the cigs were used up and the bedding had been rearranged.

I called some social worker using a business card left in the squatter's pile of stuff, somebody who did homeless outreach. They were very helpful and promised to go to the house and talk to the person. The house was going to be sold to me or somebody else very soon, since there were multiple offers, so it didn't make a good "squat" anymore.

I also left a note addressed to the squatter and physically moved their belongings downstairs next to the door.

But when I read this stuff in the Trib article about how people are supposed to call 911 (get serious! Call the non-emergency number, people) and something will be done about squatters breaking into houses on the North Side...ha, my direct experience tells me otherwise.

The folks at "Windy Top" can say what they want, but down at "Foggy Bottom" where the policy has to be implemented, the police have much better things to do. I just wish one of those things was busting the "open air drug markets" that are present on so many corners on the North Side for example, along Penn Ave. N. in the Jordan neighborhood.

Keep restraining your sarcasm, Alex. And let me add, in the words of a police officer who patrols the North Side, "Ha, good luck with that."

Feedback, "Don't all stampede at once"

This email response came from a person who is
rather prominent in Minneapolis. I won't reveal
their identity.
That's a pretty provocative piece - The aspiring Charles Bronson's and
Bernard Goetz's are loving this idea. [sic]

Not to over generalize the north side - there are good people over there
- but it is very hard to win a war against a population that has nothing
to lose.

The other thing is, there has been zero political will to actually
enforce the law in the North side for as long as I can remember. I am
not sure a bunch of (predominately white?) thrill-seeking rent-a-cops
and national guard members trying to impose some sort of citizens
martial-law will be received any better or have the resolve to win the
ground war.

The people who have the skill sets for this type of work are already in
Afghanistan, and are paid to do it.

My response to this person...and I can't seem
to find it in my emails at the moment, but
it was something along these lines:

It is overly-dramatic and hyperbole to say
the North Side needs war veterans from
Afghanistan. As my article made clear,
I think the job could be handled by
campus rent-a-cops.

Furthermore, I went out of my way to
avoid that whole "macho confrontation"
idea, even poking fun at my own
"security mentality" and making mention
of jelly dough nuts.

Yes, I advocate for an influx of
"security minded" folks and beefing
up neighborhood watch programs.

However, let's not go overboard and
make the situation sound worse than
it is. The situation on the North
Side isn't as bad as many cities,
and doesn't require an overblown

Friday, February 22, 2008

Counter points, "Don't all stampede at once"

Here are all the letters and opinion columns that resulted from
my column about the North Side called "Don't all stampede
at once."

In this one above, please note the letter which says,
"We have closed down a number of corner stores and
pulled their welcome mats for drug dealers and
prostitutes. I guess when they say "a number" they
mean the work is not yet done? That matches my
recent observations on Penn Ave. N., for sure!

My favorite part of this one above is, "For decades,
city officials had been complicit in allowing North Minneapolis to
function as the designated red-light district for
Minneapolis. Residents, with the help of the current
City Council, are working to undo years of neglect
in inspections, zoning and policing which allowed the
current situation to develop. Yes, this process can
be agonizingly slow..."

How does my column contain harsher criticisms than
"designated red-light district" and "years of neglect?"
In this case, the spirited defense seems to be a
harsher critique than what was said by me in the first

And then this:

My favorite part of this letter is just a few lines:

"Although I do not doubt the stories that John Hoff
told in his article..."

Yes, that has been one wonderful constant about all
this negative feedback. Nobody doubts the initial
observations one bit.

Nobody says, "You didn't see as many as 20 young
men standing on a corner, drinking directly from
a bottle of what appeared to be gin..."

Nobody says, "There aren't squatters inside
any empty North Side houses. You've misinterpreted
the items you found in that house."

Nobody says, "The police didn't tell you that this
was a 'bad neighborhood.'"

No, rather all the criticisms are about my emphasis,
my selection of what to tell. I should be a cheer
leader, instead, and talk about the "spirit" of the
North Side while I meet a guy who is virtually
barricaded in his house, sign for Ron Paul on the
yard and pictures of Jesus Christ in his living
room, saying he is afraid to walk to the gas station
on the corner because of the drug activity taking place
openly, in broad freaking daylight.

Not all the feedback I received was negative,
but those who agreed with my emphasis on the
overwhelming need for safety and security
felt more comfortable sharing their thoughts
by email.

And, ah, yeah...I have the emails. I sure do. Here
they come.

"Don't all stampede at once"

This is the column that really lit a fire under the discussion
about students buying homes on the North Side.

In the column I mention my first visit to the North Side, and my "first
impressions" of the place. I should add a little bit more about my
visit to the humble house at 2125 Lyndale Ave. N.

First of all, I think I made a total of three or four visits to the house
as part of getting to know the neighborhood. More importantly,
at that point I thought my offer for the house stood a good chance
of being accepted, and I was trying to deal with the homeless
squatter living in the house.

I went there by myself because I didn't need a door code or my
real estate agent to let me in. The front door had been repeatedly
kicked in, locks repeatedly replaced, rinse and repeat. In fact,
my real estate agent drew the line at showing me a house where
there was a known squatter who just kept coming back, living
just a block or two behind the massive liquor store where so
much negative energy congregates right on the sidewalks.

Can't say I blame her.

Something not mentioned in the column was how I found a
card for some kind of social worker amid the possessions
of the squatter, and I went out of my way to contact that
person and let them know about this squatter who needed
help. The house was about to get sold--one way or another,
to me or somebody else--and it wasn't going to be a
"crash pad" much longer. The social worker was very
nice and very thankful.

Other things I found...a note in the kitchen demanding that
if "Chubb" was going to stay here, he should clean up his
own mess. A bunch of ketchup packets in the kitchen,
and a garbage bag in the basement with what appeared
to be the remnants of bread sticks from a pizza joint.

Purchased? Employee meal? Dumpster dived? There
was no way to tell, but the garbage was fresh, not
rancid. Also, a green hooded sweatshirt hung upon
a partial fence near the house, sort of like a clothesline.
The squatter was subtle and unobtrusive, but very
much making himself or herself at home.

And I never figured out if it was a "him" or a "her."
There was a pink blanket with frilly trim with the
sleeping bag, but what does that mean? Nothing.
As my brother Judd put it, "A crack head will use
anything to stay warm." Right. You might wrap
yourself in shag carpet, but that doesn't make
you a floor, you might lay on newspapers, but
that doesn't make you front page news.

In the column, I talked about witnessing the arrest
of the "grab and dash" guy who tried to make off
with a jug of wine. There was another interaction
I didn't mention: I told the police about the
squatter. I told them right in the parking lot
of that liquor store, telling them the circumstances
about how the door was getting kicked in over
and over at 2125 Lyndale Ave. N., and how
the squatter's stuff was there right now.

They told me unless I had ownership rights,
I had no authority to call it in. No, not even
if I had been given permission to access the
property, and I had witnessed all this stuff,
and the squatter was almost certainly coming
back that very night to their habitual nightly
abode. (As evidenced by recent bus passes,
cigarettes left at the scene and, really, what
homeless person leaves behind cigarettes?)

The police wished me well, as they were stuffing
Mr. Accused Jug O' Wine thief in their squad
car, and told me if and when I acquired some
ownership rights, they'd be more than happy
to help me out. (And no, they didn't consider
putting down "earnest money" to qualify
for any kind of right to report a problem
at the property)

I found this interaction rather hard to
comprehend, so that night I called the police
dispatcher and made a report. They promised
to swing by. But I know nothing came of
it. When I went back a few nights later,
the stuff was still there...though the
bedding had switched position, cigs
were gone. There was no evidence police
had done anything about the squatter.

I left the squatter a note. I physically took
their sleeping bag downstairs and left it
by the door, on the inside.

From what I observed on that block, there
are plenty of empty houses on the North
Side being breached by squatters. When I
look at a house, now, I'm not only looking
at its condition but always wondering if
somebody is inside.

Anyway...the "don't all stampede at once"
column really set off the discussion. And how!

From student renter to scholar homeowner

This is the next column I published, holding up Thomas J. Ernste
as an example of the "grad student home owner" I envisioned
in the previous column, "visualize student home ownership."

One additional point of interest: The concept of a "neighborhood"
is different in Minneapolis than in other cities where I have lived.
In Minneapolis, a neighborhood is a very rigidly-defined entity with
definite borders and boundaries. But in some cities it seems to be
more of a fluid concept, and neighborhoods can shift according to
the whims of--for example--real estate agents, who may find it
easier to market a property if it is located in "North Niceville"
rather than "far south Mediocre."

So I found it interesting that Tom was willing to engage in
the "fluid definition" exercise and simply dub his neighborhood
"Near Northeast." Will this result in a secession movement
in a few decades? One wonders.

I also seem to recall Tom's preferred spelling and capitalization
may have been different, maybe it was "Near North East" or
something else. I said something to Tom about how I might have
to do it the way the production staff at the Minnesota Daily
preferred it.

In fact, I can't get "North Side" past them, they insist on
"north side," which I find too much like a description--like
"reddish black" or "partly cloudy" and not enough like a
geographic entity, like "Upper Boratistan."

But at least they capitalized Tom's label of "Near Northeast,"
and so history was written if anybody salutes this one as
it goes up the flagpole!

Rebuttal to Counter Argument, "Visualize student home ownership"

This is the email I sent in response to the communication below,
respectfully defending my ideas in "Visualize student home
Dear [name deleted]

Those are some really great challenges to my thinking. You
should write an opinion piece and send it to

However, when it comes to paying rent and getting nothing
permanent, versus paying the same exact amount of money,
and having equity, I think equity is to be preferred.

There is also an emerging trend of parents buying a second home for their
offspring to use in college, so money for rent isn't just flushed
(as it were) down the metaphorical toilet.

By the way, the logic of your reasoning isn't THAT hard to
turn on itself. You said you knew "one or two" people in college who
were responsible enough for home ownership. But, clearly,
you didn't know the WHOLE COLLEGE. So if you
knew one or two from your circle of friends, then there is a
certain percentage of "responsible enough" folks which
adds up to a lot of people at a campus as big as this

Also, note my pointed mention of GRAD STUDENTS. The grad
student world is much different than the undergrad world.
Actually, I know a grad student who has an arrangement
like this, and it WORKS. Thanks for reminding me...I
need to go show the column to him and see if it spurs
him to write anything. (He works right downstairs)

Also, age makes all of us look back and cringe at our
immaturity. But 18-year-olds can buy a firearm, have
a child, join the military...shudder to think, huh?

I think buying a house is less of a commitment than
having a child. Banks will take back a house on
foreclosure...but a child is a real commitment.

Also, please note this column is written as a reflection
of current real estate market conditions, which are
an extraordinary buyer's market.

We may still disagree, but thanks for reading me and
thinking about what I said.

Counter arguement to "Visualize student home ownership"

The missive which follows was an email I received making some
points against my "Visualize student home ownership" column,
as follows:

Here I was thinking that you were one of the more intelligent folks in the
Daily's roster, and then you come up with some harebrained ideas.

First it was that "let's not evacuate when there's a bomb scare" thing.
Personally, I'd rather myself or my kid feel foolish that they fell for the
fake bomb scare than feel a chunk of shrapnel if it just happened for once
to be real.

Now, you're advocating home ownership for college students.

Most of the folks I know with both a college degree and massive
bankruptcy-inducing debt began their credit and money troubles in college.
Yeah, credit is easier to get in college, I remember the credit card
companies practically handing out cards with ridiculous limits on the
premise that the student would be able to handle the payments with the
six-figure income they would undoubtably command upon graduation.

Financial responsibility wasn't in the cards for most of those folks. Max out the
cards, make the minimum payments, and upon graduation student loans come
due, those minimum payments grow exponentially (student interest rates
having expired) and way too often that six-figure income just ain't there.
Of all the folks I went to college with "back in the day" (and I'm not
saying just what day that was), I can only think of one or two that would
have been responsible enough to handle home ownership while still in

Beyond that, I just can't imagine groups of them buying houses together.
Look at the trouble groups of students renting together have - hey, I don't
really have all of this months rent right now. Can my boyfriend crash here
for a few weeks until he finds another place? Hey, who ate all my food?

Put on top of that the concerns about general maintenance, or major house
repairs, and you've got a stew of trouble. What if one wants to pull out,
and the others can't afford to "buy him out"? Or if one causes enough
trouble to warrant eviction - how do you evict someone from the house they
own? Talk about a legal mess.

What about after graduation? What if they all go their separate ways - and
end up with a house that they might not be able to sell? Do they then
become absentee landlords? Not everyone has cousins or siblings that would
want to go to the same college.

Looking at the foreclosure crisis, at the large-scale credit and bankruptcy
problem, that is part of the financial landscape of this country, it would
be completely irresponsible of banks or other financial institutions to make
it easier to increase potential problems.

Most of the older housing stock that would be affordable to students requires so much work and
rehabilitation, that either it won't get done - and the house will fall into
further disrepair - or the students will need to stack debt upon debt to get
wiring updated, new roofing, new furnace or water-heater. When you rent, if
your roof leaks you call the landlord, and if he doesn't fix it, you can

If it's your own house, and you don't have the money and can't get a
loan to fix it, then what? If you rent, and the basement drain backs up on
New Years Eve which happens to be on a Friday, you call the landlord, and he
or she arranges for the plumber to come and fix it, and often it's someone
they use regularly. If you own the house, you'll need to find a plumber
who's willing to come out on a weekend holiday, be prepared to pay both
weekend and holiday rates, and perhaps have to come up with cash for it if
it's a plumber you've never used before. Yeah, I've been there.

After 4 years of renting, as long as a student is relatively careful and
doesn't go crazy on student credit cards, he or she will be left with a
degree, a clean rental history, a decent starting credit score, and a
manageable debt load. Better than a crappy property and high debt.
There's lots more than a damage deposit to lose.

[Female name deleted by JOHNNY NORTHSIDE]

Former home owner, current renter


PS - I'm not a student, I'm just a not so old broad who reads the Daily
daily to keep up on current events and our future leaders.

Visualize student home ownership

This is the first article I wrote referencing the North Side, and the opportunities for students to get out from under the thumb of landlords and own their own housing.

This is the part of the column which I would like to emphasize, which hasn't exactly been taken up by the University of Minnesota (quite yet)as follows:

"I think our University should help improve the neighborhoods of this city, possibly by helping to arrange creative home financing for students, especially students who are willing to stick around the Twin Cities for a while working on graduate degrees."

Adding to this idea further, here in this blog: I assume such financing would take the shape of low interest loans. One really creative idea might be to find a way for "room and board" to mean "actual rooms, actual boards." Currently, students take out loans for "room and board" and that money is just frittered away on rent and meals. What if there were a way for "room and board" loans to go into EQUITY instead of some landlord's pocket?

And, I might add, students could make meals in their own home more economically than eating out--which is how so many students habitually feed themselves--or dining at University Dining Service, which is an even worse deal. Honestly, you could walk from the Carlson School of Management and get a better deal at two Asian buffets on the West Bank than you could at the dining facility at Carlson.

The same goes for walking to the Indian buffet in the Dinkydome versus eating at UDS facilities on the East Bank of campus.

But I digress. I think one way to help students arrange financing would be to apply "room and board" loans to "actual rooms, actual boards." The University could help students find ways to do this in an aboveboard (tee hee) way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And so it begins...

I am currently looking for a home on the North Side of Minneapolis. This is because I want to be near my little son, age 10, who lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities with his mother who is (I take pains to point out) an excellent mother. I also have a dream of helping to improve a troubled neighborhood and turn it into an urban utopia, a dream first instilled in me by a buddy of mine in Seattle, one Chris Gilmore, neighborhood activist and, I might add, one fine gardener and beekeeper.

A dream like that I feel is worthy to dedicate what I might call the "second half of my life." A dream like that will take years, decades, of blood and sweat and tears. I am ready.

I've virtually moved heaven and earth to be in the same city as my son, so I can see him frequently and be a meaningful part of his life. Through incredible and colorful acts of economizing, I've managed to squirrel away enough money to just about buy a home on the North Side and make a go of it.

In the course of researching homes on the North Side, I became fascinated with the issue of mortgage fraud, and heavily involved in digging up info and blogging about it on places like the TJ Waconia victims blog and Behind The Mortgage dot com. I dug up a lot of information about Universal Mortgage and forwarded it to a very good reporter in another state where Universal Mortgage was doing business, and I wait for something to come of that in the near future. I even filed "pro forma" complaints against Universal Mortgage in some states where this entity was doing business, so to start the investigative ball rolling where there appeared to be a lack of information.

Just today, while I was eating at Lucky Dragon on the West Bank, an investigator working for the State of Florida called me, asking about some further information. I went back to my grad school and filed a refined complaint with some further info. It's a very legalistic basis, but I think it has a shot of having the desired impact. We shall see.

I don't know what fascinates me so much about mortgage fraud. I'm not a victim and I've never had a mortgage before. Initially, I was just looking for some houses that might be "damaged goods" because of the fraud, looking for a bargain, but then I got totally into the topic when I saw a role that could be filled digging up info. People give me some kudos for digging up info, but I don't think it's such a big deal. I'm just compulsive about it. Once I catch the scent, I just don't quit, because I love the digging, the solving of a complicated mystery.

Of course, the North Side is the epicenter of mortgage fraud in the State of Minnesota. So it was all part of my "North Side" research, in a way. But I've also written a total of three opinion pieces about the North Side, which I'll be posting here by and by as I figure out how this blogger-roni thing works. These opinion pieces have generated a lot of commentary, both in the form of published letters to the editor/opinion pieces as well as emails. I'll be sharing what I can, but not violating any confidences for those who sent me emails with some very frank opinions, both for and against the stuff I was saying.

I love the North Side. I embrace the North Side, and I want it to embrace me. But I am ultra-realistic about the things I have seen there: fairly obvious drug dealing taking place on corners in broad daylight... a man who told me he was too scared to walk to the gas station just half a block away, because of crime in the neighborhood... rampant evidence of squatters in buildings... houses that have been left in really rough condition by the former owners, and the little surprises those houses hold. (I found a red jeweled thong on the kitchen counter of the last house I looked at, on Penn Ave N. Makes you wonder about the--dare I say?--"back story")

I also am open to and excited about the good things on the North Side, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say there is so much more good than bad, and that's why I hope grads and grad students from the University of Minnesota will consider making the North Side their nearby and affordable Twin Cities home instead of being "in thrall" to landlords in neighborhoods like Marcy-Holmes, truly a slumlord paradise. This is the best housing market in 30 years, and the best bargains are on the North Side. Buy, Gophers, buy!!!!

Good things I've seen on the North Side:

* The family-owned Asian grocery store just blocks from a house I looked at on Penn Ave. N., with a wonderful assortment of foods, some I've already learned to enjoy and others I'm looking forward to getting some cookbooks and learning all about.

* The large, beautiful Catholic church in the same neighborhood, which advertises services in both English and Vietnamese. I couldn't help thinking about one of my favorite students, Tiffany C. Dow, both talented and--at various points in her life--troubled, who embraced Catholicism and really seemed to turn her life in a good direction, now going to grad school in Wales. I thought how much she would enjoy seeing that church. She'd probably find a story idea there, as she often finds story ideas.

* The executive director of JACC, which looks out for the Jordan neighborhood, who was so eager to meet me and promote the North Side he swung by a local coffee shop to chat on short notice, his cute 6-year-old daughter in tow. She sat and read a storybook while he told me about his neighborhood. He said he was a realist. He told me about things like the need for diversity in the police force to promote more effective community policing, the need for officers to actually get out of their vehicles and interact, and how officers should live in the same city they patrol, not someplace like Lakeville.

I found myself saying "I couldn't agree more."

* The police officers who spoke to me about the neighborhood. Yes, I've heard some critical comments about how they didn't get out of their cars, they even "warned" me about the neighborhood. But you know what? They cared. They stopped to check out what was happening with a guy looking at an empty, boarded up building with a flashlight. The one who spoke to me was polite and completely controlled.

The cops are doing a good job. Yeah, we need more diversity in the ranks. We need more community policing. But you know what? The force we have is the force we have, and I don't think we can wait for the perfect force and the perfect moment to shut down open air drug markets. The Minneapolis Police Department once saved my father's life. That goes a long way with me, even if there have been periods in my life where I've been intensely critical of *some* police, or *some* police forces.

* A dream. A dream that begins to root itself in the North Side. A dream of living in the Twin Cities, the place where my father once worked as a humble cab driver, and he would come all the way back to our 11-acre farm near Forada, Minn., population 192 (now it's up to 197, I think) with what certainly SEEMED like big piles of money, and he would tell us incredible, colorful stories of the Twin Cities.

The time a naked woman ran out of a house and got in his cab. "DRIVE, CABBY, DRIVE!" she shouted. My father driving, but asking, "Um...where is your money?" The time Liberace (yes, THE Liberace) got in his cab, and graced my father with a $20 bill for a tip, and this back in the 1970s.

"Keep the change, cabbie," Liberace said, as his dazzling jeweled fingers held forth the $20.

The number of times he was robbed. My father once confided to me...while he was intoxicated, of course, which was when all the really juicy revelations took place...that he would never reveal to my mother how many times he was robbed in that cab. Once he faked out a robber with a toy pistol. Yes, it was MY toy pistol.

My father lost the Twin Cities duplex he owned in his first divorce. The culture, the economic opportunities of the Twin Cities were accessible, but oh how far away they seemed at times. Oh, how I wanted to travel to what seemed a distant land, once even hiding in his car and hoping to make the journey there. (He found me right away, and thank god) How well I remember the field trip my first grade class made to the Twin Cities, standing on the observation deck of the IDS tower and looking over the amazing cityscape.

I often feel like I carry the spirit of my dad with me. I can especially feel him when I am on Hennepin Avenue, because of the stories he used to tell about Hennepin Avenue, which at one time was synonymous with a rough part of town. Now look how Hennepin has changed. Look at how Lake Street, especially, has changed.

The same can happen for the North Side. It can be a diverse, artsy mix of the old and the new. Nobody should be "driven out," except DRUG DEALERS, but something must be added in place of all the empty, boarded-up buildings.

I want to start that ball rolling. I want to plant flowers, and put on coats of fresh paint, and describe my adventures here, including all the specifics about the different hurdles--the maze of different renovation programs available, the controversies and divisions and different points of view, and, yes, the dangers. The very real dangers. Don't tell me these dangers aren't real or try to cover them all over with this "spirit and feel of the North Side" thing, not when nice old women get stabbed in their home and a beautiful 4-year-old boy ends up in a garbage bag.

(Though let's be fair. He was first placed in a duffel bag. One newspaper used the phrase "double bagged" and I thought, "Oh, god, people are going to end up thinking about that when they buy heavy grocery items and say, "Double bag it, please." Well, let them think about it. What an awful, senseless murder. I'm just haunted by it)

Enough for a first post. I'm still figuring out how this whole thing works!

(All this stuff down below helps me get site traffic.
Kind of makes the website look like an old-fashioned
steamer trunk with decals all over it, doesn't it?)

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