Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two Mortgage Experts Debate The "North Minneapolis ARMs Defense Plan"

Photo By John Hoff

When Jeff Skrenes asked me to publicize an  innovative new program to get out ahead of ARM mortgages, click here, I had no idea the plan might be the least little bit controversial. Honestly, when Jeff starts talking about the nitty gritties of mortgages (as he so often does) I pull the same act I once used on my ex-wife when she began going on about her arcane forensic accounting triumphs...I smile faintly, maintain eye contact, nod from time to time, throw out a few phrases like, "Oh, really?"

But it turns out some folks are actually, really, totally INTO this issue, including Alex Stenback of Behind The Mortgage Dot Com...

As a few truly obsessed Johnny Northside readers may know, Johnny Northside was "born" on a particularly hot chat thread of Behind The Mortgage Dot Com, where I first used that name. There it was on BTM that I gained my special superhero blogging powers to fight evil and revitalize my neighborhood, when the chat thread began to radiate a strange, other-worldly energy from the psychic force of the conflict surrounding T.J. Waconia.

So it's always kind of cool to touch base with the blogmeister of BTM, Alex Stenback. Since the subject was mortgage nitty-gritties, I casually sent a link to Alex.

Alex replied with a 7 point discussion.

Holy cow, I thought, Jeff might find this interesting. So I forwarded it, because, well, SOMEBODY should find mortgages interesting, and that person is usually Jeff but, obviously, it's also Alex.

In a short while, Jeff replied with a 7 point reply/rebuttal; sent to me but cc'd to Alex.

How quickly an "ARMs plan" turns into "ARMed conflict."

Some people--and I'm not going to name names, here, but it's not just Alex and Jeff--are incredibly interested in this issue, and tuned in to this debate. So I'm going to print Alex Stenback's 7 points, and Jeff's 7 counter-points. If these two mortgage-obsessed geeks want to continue the discussion, they can use the comment threads.

Get your popcorn. Here's the ARMs PLAN BOXING MATCH between Jeff Skrenes and Alex Stenback.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: In order for these people "trapped" in ARMs to get any relief, they'll need to have equity in their homes. No equity mostly means no refinance/modification. Only way to determine this will be via appraisal, at a cost. You might find an appraiser who can give you a bulk discount to speed the process of sorting through "help-able" people.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: I can't say for sure how foreclosure prevention counselors at agencies such as ACORN Housing and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity get around the equity issue. However, I am 100 percent positive that they do not obtain appraisals in the vast majority of the loan modifications they get from lenders. Determining equity is helpful, and appraisers may come in handy if we need to start talking about principal reduction to market levels. But mass appraisals are not a necessary component for mass modifications.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: An assumption that the fact that they have an ARM automatically means that they are A.) in distress, B.) will be facing an upward payment adjustment, is far from a no-brainer. Many AARMs of the vintage you discuss are adjusting down (short term/index rates are very, very low right now) or to something resembling (within 100 to 150 basis points) the going rate for 30 year fixed rate paper. Refinancing costs money--equity, usually--so it often is not the best economic decision for them unless they have equity to burn and are facing a huge payment increase.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: We will be pushing for loan modifications in the majority of cases because a refinance includes closing costs and a modification usually has little to no cost. However, the "normal" way to get out of a predatory loan is to use the market (refinance).

If we can find even a few people who use that route it will help bring things back on track. Where I must significantly depart from what you write is regarding rates adjusting downward. All ARM loans have riders that set limits on how high and low the rate can go. In most subprime loans, the minimum rate is equal to the starter, or "teaser" rate.

And I don't call it a "teaser" rate for nothing. Subprime loans are usually indexed to the London Inter Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) in such a way that no matter what the LIBOR does, the rate will almost always go up. For prime and alt-a loans, this may not be the case, but we will be putting folks in touch with certified non-profit counselors who are trained to examine what is in the best interest of their client.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: For what it's worth, ARM's adjusting are something like the 8th item on any credible study (one by the Boston Fed comes to mind) of the causes of foreclosure. You might creditably claim that a phalanx of marriage counselors would keep more people in homes.

JEFF SKRENES: (Made no reply)

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: Many of the ARM borrowers you are targeting will not have the credit quality for a refinance or modification (even acceptable credit risk modified loans re-default at a 50 percent clip, by the way)

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: That number depends on what gets considered as a modification. I've seen "modifications" where someone in a loan with a rate that adjusts every six months gets a one-year freeze on the rate. WELL OF COURSE that is going to result in a re-default.

I don't have re-default rates at my fingertips for our primary counseling services, but it's something I'll look into. As far as where ARM resets rank, I agree that there are other factors that can be more pressing, such as medical issues, job loss, and divorce. But North Minneapolis has historically been redlined and has not received the same kind of credit other communities get.

In the mortgage boom, we were "green lined" and given grossly inappropriate loan products. In 2006, 64 percent of purchase loans and 58 percent of purchase loans to African-Americans were subprime. Almost all subprime loans were ARMs.

Sixty percent of those recipients qualified for a better product at the time of closing. Even with those stats, I was surprised to see how many more North Minneapolis folks cited job loss as the reason for their default.

However, the data clearly shows that our communities deserved better than what they got. We can't track house-by-house whose marriage is at risk, or who is losing their job, but we can do this for ARM resets. And speaking from my own personal experience as a divorcee--

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE INTERJECTS: Oh, good lord, I knew THIS was coming when Jeff just brooded in silence while Alex said something about "a phalanx of marriage counselors."

JEFF SKRENES: --and a recipient of a subprime loan, the bad mortgage can place stress on a marriage, so it's a case of chickens and eggs in my book.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: A door-knocking campaign like this could very well terrify homeowners--

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE INTERJECTS, LIKE A SMART ALEK: No, it's the people who DON'T knock on your door but come inside your house ANYWAY who terrify us in North Minneapolis.

ALEX STENBACK CONTINUES: My advice would be to focus on informing people what the terms of the ARM are, what the payemtns will adjust to, how, and when. Maybe I mistake the tone, but this whole things looks a little like anybody with an ARM is going to be treated like a gunshot victim in need of an emergency transfusion. I think that would be counterproductive.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: I have spent years doing this kind of work and know how to approach at-risk homeowners in such a way that it won't "terrify" them, and I am quite capable of training others to do the same. Our partner agencies have folks doing this who are better than I am at such tactics. To the few who would be "terrified" regardless, if we're bringing the ARM situation to the forefront, it's not counter-productive.

Many ARM recipients were told by their broker that they have a fixed rate, so I am sure we'll come across a fair number of people who honestly had no idea what their mortgage terms were.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: You should not throw these people back into the ARMs (no pun intended) of lenders that got them into or bought their toxic loans--

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE POINTS OUT: You capitalized "ARMs," Alex. Clearly, the pun WAS intended. Let's try to have a good clean fight, here, and keep those ARMs above the belt.

ALEX STENBACK CONTINUES: Assemble a cadre of good, honest loan officers who are willing to work with the subject borrowers on a one-to-one basis. As satisfying as it may be to try shaming the current lenders publically into "dealing with these loans" the only course of action they will take is whatever is likely to result in the least loss for them, IF there is any loss at all.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: The first contacts for the borrowers will be non-profit foreclosure prevention counselors. I spent six years in the mortgage industry, so I know who the good guys and bad guys are, and public shaming is certainly not my first route--


JEFF SKRENES CONTINUES: --However, we're beyond the point where we can afford to play nice with those who are responsible for this crisis and I am proud of my track record of successfully using public shaming as a way to bring about benefits for individuals and communities.


ALEX STENBACK: I will reiterate that adjusting ARMs are far down the list of foreclosure causes.

JEFF SKRENES: And I will refer you back to my response.

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE: (Doing a bad Howard Cossell imitation) Both of these fighters are exhausted, and just trying to run down the clock while keeping their ARMs in front of their faces, both hoping for a points victory from the judges.

And there's the final bell!

Good job, gentlemen. You really should take your little show on the road.

ADDENDUM: Alex Stenback says, by email, Jeff and him have a lot of common ground. He also points out "your instigator is showing."

Monday, November 24, 2008

IMPORTANT BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Minnesota Housing Finance Agency's Draft NSP Plan Will Hurt Neighborhoods, And Fails To Comply With Federal Law

Photo By John Hoff

Once again calling upon the Johnny Northside blog to quickly spread information about a critical situation in our neighborhoods, Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes has asked me to make the following public as soon as possible...

The headline on this blog post is my summary of the situation. The rest of the information comes verbatim from Jeff Skrenes, via email, and also from a letter forwarded by Jeff. The letter was written by Jerry Moore, Executive Director of the Jordan Area Community Council, Hawthorne's sister neighborhood on the other side of Emerson Ave. N.

First, the letter from Moore, as follows:

November 21, 2008
To: Dan Bartholomay, Tonja Orr
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency
400 Sibley Street, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55101

Re: Failure of MHFA draft NSP plan to comply with federal law; An alternative allocation which complies with federal law provides the central cities with an additional $9 million

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is no secret Jordan Neighborhood along with many other urban communities have been the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. In the past, opportunities have surpassed us for various reasons. Currently, we are faced yet again with a federal resource that could provide substantial relief from our homeowner's crisis; however it is my understanding we are being overlooked for adequate funding.

The Neighorhood Stabilization Program (NSP) Draft Substantial Amendment made available by MHFA on November 7 misdirects at least $9 million of this important resource away from areas of greatest need in the central cities and fails to meet the statutory and regulatory requirements of the program in a number of important ways, thus jeopardizing NSP funding for the state.

It is clear to me that we cannot afford to sit idle on this issue in hopes appropriate allocations will be made. This is a prime opportunity for community and governmental partners to join forces to assure an equitable amount of resource is allocated to the 55411 zip code. In order to achieve this goal we must first be fully aware of what we are up against. The following information highlights in detail areas of concern.

1.) Failure to distribute funds to areas of greatest need

The federal statute requires that a state in distributing NSP funds "shall...give priority emphasis and consideration to those...areas with the greatest need." The statute provides that "areas with the greatest need" include those with the highest concentrations of home foreclosures and subprime loans. Similarly, the HUD regulations for the NSP program require that the state application identify the geographic areas of greatest need and demonstrate how its proposed distribution of funds will meet the statutory requirement that the funds be distributed to areas of greatest need.

It is clear that MHFA, in developing its proposal for distribution of its NSP funds, has failed to base its decisions on the factors required by the statute and regulations and has instead relied on factors which tend to obviate the federal "greatest need" requirement.

In effect, the MHFA has adopted a "slightly above average need" allocation formula rather than directing funds to areas of "greatest need" as required by federal law.

a.) Intentional diversion of funds from areas of greatest need

The first step in the MHFA's distribution plan is to rank zip codes by a weighted average of the statutory factors set out in the the statute (rate of foreclosures, subprime loans, defaults) compared to the weighted average for the state as a whole. The MHFA then includes in the priority area calculation 120 zip codes which have weighted average rates of problems which need be only slightly higher than then state average. (125% of state average)

Thus the MHFA's analysis starts by considering appropriate factors, but discarding the notion of "greatest need." The distribution calculation effectively allocates state NSP funds to each of these areas, many of which cannot reasonably be characterized as having the "greatest need."

The MHFA is quite open about this. The application states that the 120 zip codes were chosen in part on two factors that are not simply irrelevant to, but actually contradict the "greatest need" requirement: 1.) assuring that at least 50% of the state's subprime foreclosures are included. This consideration virtually assures dispersion of scarce federal resources away from areas of greatest need, 2.) "Balancing the distribution of funds between the Twin Cities metro area and Greater Minnesota." This consideration is obviously irrelevant to distribution of funds to areas of greatest need.

By replacing the "greatest need" requirement with what amounts to an "above average need," the state has diverted millions from low income minority areas devastated by irresponsible lending practices. There are no neighborhoods similarly affected by the foreclosure crisis outside of the central cities and two adjacent suburbs.

b.) An alternative which does comply with federal law allocates $9 million more to central cities

Attached as Exhibit 1 (not here included on this blog) are two spreadsheets illustrating the result of an allocation procedure which follows the proposed MHFA methodology exactly, except that it limits allocation of state NSP funds to zip codes with at least twice the state average concentration of problem loans (200% of the state average rather than 125%).

The first recreates the MHFA distribution spreadsheet, with the 200% cut-off; the second compares the results of this alternative allocation to that proposed by the MHFA. The result is that funds are allocated to 40 zip codes instead of 120 and an additional $9 million is allocated to the central cities.

Entitlement funds to Greater Minnesota zip codes are also increased substantially, but the competitive funds set aside in the MHFA proposal for Greater Minnesota are reduced so that Greater Minnesota has a net loss of $1.4 million. In addiction, the other competitive pools are reduced by $4.3 million and entitlement funds to metro area suburbs are reduced to $3.2 million.

2.) Failure to affirmatively further fair housing

A relatively few low income, disproportionately minority, neighborhoods have far higher rates of defaulted sub prime mortgages than any other areas of the state. See Exhibit 2 (not included on this blog) maps generated by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota demonstrating the concentrations of loans held by persons of color, sub prime loans, and foreclosures in these areas.

These neighborhoods, located in the central cities and two suburbs adjacent to North Minneapolis, have been decimated by the widespread displacement of homeowners and by very high concentrations of vacant and untended homes--resulting in blight which quickly spreads to surrounding homes, destruction of the foreclosed property and by vandalism as well as lack of care by overwhelmed servicing agents, and increased opportunities for crime.

There are no other areas of the state which are so dramatically affected by irresponsible subprime lending and the foreclosure crisis and no other areas of the state where the adverse effects fall so disproportionately on minorities. Yet the MHFA has chosen to deliberately divert millinos of NSP funds, intended by Congress to address precisely these problems, to far less needy areas.

This not only runs counter to congressional intent, it violates the state's obligation under both the NSP and the CDBG legislation to act in ways which affirmatively furthers fair housing.

3. A critical clarification is needed.

Conversations with city staff working on this issue suggest that it is critical that MHFA clarify that local government proposals for MHFA funds need to propose to direct the funds to areas of greatest need, but that these areas need not be defined in precisely the way that the MHFA's allocation plan does. The MHFA has chosen to allocate funds based on the concentration of problem loans in zip codes. Needless to say, zip codes are rather blunt instruments which do not precisely track areas of greatest need.

For instance, the MHFA analysis indicates that zip code 55411 in North Minneapolis has the highest concentration of of problem loans in the state. Immediately south of 55411 is 55405, which includes a number of blocks in North Minneapolis with problems identical to those in 55411, but also includes the much more affluent Kentwood area.

It would be absurd to deny Minneapolis the ability to use NSP funds from the state in the North Minneapolis portion of 55405; just as it would be absurd to insist that Minneapolis must spend exactly the $2,482,799 allocated to 55411, no more and no less, in that zip code, rather than in that zip code and in similarly affected adjacent areas.

The MHFA allocation plan is silent on this issue and that silence appears to have many city staff convinced that areas suffering high vacancies as a result of concentrations of problem loans will be ineligible for use of state funds if not located in the zip codes used by the MHFA in allocated funds to specific governmental units.

In conclusion, I am sure you would agree sitting by idle is not going to assure an equitable amount of funding resource. Your voice is needed!

Yours truly,

Jerry Moore, Executive Director JACC

"Imperfect, But I Had No Idea HOW Imperfect"

Jeff Skrenes adds the following to Jerry's letter:

It's been in the papers recently that a whole bunch of federal money is coming to Minnesota to help communities combat the effects of the foreclosure crisis. Roughly $5.5 million will come to the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota will get about $38.5 million. Some of the state money will come to Minneapolis, as well.

The public comment period for teh city money ended this morning. However, applications for the state money are not due until January 17, 2009. In all likelihod, entities such as GMHC (Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation), Minneapolis CPED, the Home Ownership Center, and the Foreclosure Prevention Funders' Council will probably be the recipients of much of this money.

In my opinion, that's not a problem. My concern is that organizations on the front lines have a say in how that money is used. Specifically, community councils in North Minnepolis neighborhoods hardest hit, our foreclosure prevention counselors and their agencies, ACORN (I know they get a bad rap right now, but frankly who else does grassroots organizing around financial justice issues?) and the Minneapolis Urban League should be heard from as we progress. Collectively, many of these organizations are part of a coalition called the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Back to the nitty gritty of the money coming to Minnesota: This is where it helps to have two sets of eyes, and you'd be surprised who catches what. I looked at 85 pages of mortgage policy documents regarding these funds and came away thinking that we were in pretty good shape about how things were allocated. That is...until I read the letter (above) from Jerry Moore, Executive Director of our neighboring Jordan Area Community Council.

I know that federal dollars allocated as quickly as these were are often given using an imperfect system, but I had no idea how imperfect. Even so, I saw that North Minneapolis wouldn't have time to really make our voices heard regarding the initial $5.5 million. Instead, we must engage our city officials regarding who applies for the state money and what they want to do with it. And here's our opening:

When entities apply for the state funds, here is part of the application criteria:

"Neighborhood improvement Efforts. Applicants must describe existing or anticipated neighborhood improvement efforts to:

* Encourage commercial development.

* Improve safety.

* Improve schools.

* Develop and improve parks and recreation.

* Improve transportation and streets.

* Improve landscaping, sidewalks, and medians, and

* Engage citizens in neighborhood stabilization.

Take a look at that last line. ENGAGE CITIZENS IN NEIGHBORHOOD STABILIZATION. That is EXACTLY what the community councils are doing, as well as ACORN, NCRC, and others. I am not sure if it makes sense for any of us to go after this money, (though). I wouldn't discourage it, but I doubt I have the time or ability to get a viable application of this nature done by January. Instead, I think it's better for us to engage the city and others regarding what money is applied for and how it may be used.

I spoke with a city official last week about this tactic. Her initial response was that there probably wouldn't be enough time to get a huge community meeting together and then take that input and really incorporate it into the application process. I honestly don't think she was trying to get out of it; time is really of the essence, here.

So my response was that the staff of the community councils does a pretty good job understanding, articulating, and representing those community needs. And even the chance for a meeting between her department and various neighborhood staff with a chance to have an impact on the outcome would be more than we typically get.

Her response: "Set it up and I'll be there."

So where do we go from here? People who want to have input should contact Jerry Moore at Jordan Area Community Council or Jeff Skrenes at teh Hawthorne Neighborhood Council. The two of us, along with others that join along the way, will be meeting with the city shortly. We want neighborhood input and ideas that we can bring forward. Based on the criteria set forth by the state, THE CITY NEEDS OUR INPUT TO MAXIMIZE THE NECESSARY DOLLARS COMING OUR WAY!

And they are open to our ideas. But time is short. Contact us, and we'll make your voices heard!

FOR JORDAN, CALL THE JORDAN AREA COMMUNITY COUNCIL at 612-886-3202 (Jerry Moore, Executive Director)

or his cell phone at 952-210-1086.

ADDENDUM: Emails for these guys, which are much more convenient than phone calls, are as follows: jskrenes@hawthornecommunity.org, jmoore@jordanmpls.org.

I was also told by Mark Ireland, an attorney who has worked for Hawthorne on predatory lending issues, that The Housing Preservation Project sent a letter similar to the one written by Jerry Moore, and Ireland will make an attempt to obtain a copy and forward it.

IMPORTANT BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Hawthorne Neighborhood Launches Innovative Program To Assist Homeowners With Adjustable Rate Mortgages Before Reset

Photo By John Hoff

Starting December 1, 2008, volunteers will be hitting the streets and literally knocking on doors to seek out North Minneapolis homeowners in danger of losing everything to Adjustable Rate Mortgages. The effort will be part of an innovative, first in the nation program. According to...

...an email sent minutes ago by Hawthorne's Housing Director, Jeff Skrenes, which Skrenes asked to have publicized immediately to get the word out as quickly as possible, Hawthorne has received a research assistant from CURA, which is a program at the University of Minnesota, click here, for the Spring 2008 semester which--despite its name--begins in, brrrr, January.

All of the following comes from Jeff Skrenes, verbatim:

Through the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, a group of North Minneapolis non-profits, faith-based, and ethnic organizations working together around financial justice, we have come up with a way to identify Adjustable Rate Mortgages before they reset. The Federal Reserve has this data, but only at the zip code or census tract level. That does not help neighborhoods like Hawthorne and its North Minneapolis neighbors because we already know the problem is all around us in our zip codes and census tracts.

Credit is due to Dave Snyder of Jewish Community Action and Jerry Moore of Jordan Area Community Council for getting this idea started. Here's how it works: Hennepin County has given us spreadsheets of every mortgage originated in 2007 in the county. Then they give us the legal descriptions for each plot in various Minneapolis neighborhoods. We search by keyword and find every mortgage originated in Hawthorne in 2007. Then we take that data down to the Hennepin County government center and search those specific mortgages to find out if they are adjustable and when they are resetting. This gives us an exact address and we can reach out to the owner and/or occupant to help them with their mortgages.

We are only doing 2007 for now because many of the worst loans in North Minneapolis were 2/6 ARM loans; fixed for two years, adjusting every six months afterward. This means by the time we get the data in 2009, loans originated in 2006 and earlier will have adjusted at least twice. We're starting with the data we think will get us the most homeowners with ARMs that have not reset.

THIS IDEA CAME FROM GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ORGANIZING AND NO ONE ELSE HAS THIS KIND OF DETAILED DATA! Actually, a lot of scammers and marketers have this data because they pay people to dig it up. But now we can get the same information and use it for good instead of evil.

So our research assistant from CURA will help us analyze this data to find patterns we may not have seen ourselves. He or she will also put this on a GIS mapping system so we can use this to present to others and show where the next ARMs are resetting. This process will also be replicable throughout Hennepin County and any other county that aggregates its mortgage data in a similar fashion.

We will be using this information to go door-to-door and talk to people before their rates reset, in anticipation that we will be able to help them out of predatory loans. We'll also be able to point to specific lenders and say, "We have hard data showing you originated loans that will soon reset in our neighborhood and that means you're responsible for helping resolve these problems now."

HERE IS WHAT WE NEED FROM PEOPLE: On Monday, December 1, we will have a press conference to kick off a week's worth of door knocking. We have identified over 350 north Minneapolis residents--so far--that have ARM loans originated in 2007. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has also given us addresses of residents who are late on mortgages. We will be going directly to the doors of those in need and getting them in touch with foreclosure prevention services. This will go on nightly from Monday the 1st through Thursday the 4th.

WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! Call Jeff Skrenes at the Hawthorne office (612-529-6033 x204) if you are interested.

(The Johnny Northside blog is happy to be of service and get the word out. Please pass along links to media, volunteers, impacted homeowners, and others who need to hear about this story)

ADDENDUM, DECEMBER 4, 2008: This blog post was corrected to reflect the fact lists were provided, ultimately, by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity even though, initially, it was thought the lists would be obtained elsewhere. 

The ULTIMATE Stupid North Minneapolis Home Repair

Photo By John Hoff

Nobody is going to top THIS stupid North Minneapolis home repair, not even the guy who pioneered the practice of publicizing them on his blog....


In some ways, however, this is not a Johnny Northside exclusive. Today I had the privilege of working with Jeanie Hoholik and showing her a few blogging tricks, comparing her own blog to the advantages and disadvantages of Blogspot and--just as a sample post--I wrote on her blog about the silly bullet hole repair, click here.

So Jeanie got the first round, and I got the second.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Double My Money: The Story Of Selling My House At 3016 6th St. N. (Yet More Photos)

Photos by John Hoff

Here is the last series of photos from my former house, though the house still sits there. I wonder when it will be demolished? And, hey, maybe I should go back and get some winter photos...

From top to bottom, here goes:

1.) Wild grape grew in abundance at the property, and I had dreamed of making stuffed grape leaves when the house was renovated with a working kitchen. Sigh. Oh well, it's not that hard to find grape leaves growing everywhere.

2.) Wild lilies grew in the yard, too, and (being something of a survivalist and wild foods enthusiast) I had dreamed of making fritters from the blossoms, and eating the roots, just to say I did. Sigh. Oh, well, if there's anything easier to find than grape leaves, it's probably wild lilies.

3.) My old back yard. The guy who wanted to buy the place and turn it into a low-income rental had an idea to expand the house into this yard.

4.) Mowing my lawn one last time with Peter Teachout's environmentally-friendly lawnmower. I hadn't used an old school grass whacker since I was about 12 years old. Now I remember why. The slightest twig jams them up.

Double My Money: The Story Of Selling My House At 3016 6th St. N. (More Photos)

Photos By John Hoff

Here we have, in order from top to bottom...

1.) Arg, this was a last-minute problem at my house. I came along and somebody had dumped a bunch of branches on the deck right before my closing inspection. This kind of b.s. would happen all the time in the neighborhood. One day you'd show up and, oh gee, the garbage can is just...missing.

Fortunately, good ol' Phil Kleindl was working next door on one of his properties. I seem to recall I handed Phil some cash to let me put the branches on a pile of debri he planned to haul away in the next few days.

Oh, also, I should say this: things have changed a lot in the Eco Village, and the daily b.s. factor is down considerably.

2.) Some minutes later, problem solved. Now you can see the small deck. Somebody took pride in that little deck. I bet beers were consumed there, Superbowls discussed, barbeque grilled to perfection. I had dreamed about having friends out on that deck, some time after the board visible in the background of the first picture would be transformed back into a BACK DOOR.

Le Sigh. I will have a deck somewhere else.

3.) Fridge magnets on my oven hood with no oven. I have--I kid you not--a bunch of pictures of "my life as a series of fridges." One day I plan to put together some kind of artsy-fartsy composite. But I had no fridge at 3016 6th St. N., so I took a picture of the oven hood with the fridge magnets I had accumulated, as I always accumulate fridge magnets, which I adore with the unfiltered enthusiasm of a child.

4.) Artwork from one of my young relatives which cheered me each day I was at my property.

5.) I mentioned in the previous post about my zealous commitment to recycling. This sign reminds us all: recycle housecats or other large felines. Waste not, want not. Animals are in shelters waiting to be adopted, so why would you BUY an animal from a pet store?

Note: the sign is actually from a town in Ohio, and CATS is some kind of local bus system. I spotted it while doing some commercial driving and took a picture for a friend of mine...it's kind of an in-joke.

Trust me, you don't want to know.

Double My Money: The Story Of Selling My House At 3016 6th St. N. (Photo One)

Photo By John Hoff

I've delayed telling this story for a while, because--for tedious reasons too technical to get into--I simply didn't have the photos handy. But now the images are finally in my hands, and though only a few months old, they're like a blast from the past.

And my promise to tell the story is a blast from the past, too. I'll try to be good to my word, here...

So the deal is I bought 3016 6th St. N. with the intention of fixing it up or demolishing it and--as I so blithely put it--"popping in a modular home."

A Deal With The Devil

The day before closing, I had the purchase agreement in my hand and I was out at the property dealing with an incredibly blatant case of electricity theft. A certain low-income rental property tycoon came by and chatted with me on my soon-to-be front yard. The affordable housing baron wanted to know if I owned the house and, if so, how much I had paid.

Well, I didn't want to say I merely had a PURCHASE AGREEMENT. Until the property actually changed hands, I figured somebody who came along and offered more money could get their hands on the house. So I avoided saying, explicitly, that I only had a purchase agreement. Maybe I used a nebulous phrase like "it's a done deal."

He pressed. He wanted to know what I had paid. I said I'd paid $9,500, which was the price I was getting set to pay--if memory serves me--the very next day.

When I named that price, he was BESIDE HIMSELF. Arg! How had he missed getting the property for such a price? He gestured toward 3020 6th St. N. and 3024 6th St. N., both of which he owned--more or less, there being mortgage issues--both of which he'd paid a lot for.

I assured him I'd been watching housing prices like a hawk, looking to snap up something with a low ball bid. I told him how I'd bid OVER AND OVER and had bids rejected, but finally I found a seller who was willing to play ball with me. I didn't want the poor guy to feel bad. This was way before I knew how much crack-dealing was taking place at his property, and how he either turned a blind eye to it or...or...

Well, at a minimum, he turned a blind eye.

What would I take for it? he demanded. Right here, right now, what would I sell it for?

I named the figure of $17,000 because it was the last price listed on the MLS before I bid on it, and managed to force a steep price drop. As I named my price, I was gesturing with my hand. The Devil grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously up and down, and told me I had myself a deal. He would pay $17,000, but no more.

The Accidental Flipper

Holy cats, I thought. I think I just flipped a house.

So I closed on the house. And right away, I was dealing with The Devil to resell it.

Of course, I knew The Devil's nature, but I figured I'd just sell the house and buy a better one. What did it matter, as long as I could find a better place to have visitation with my son? But right about this same time, I was becoming friends with Peter Teachout. I was trying to make my block more secure. I didn't think that nailing boards up over crackhouses to keep the crackheads out was so spectacular...it just seemed like the good sense of country boys and soldiers, both of which make up a big part of my persona. I figured if I did it, other people would take heart. In the middle of this, 612 Authentic arrived to make videos for MinnPost.

What a block. What a life. What exciting developments. I felt alive and part of things, and blogging about it the whole time.

I was told the City of Minneapolis wanted my house for their visionary "Eco Village" project. I'd moved smack dab into the middle of the Eco Village and not even known about it until after I was in the way of their backhoe. In the meantime, The Devil was taking his sweet time. He had a contractor over at the house to make some estimates. He kept negotiating terms, angling for a contract-for-deed.

A certain mover and shaker in the neighborhood--and it WAS NOT Jeff Skrenes--chatted with me on the sidewalk while a reporter for MinnPost interview some of us. We cut a deal of sorts. I said I'd sell the house to Minneapolis for what the slumlord(s) were willing to pay, which hovered near $17,000. I offered to provide an "option to buy" for $1.

"How long do you need?" I asked. "I mean, realistically?"

The answer was in months, not days or weeks. OK, I said, worrying that a backhoe would show up in my front yard before a check showed up in my hand, I'll work with you. I'll try to do the right thing, here, instead of the fast, easy and highly-profitable thing, which would have involved "closing" on the hood of a car in the parking lot of a bank, where a notary public might be found to notarize a "quit claim deed."

The Devil kept referring to such a document as a "quick" claim deed. I didn't bother correcting him. When your moral compromises are this deep, grammer be damned.

Moving At The Speed Of Government

This was when I first heard an amusing phrase: moving at the speed of government. So it took a while. It took a very long time. There was talk of having the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council cover the closing costs, since that was part of the deal: I wouldn't pay closing costs. After all, my "deal with the devil" involved no closing costs.

In our hellish little arrangment, it worked like this: The Devil would look over my closing paperwork in its attractive plastic folder, satisfied that I had just closed on the house and I owned it, outright. A quit claim deed would be sufficient, but he would be the one to have the document drawn up, not me.

If I somehow engaged in double dealing--say, by selling it to somebody else on the hood of ANOTHER car the previous night, but then selling it again to The Devil the next morning--that was quite alright. Such a betrayal would be dealt with through "the law of the streets," he said, with an evil grin.

I assured The Devil that "the law of the streets" would not be necessary. I owned the house, heaven help me. But this was certainly another good reason to sell the house to the City of Minneapolis instead of The Devil. The closing ceremony was so much nicer. I seem to recall there were mints and free soft drinks.

The Devil was NOT HAPPY about me making a better deal with the City of Minneapolis, I can tell you. At one point, he called me on the phone and said he'd been to a casino, and he was winning, and he'd pay me $17,000 in cash all up front. Forget what he'd said about a contract for deed. I assured The Devil that if my deal with the City of Minneapolis fell through, I'd come crawling back to him on hands and knees.

But it didn't happen like that. Minneapolis was slow, but true to its word.

"Quiet Enjoyment" Of My Property

On the appointed day and time, before the closing, some kind of inspector showed up from the City of Minneapolis to make sure all "debri" was removed from the house, to see what needed to be removed, salvaged, abated, and so forth. It was an easy process. On the day before closing, I cut the lawn, and at that time I took a picture of "my tree."

Yes, see it above. MY TREE. The tree is still there and, indeed, it might be there for many years to come even after the City of Minneapolis demolishes the house. But I wasn't going to own it any longer, and I wanted a picture of it. My tree. My lawn. My deck. My spacious back yard. My decrepit historical chimney revealing the true age of the house, despite the modern siding.

The person closing for the City of Minneapolis appeared...bored...on the other side of the huge polished conference table. She did closings all the time, she told me. For me, this was a big deal. For Minneapolis, it was just another property. I took my money and ran. I started looking for my next house.

What Do I Know From Taxes? :)

I understand the tax assessed value of the house at 3016 6th St. N. is quite high, despite the low sales prices. Well, first of all, foreclosure sales are not considered proof of value. I've heard that from somebody at the assessor's office who is forced to deal--quite often, it appears--with individuals appealing the value of their properties.

The fact the tax assessed value was 6 digits when I bought the house doesn't bother me. I didn't have an opportunity to appeal it, since I never owned the house in January or December, which is roughly the time when tax assessments need to be appealed. If not appealed, the tax assessments remain in place.

As for why the value may be so much more than the last sales price...the City of Minneapolis owns the property next door, so the lot for 3016 6th St. N. now has the potential to become part of a super-cali-fragilistic-ex-pee-el-oh-doe-shush back yard. So the fact the property value is now something like $47,000 makes perfect sense. At one time after the sale, the value may have been listed higher but I assume that was just some kind of bureaucratic adjustment made before some kind of final determination, blah blah blah.

WHY AM I GETTING INTO ALL THIS TEDIOUS DETAIL? Well, there is a certain T.J. Waconia-affiliated (expletive) hole who insists some kind of "dirty deal" was made with my house, as shown by my profit margin and the tax assessed value of my (former) house.

Uh huh. Well, the famous CitiMortgage house at 415 31st Ave. N. sold for $18,500, which is a very similar price. The taxable value for THAT property is ALSO currently six figures. I guess the problem with people who hang around T.J. Waconia is they assume EVERYBODY ELSE engaged in shady, dirty deals.

As They Say In Dixieland, "All Lived Out."

Part of me felt bad for the old house, but I considered 3016 6th St. N. was like a person at the end of their life whose best days are in the past.

Personally, I think houses should be lived in until they fall over from relentless catapult bombardment by radioactive mutant zombies, then the houses should be cut into pieces and burned for warmth in a Franklin stove, the malleable metals extracted first, of course, useful nails sifted from the ashes.

All of my close, personal friends know the depth of my convictions in regard to recycling, and I'm sure the anecdotes are passed along with rolled eyes and shakes of the head: how John Hoff said, "Fork 'em over" rather than allow a friend to waste a handful of French fries, or walked outside to throw his ice on the lawn, not in the trash, with a little sermon about making a "drink offering" to The Earth.

Recycle EVERYTHING, I say. Including cans, shoes, old houses. Including the mortgage fraudsters from T.J. Waconia, who might be more useful to the neighborhood under "house arrest" than sitting in a federal prison, click here.

But there is more than one way to waste resources. Allowing a neighborhood to fester into a slumlord paradise of rundown, low-value houses creates an environment where more will be spent yearly on 911 calls than can possibly be collected in property taxes. How is that "conserving resources?"

Thus I defer to the wisdom of the City of Minneapolis in regard to the need to relentlessly bulldoze my former house into kindling. And I like the idea of flowers growing on the spot once more.

I am easy. I go with the flow.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Poor Widdle Sex Offender's Former Home To Be Demolished

Photo By John Hoff

Kevin Gulden of PPL informs me via a November 19 email that, while 3023 4th St. N. might be spared, a harsher fate awaits 3024 6th St. N, the former home of...

Level 3 Sex Offender Junaid Maalik.

Poor Widdle Lost Sex Offender--Lost AGAIN!

Interestingly, Junaid no longer turns up on the Minnesota Department of Corrections website for Level 3 Sex Offenders, et al, which brings up some possibilities:

1.) It's a mistake or cover-up. Junaid Maalik SHOULD be up there along with such North Minneapolis noteables as Daniel Paul Breeding and the offensively smirky Phillip Lamont Coleman, but some bureaucrat is tired of Johnny Northside checking the official home of record against official REALITY, and then putting it on his blog.

So Junaid Maalik is no longer listed.

2.) Junaid has finished his period of supervision. So he is no longer on the Department of Corrections website. But, just like murderer; once a Level 3 Sex Offender, always a Level 3 Sex Offender, I say.

3.) Junaid went back to prison. Junaid died. Junaid got permission to leave the state, and did, gladly. (The feeling is mutual) Who knows? Anybody who knows should tell me, because I don't know, but inquiring minds would LIKE to know.

Can Nothing Stop The Backhoe Of Doom?

But that wasn't the point of this post, merely an interesting sideline I discovered while searching for a link. The point is 3024 6th St. N. has been procured by PPL and, according to Kevin Gulden, "We will now start the process of solicting bids to demolish the property."

I've Got Your "Bid" Right HERE

Johnny Northside is willing to underbid EVERYBODY, Kevin!

Here's my bid:

$1, official permission, written protection from all legal liability, and I'll provide my own book of matches. (Like I paid for 'em. HA!!!!)

The $1 must be, of course, cash money. No checks.

Believe It Or Not--I Can Keep A Secret

Actually, I knew PPL was trying to acquire this house. I've known it for weeks, MONTHS, actually. But publicizing such a fact wouldn't have been helpful to PPL, so I kept it to myself and just queried Kevin every few weeks.

There are times when I feel like I'm NOT blogging as much as I'm blogging, because of things people tell me but then quickly say, "Don't go blogging about this."

But I feel so much better now that I'm allowed to tell. Yes, that's the house. Right there. Peeking out from behind the bushes.

No Demolition For 3023 4th Street North!

Photo By John Hoff

During my Hawthorne Housing Committee recap, I mentioned how there was hope PPL would rehab rather than demolish 3023 4th St. N. Well, it's official...

Kevin Gulden tells me in an email dated November 17 that "PPL will not be demolishing this house. We have recently completed a detailed scope of work on how we plan to renovate the property. We plan to present the scope at the December Housing Committee Meeting for review. The project will then go out to bid with work likely starting in January."

Kevin adds, "The house will be sold to a new family. It will have 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. Anyone interested should contact me (Kevin Gulden) at PPL."

It's nice to see one of the houses saved rather than demolished.

Then again...demolition is fun, too. Progress is being made in the Hawthorne Neighborhood in so many ways, and this is more of it.

(I didn't have a suitable photo to illustrate this blog entry...so I went with some flowers in the Polish lady's garden which are the same color as The Backhoe Of Doom)

Foreclosure Poetry By Bryan Thao Worra

Photo By 612 Authentic,
Possibly a Video Capture

Bryan met with Jake and Gabe of 612 Authentic--yes, still making their movie about the foreclosure crisis--and he read a poem in front of a foreclosed house. Here is...

...the poem, which Bryan was kind enough to email me.

Closer, 2008

A house as a poem is about doors
And walls, neighbors and stories.

Not mere beams and boards,
But the hearts behind them, varied as they are.

Here, the child is supposed to play,
While the lovers smile by their stars,
Our elders grow, tomorrow arrives.

So many rooms empty,
So many dreams lost.

Undone by paper and calculation,
Where shall we eat, where shall we stay?
Where shall we dare another day?

We, as memories, a nation, a city of
Numbers who must not forget we are still people.

Human. One.

Finance, like demons, has its place.
Justice, like wisdom, flourishes only among the free,
As proper as the open eye on a humane face.

"Problem Property" Information From Diane Hofestede's Office

Photo By John Hoff, September 25, 2008

Third Ward Minneapolis City Councilperson Diane Hofestede sent an email to a member of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Housing Committee, and naturally it was forwarded to a number of folks. According to...

...Hofestede, "both 2207 6th St. N. and 614 22nd Ave. N. have been placed on the CARE/Problem Property List and will be monitored." Hofestede says "A housing inspection was completed which resulted in issuing multiple violations. Housing inspector has ordered owner to remove junk and two inoperable vehicles by 11/7/08. Also, inspector ordered first floor and basement be cleaned by 11/15/08 and window repaired by 11/30/08."

In regard to 614 22nd Ave. N., "the house is in foreclosure, redemption period ends in December. Calls for service have subsided since the police were involved with 2207 6th St. N. No housing activity or complaints since March 2007."

By the way, for those interested, here is a fairly good link to a list of foreclosure data for Ward 3, Minneapolis which seems to get updated every month.

3306 James Ave. N., A Former "T.J. Waconia House," Will Soon Hit The Market

Cell Phone Pictures, From
The "Flipper" Of 3306 James
Sent Via Jeanie Hoholik

Real Estate Agent Jeanie Hoholik reports her flipper friend will put 3306 James Ave. N. back on the market next week. This is very significant because this is a former T.J. Waconia house and...

...purchasing it required jumping through some official hoops. (But, actually, not too many and not so very difficult, according to Jeanie) The worst part was when the flipper injured herself fixing the house, but she has fortunately recovered.

So 3306 James Ave. N. is not only the first of the "infamous list" T.J. Waconia properties to be resold, but now it is apparently the first one to be successfully "flipped."

This house--with beautiful kitchen shown above--can be yours! Along with it comes all that twisted, convoluted, interesting T.J. Waconia history. Much better than a ghost, I think.

On another note: Jeanie admits the style of my blog has influenced her posting, including this recent post, click here.

But I say the biggest part of my "style" is not what I write, but how often I write it.

More Trouble At 2207 6th St. N.

Photo By A Good Citizen

Things were quiet for a while after the massive police raid (click here) but there was more trouble with police the night of Tuesday, November 18 or early morning on Wednesday, November 19...

A good citizen who keeps everybody informed about 2207 6th St. N. reports by email that "a couple of squads approached this place last night with their lights off, parked a few houses away, and then four officers were seen going into the house." (The photo above is not from that incident, but the previous raid)

The house at 2207 6th St. N. continues to show the "bad apple" pattern, where a single rotten property causes problems for good people all around. Fortunately, citizens are banding together and putting a stop to this nonsense. North Minneapolis is turning around, though it is a struggle, and often enough the focus of that struggle is 2207 6th St. N.

A Passionate Voice Against Surveillance Cameras (Who Has Been Spilling LOADS Of Info!)

Photo By John Hoff

Nate Hansen, attorney at law, and I go way back. He was a class or two ahead of me at the University of North Dakota, and...

...represented the law school on the Student Senate. I was the guy who replaced Nathan on the Student Senate, but not because I beat Nathan in an election. The last thing on earth Nathan wanted was to run again. I was nominated to run by popular acclamation, as it were, some of it whipped up by Nathan himself. My campaign slogan was actually a plea for everybody to vote for another law student named Mike...Mike...something. I can't remember Mike's last name. I remember he owed me three bucks for MONTHS until he paid it back.

But my fellow law students voted for me over Mike, saying the Student Senate richly "deserved" John Hoff after the way they'd treated Nathan Hansen. I was compared to, among other things, a harsh laxative. But I actually had a pretty good time serving on the Student Senate. (Though I could see why Nathan got fed up)

Now that I'm on Facebook, I am trying to catch up with good ol' Nathan Hansen. It turns out we don't agree on everything, naturally. Nathan was a delegate at RNC 2008, I was out in the streets getting teargassed. (Click here)

Twice. (Click here)

Despite the privileged comfort and security he enjoyed inside XCel Energy Center while a Republican delegate (whose Libertarian leanings were spilling out all over the place) Nathan doesn't like the fact too much overbearing "security culture" has entered the lives of United States citizens, and Nathan actually obtained documents about the locations of all Minneapolis security cameras and posted all that info on his blog. Click here. It's amazing.

The link above will take you to a PDF document showing all the locations for the 4th Precinct, but Nathan's blog (click here) has other Minneapolis camera locations, too.

On the one hand, my blogging about this information actually helps Nathan's cause to "expose" the security cameras, which he opposes. But on the other hand, Nathan is doing well enough on his own trying to make this information very public. He actually got on Mayor Rybak's Facebook profile and tried to start a discussion about the security cameras, referring folks to his blog.

Since I actually SUPPORT the security cameras, and many (possibly most) of my faithful blog readers do, too, I'm forced to engage in somewhat paradoxical behavior: by telling everybody what Nathan Hansen is up to, I'm promulgating Nathan's info (admittedly) but I'm also providing information about Nathan's effort to the very folks who SUPPORT the cameras instead of the info being in the hands of just Nathan's preferred audience of individuals who DO NOT support the cameras and read Nathan's blog.

It's kind of like the time I emailed Diane Hofestede's office to tell her to vote in favor of the loitering ordinance...after I saw lots of posters on campus telling passersby to contact Hofestede and tell her to vote AGAINST the loitering ordinance. If Nathan is going to all the trouble of publicizing the camera locations to potential opponents, I'm going to publicize the locations (via a link to Nathan's blog) to surveillance camera SUPPORTERS. So there.

Paradox? Only slightly.

Personally, I'd like to see mobile cameras set up at trouble spots, like the crack dealing at 3020 6th St. N. or the ongoing problems with 2207 6th St. N. I see the cameras as a necessary evil. I'd argue for MORE cameras. But I also want Nathan Hansen to keep doing his thing. There needs to be counter-argument, points made against everybody stampeding in one direction with a mob mentality.

I hardly expect to agree with Nathan on everything. I've never agreed with Nathan on everything, but we've always been cool with each other and we've slogged through the same rancid parlimentary swamps of UND Student Government during back-to-back eras. And we both share a passion for public disclosure law, the area of law which made me seek my degree in the first place.

I am hoping to meet up with Nathan in the near future, have a beverage, and discuss (among other things) security cameras in the 4th Precinct.

Good Citizen Award Times Two

Flickr.com Photo

The most recent episode of the police "highlights" contained a story of good citizenship which made me say, "I am going to award that guy a medal."

Too late though, because...

...it appears the City of Minneapolis is already taking care of it.

I love the police highlights listserv, as regular readers know. I think it's better than a daytime soap opera. These are indeed "the days of our lives."

So here is the tale: on the 700 block of Queen Avenue North, officers were dispatched to a report of three men breaking into a house while the resident was at work. Officers responded quickly, and were able to capture the three suspects within half a block of the crime.

The back door of the residence had been kicked in, screens cut. The victim arrived home and identified his property. It was the next door neighbor who called 911 and--here is the icing on the cake of crime--took photos of the suspects. The crime lab processed the scene so you know what that probably means: prison time. No fooling around with pleading the crime crap down to trespassing and so forth. These thieves are going down.

Well, at least ONE of them is going down. The suspects were 14 years old, 15 years old, and 18 years old. However they already had, respectively, 11, 6 and 13 police records.

The report also noted the 911 caller will be nominated for a citizen's award. I don't know if that's something formal, or if this is just something written expressively in the highlights report along the lines of "Give that guy a medal."

It was Napoleon who commented on the ability of a mere "scrap of ribbon" to raise the morale of troops and encourage their fighting spirit. Even if this citizen is going to be formally recognized, I'm still (hereby) awarding the caller my own "virtual good citizenship award," and formal recognition in the blog-o-sphere.

The image above is a Flickr.com image from New York City, and is called "Progress."

Let us take a moment to revel in this small victory, citizens. Then consider: if calling 911 from behind your venetian blinds is this much fun, imagine how much fun it is to DRIVE AROUND AND LOOK FOR STUFF.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Public "Thank You" To ReBuilding Together

Photo By John Hoff

I was asked to publish a thank-you letter for ReBuilding Together, and since this blog tries to be of service to my community, I'm happy to oblige...

Pam Patrek and Valeria Golebiowski both signed the letter, which reads as follows:

November 16, 2008

Dear ReBuilding Together Staff,

Valeria and I wanted to send you this note to thank you and the volunteers for all the planning and hard work on our privacy fences. We know the work you did was so much more than we anticipated and appreciate your willingness to stick with us. We can't possibly explain to you how much more safe and protected something as simple as a privacy fence has made us feel.

We were truly honored when we heard from one of the ReBuilding Together staff that the volunteers from the city specifically asked to work on our projects. We are so grateful to the Hawthorne Community for making these resources available to us and letting us know that we are important to the community. We are amazed at every one's commitment and dedication to help us take back our neighborhood and return the community into the safe place it used to be.

Once again thank you all, and may God bless each and every one of you.


Pam Patrek and Valeria Golebiowski

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Little 311 Triumphs

Photo By John Hoff

It's very satisfying to call 311 and then, a few weeks later, to see tangible results...

Below is 811 4th St. SE, with its cool "Marcy-Holmes" neighborhood sign. Ever since Gopher Laundry and Cleaners closed, it has been a magnet for graffiti and now appliance dumping. Whether the city comes out in a month, or the owners of the property take care of the mess...I'm confident I'll see results. 

Above is the wall of Stub And Herbs in Stadium Village. There was some graffiti up there at roof level, and I called it in. Instead of just removing the graffiti, the owners painted the whole side of the wall and added an attractive ad for "Surly Brewing Co." 

CALLING 311 is fun. A day without calling 311 is like a day without Facebook. 

(Do not click "

Incident At 2214 Lyndale Ave. N. (Honor Among Thieves?)

Photos By John Hoff

Yesterday I was driving along, and you might say I was minding my own business but I wasn't. I watch. I look for situations requiring 911 or 311. As I went by 2214 Lyndale Ave. N., I noticed something had changed... 

The yard was full of furniture, only it wasn't a rummage sale. Piles of possessions were in the front yard. The front door was, as always, boarded up. 

The Value Of Knowing The Neighborhood
I've driven by this property many times. It is vacant and sits right next to "Upper Drug-O-Topia," Jeff's former apartment. I became well aware of the vacant aspect of this property, because Jeff and other tenants would sometimes make use of the unused parking spots in the back. In fact, during the last tire-slashing incident, that's where Jeff had my car towed.

So suffice to say...I'm well aware the property is vacant. So what was all that stuff doing on the lawn?

I pulled over, thinking of walking across the street to get a closer look. Just then, a truck pulling a trailer parked in the street. Two guys started loading up all that furniture and--somehow this detail stuck out--a set of skis. I couldn't get much of a description on the guys. One of them had a denim jacket, that much I could see. They acted like they had all the business in the world cleaning out that house of all the personal items. Was I just being paranoid, I wondered? It was still daylight. Who would commit a burglary in broad daylight? Who would commit a burglary that involved taking a DRESSER? 

 Then I saw one of them pry, half-heartedly, on the top of the boarded up door with a screw driver. These boards contain "public screws" which require a special drill bit to remove. Why would legitimate workmen show up without proper tools? That tipped it. I called 911. 

I gave as much info as I could to 911 but, darn it, I didn't have a plate number of vehicle description, except it was a truck pulling a trailer and the lights on the trailer were properly hooked up. (That was actually one reason I hesitated...the trailer looked legitimate)

So I pulled around to circle the block and get a plate number. But by the time I got there, the truck had left...and as I went through the alley, one of the MPD squad cars was actually right behind me. I pulled up near the Latino church and walked over toward 2214 Lyndale, not knowing if the police were going to get out of their vehicles and investigate or what. There was an unshaven, unsavory-looking guy in a stocking cap standing directly in front of 2214. He looked like one of the chronic inebriates who hang around the Merwyn's Liquor a short distance away. 

Honor Among Thieves 

I was about to ask him some kind of question...something along the lines of, "What's up? Are you working on this property?" (Who wants to know?) "The neighborhood association. We watch these houses. Are those your friends with the truck--?"

But just then, a portly white guy in a denim jacket came walking out rapidly, cell phone in one hand and what looked like a Phillips screwdriver in the other. A cop was right behind him--extremely tall and muscular. The guy with the cell phone was saying, "Honey--"

The cop told him to put the phone down. Put it down now. The chubby white guy kept talking in the phone. Who directly disobeys an officer like that? What cell phone conversation with somebody named "Honey" is so important that you'd disregard a police officer THAT LARGE?

In retrospect, the guy was warning his criminal confederates, the guys in the truck. Meanwhile, the old guy with the stocking cap just FROZE. I think the officer told him to remain where he was. He just acted like a statue of a chronic inebriate and didn't move, while right in front of him the officer grabbed the portly guy's wrist. It happened so quick, but I think it was the hand with the SCREWDRIVER. As he went down to the grass next to the sidewalk, up against the chain link fence, he was STILL TRYING TO TALK INTO THE PHONE.

I told Jeff and Bryan about this, later, and Jeff said (though he hated to say it) it was "almost honorable" how this guy (apparently) went out of his way to warn his buddies with the truck. A true (apparent) case of "honor among thieves." 

Soon enough, the portly guy was handcuffed--though he resisted the officer's commands to put his hands behind his back--and stuffed in the squad car. The old unshaven guy got arrested, too, and said something like, "I've never been arrested before." He also looked at me and said, "Why did you call the police?" I asked why the stuff from the house was being loaded in a truck. He looked right at me and said, "What truck?"

That's when I knew he was a liar and a thief, but I also knew it was a question of what the officers could prove. Apparently, I was the only one who saw the truck with the trailer. One of the officers asked me for a better description. I also learned one of the guys had a deadbolt lock and claimed to be installing it at the house.

Uh huh. Who goes to a boarded up house and installs a dead bolt? With no tools but a Phillips screwdriver?

The person who owns the house is a matter of record. If that person called some no-accounts to install a deadbolt, the officers would get to the bottom of it, I was certain. The uncooperative actions of one of the subjects--his desperate attempt to complete the phone call to somebody called "Honey" instead of simply explain his business to the officer--tells me enough. 

A Judgment Call

I still agonize about whether I did the right thing. But Jeff thought it was the correct call. That house is vacant. It is well known to be a vacant house. If somebody pulls up to a vacant house and starts taking everything inside, they can certainly expect somebody--possibly even a squad car--to ask questions. Best to have an answer and paperwork ready, instead of a Phillips screwdriver grasped in the hand. 

If there are people who think North Minneapolis is not like that...if they think neighbors will hide behind their window blinds, and not ask questions while a house is cleaned out like a bargain rack at Target...those individuals are mistaken. North Minneapolis is filling up with people who give a rip, and things are getting better every day.

(Do not click "

"Desolation Row" South Of Farview Park

Photo By John Hoff

One of the movers and shakers in the Hawthorne Neighborhood, who shall not be named, calls this stretch of houses near Farview Park "Desolation Row." The name is an homage to a song by Bob Dylan.

To the left is the blue house where a young blonde woman tried to sell me a DeWalt power saw right on the sidewalk, back in early May of this year. At any time of day, little kids are running around just inside the porch door, not always appropriately dressed for the weather. The house on the right, the yellow one, was recently purchased by a landlord but a "CEASE WORK ORDER" was slapped up on the door, and I'm not sure what has happened since.

(Do not click "Read More")

Monday, November 17, 2008

Metal Scrappers Descend On 3119 4th St. N.

Photo By John Hoff

Word comes from "Patty Cake" that metal scrappers with a pickup truck descended....

...on 3119 4th St. N. I had noticed a lot of salvageable metal within the tangled wreckage; copper wire, part of a rain gutter, and some appliances--stoves and fridges--so ripped up by the backhoe that fairly decent pieces of metal could be pulled from the useless, bulky parts. Frankly, I'm surprised it took the scrappers this long to arrive. 

The scrappers are regarded with a mixture of perceptions: on the one hand, they are doing hard and gritty work which is arguably environmentalist. On the other hand, many of them are suspected of drug addictions and criminal records, and a few are not adverse to stealing copper pipes and pulling metal siding right off houses if nobody is looking. How do you know the "honest" scrappers from the rest? You don't. However, if they're using a licensed vehicle instead of a baby buggy, then they seem to be better-quality scrappers. But not always. 

"Patty" was hoping to have a little party when the privacy fence was completed, but with the fence now delayed until spring she's contemplating a "putting plastic over the northern windows" party.

(Do not click "

Sunday, November 16, 2008

RNC 2008: Send Your Artifacts Of Protest, Arrest, Suffering, Etc. To The Minnesota Historical Society! (Mailing Address Included In This Blog Entry)

Sir, the Minnesota Historical Society has authorized me to collect your ammo.

After mailing some of my junk from RNC 2008 in a big padded manila envelope, I received a donation form in the mail from the Minnesota Historical Society, and it was so...official.

I mean, the stuff I'm giving them seems to me like regular old personal crap: a broken digital camera, a t-shirt, a press pass I found on the ground after the tear gas and smoke grenade melee on September 4. But...

...the forms I received in the mail convey a certain solemn feeling about what these items mean. In fact, the cover letter said "I'm particularly excited about the camera--not only is it a great artifact to document bloggers and their presence at the convention, it is also the first digital camera of any kind that we have acquired."

What Matters Is The STORY

As I opened the letter, a small sticker fell out which said "Missile Dick Chicks." The letter said "Our Acquisitions Committee opted not to take it for the permanent collection simply because stickers don't hold up very well over time."

Huh. I wonder how well objects made of LATEX hold up over time? Maybe I can convince some of the Missile Dick Chicks to...well, never mind. This is a family-oriented blog.

The letter kindly concluded this way: "I've printed out the relevant entries from your blog, and I will keep them in our files. It is always nice to receive objects with such interesting stories attached to them."

Deed Of Gift To The Society's Collections

I was struck by the careful, solemn description of each object the society accepted as a donation, like one might describe the "personal effects" of a soldier who died in battle: "T-shirt from Poor People's March. White cotton T-shirt has black and white illustration on front of several people marching together. Person at front center holds a child on his shoulders..."

I did have to make some minor alterations to the donor form, careful of the nitty-gritty historical details: I didn't use my camera JUST on 9/4/2008, but on ALL FOUR DAYS of the Republican National Convention. And I didn't wear a "Poor People's March" shirt DURING the march, as I was conscious of my "blogger media" role and trying to be somewhat objective. Rather, I bought the shirt as a souvenir, stuffed it in my backpack, but then I put on the shirt AFTER the march because my own shirt was full of tear gas from the "Mickey's Diner" incident.

Oh, and I didn't CLIMB over a concrete barrier. I LEAPED. Not successfully, however.

You, Too, Can Be Part Of History

There are many other artifacts out there, which can play a useful role if donated to the Historical Society. (Though stuff like rubber bullets, spent gas grenades, etc. should probably be made available to lawyers gathering documentation for civil suits)

I'm told the historical society has PLENTY of fliers, and I already know they don't need stickers.

You can query the curator, Matthew G. Anderson, at his email: matthew.anderson@MNHS.ORG and/or write to him at Matthew G. Anderson, Collections Department, Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Blvd. West, St. Paul, MN 55102-1906.

Another Cool Hawthorne Neighborhood Block House

Photo By 612 Authentic

Here's an image taken by "612 Authentic" of Anderson Mitchell's house, left of course, which he...

...restored in accordance with the applicable historical...well, whatever it was. He did it. Followed the rules and kept it historical. Note how the porches and decks really soften the "fortress" feeling of the blockhouse.

When I drive my little son back to the southern Twin Cities suburb where he lives, I pass rows and rows of newly-constructed houses along County Road 42 (sounds so much more rural than it actually is) and the homes I see are like dwellings for clones...alike except for their colors distributed in a predictably differentiated pattern. And all the colors are boring, too. Nowhere is there a lavender house. Maybe some daring individuality is added by use of a fence, gasp.

Is some feeling of "safety" so dear that it must be purchased at the cost of individuality and--oh, did I mention--TREES? How do people live in yards without mature trees, with nothing more than little "dream trees" that might, given 30 more years, somehow grow into something with shade? I expect the bleak, wretched denizens of NORTH DAKOTA to live like that, but in MINNESOTA?! How are people with MONEY reduced to such a barren existence in a state well-known for woods and lakes?

Give me my North Minneapolis, with its eclectic and historical buildings, its hundred-year-old houses full of renovation potential, its complex layers of interesting issues and challenges and, oh my word, its TREES. Others can have their stale, boring oh-so-safe suburb.

Jeff's Apartment And Bowser's Castle: SEPARATED AT BIRTH?!

"Fair Comment And Criticism" Use Of Photo, (above)
Photo By John Hoff (below)

Jeff sent me a better pic of "Bowser's Castle" from the Mario Brothers video game, and here I've...

...put it up above an image of Jeff's apartment. Yes, the similarity is truly eerie. Clearly, the video game plane of existence has somehow seeped into our ordinary reality.

In the course of searching the internet for images, I learned there is also a structure called the "Red Gym" at the University of Madison which is popularly known as "Bowser's Castle." (Click here for an image)