Monday, October 26, 2009

Can These Houses Be Saved?

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Three properties in Hawthorne are at various stages of demolition or acquisition by the city of Minneapolis: 2719 Colfax Avenue North, 2714 4th St North, and 2416 4th St North.

I went to look at these houses and here is what I found...

2719 Colfax Ave N did not come up in public searches as a valid address, but it appears to be a duplex attached to 2717 Colfax Ave N. It looks like a lot of structures in Hawthorne: A house that was once a large, single-family residence that has now been spliced into a rather unappealing duplex. From looking into the windows of this place, it has the typical gray carpeting that seems so popular among slummy properties. But it also seemed to have a fair amount of redeeming factors. The back door had a hole in it, and this is what I saw from there:

CPED is considering purchasing this property, and residents with an opinion one way or another are encouraged to contact CM Hofstede at No deadline was listed for comments on the message to me. It's hard to tell from a cursory view of this place, but I would hope it could be saved. It needs work, to be sure, but I don't think a demolition in this case serves the neighborhood.

Next up was 2714 4th St N. This is a tax-forfeited property and it appears to be occupied. Because of that, I took only a photo of the exterior from the front. It's the second picture shown "above the fold" on this post. This house needs some love, but is easily the nicest of the three. If the city or a development partner acquires this one, it definitely needs to be saved and not demolished. Neighborhood comments to CPED ( are due by noon on November 4.

Finally, we have 2416 4th St N. This property will go before the Nuisance Condition Process Review Panel on November 12th. Comments are due to one week (November 5) before the hearing.

Like our first property, this one looks like it had (and still has) a lot of character, and was victimized by a terrible siding job and plenty of landlord neglect. While no question has been brought to the neighborhood about CPED acquisition, there is at the time of this writing a for sale sign out front. Here are a few more pictures of what I saw:

Again, this house appears to be neglected but salvageable. The question is, who wants to save it? And have we set up our NSP funding in such a way to allow any or all of these structures to be acquired AND SAVED by the city or development partners? Admittedly I have not been inside any of them and the interior may make the demolition question an open-and-shut case for tear-down. I've said this before though, and I'll say it again: These houses in other parts of the city would not have been allowed to deteriorate to their present conditions. And if they had, in many other parts of the city I believe their chances of survival would be much higher.

I look at these houses and I see the potential for rehabilitation and preservation. If I am wrong, people can comment on this thread or contact me directly at I hope our elected officials and public servants look at these houses and see the same things I do.


Anonymous said...

Dyna replies:

I looked at 2416 today. There looks to be a lot of nice original woodwork inside that may make it worth saving. The roof is in awful condition though, which may predict water damage inside. It'd be interesting to see the staff estimate of rehab costs if there is one, the buyer's inspection listed on the city website is too old to be useful and they don't have it posted anyway. I checked the real estate company's web page and they don't list the property- perhaps the listing was pulled and no one had come to pick up the sign? In conclusion, this house needs a good looking over before it's death warrant is signed.

Pond-dragon said...

You are right:
1. How much money do you throw at a rehab before its good money after bad.
2. Folks should be asking the question, where is the $ coming form and what am I trading off? The trade off, should the community put $350K into saving 1 debilitated 1900 duplex or, $10k into 35 owner occupied roofs?
Just my opinion.

M. Clinton said...

MPLS is behind other cities such as Portland ORE that practice Receivership. Instead of having demolition as the end "consequence" for a problem property owner, with eceivership, if the owner is unable to maintain their property, they loose possession of it. It goes into receivership and then sold to a nonprofit for $1. A virtually nonexistent purchase price makes even the more radical rehabs feasible without gap financing. And this occurs BEFORE properties get to the drastic condition that we see properties in MPLS. Such a program I should say only occurs as an END consequence (such as demolition here) after first attempting to work with the owner. MPLS is DESPERATELY in need of a receivership program.

Evan Reminick said...

I'm the son of a painstaking architectural refinisher and I worked 10 years doing structural and finish rehabs in old houses. There's a balance here of love and money. Pond-dragon has it spot-on about the money side. The love side has at least a couple angles. There's the love of the house itself, and that extends into preserving the history of a neighborhood. Many houses in NOMI are gems with irreplaceable character. Most NOMI houses, though, were "affordable" to start with and have gone beyond their feasible lives. You can restore/improve a 90-year-old house on the outside, but it's still got baloon-framed bones and would go up like tinder in a fire. There's the basic energy inefficiencies, the tiny bedrooms, and other signs of their being outmoded. So another kind of love considers what will put value in NOMI's housing stock for the next 70 years. Myself, I have a studied, hands-on love of old craftsmanship but a preferences for construction and styling that looks to the future. Hard to know where the intersection of individual property ownership prerogatives and community policy should be. I think this tension is good in the end because it allows for different looks and preferences.

mark said...

"he buyer's inspection listed on the city website is too old to be useful and they don't have it posted anyway"

do you have a link to this website and does it post more inspection information? I am really considering buying one of these homes/duplexes and renovating it. I am young just out of college and looking for a first home that is also a project.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

Mark: The links I have posted are to the most current public data I am aware of.

Evan, Pond-dragon, and M. Clinton:

Thank you for your comments. This is EXACTLY the kind of discussion I'd hoped to spark. One Hawthorne resident said that a lot of our houses here were built for low/mod-income, "working class" people 100 years ago and have outlived their useful lives.

And while from a "green" standpoint, we ought to be looking at preservation/rehab as a first priority, I do wonder when demolition becomes "greenER." How long does a house that performs at certain standards have to remain standing before the difference between that house and the 100-year-old structure breaks even? Yeah, I'm the housing director, but I don't know the answer.

I do think, though, that we have too much of a knee-jerk reaction towards demolition. I believe that mindset is evident in the structure of our NSP dollars as well. I'm hoping that we change our starting point to one of preservation, and that we continue this discussion here as well.

Ranty said...

I would just like to point out that many neighborhoods across the country which have experienced dramatic revitalization have so specifically BECAUSE of the availability of older, charming housing stock at affordable prices, which lures folks with a taste and and passion for restoration.

Don't get me wrong - new is cool too. But there are plenty of opportunities to build new in Minneapolis and across the metro area WITHOUT sacrificing perfectly salvageable older housing.

Anonymous said...

Dyna writes:

I'll try to do some numbers on 2416. For a start, the roof is pretty bad, it's steep, and it's big- figure $20k. The city online record goes back about 20 years and doesn't show any major repairs to anything in that time. So add another $10 for a furnace. The wiring and plumbing have probably been stripped too, so add another $30k for rewiring and plumbing. There's an iffy garage in the backyard, who knows about the foundation, and the sidewalks pretty sketchy- figure another $10k there. So were up to $70k and we still have to pay off a bunch of back due special assessments for boarded building fees, etc. and who knows what else needs fixing. This building's maybe worth 100k in a normal market, and you could well spend that much (or more) to rehab it.

You'd have to spend twice as much to build a new duplex this size, but every month the new building would save in energy costs. Dumping insulation in the attic of an old building is easy, but the walls are another matter. And those old windows would have to go, there's probably twenty of them at $500 each for anything halfway efficent. Even with all those retrofits a new house would probably cost a couple thousand dollars a year to heat and cool at current energy prices. And how much more will energy cost in the coming decades?

I invite anyone with better number crunching abilities to further investigate the rehab vs. new question.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

And thank you Dyna as well; I meant to include you in the list of commenters previously. We may be disagreeing about one issue but clearly we can still have a dialogue and work together.

Anonymous said...

"MPLS is behind other cities such as Portland ORE that practice Receivership. Instead of having demolition as the end "consequence" for a problem property owner"
Minneapolis does use recievership for some rental properties where the owner looses thier rental licence.
Buying a property for $1 sounds good but the reality is that most of these boarded houses have mortgages on them that can not be discharged so you have to figure rehab costs as plus what is owed on the mortgages as the amount the property needs to be worth to rehab it.

Ranty said...

@Anon 4:28PM


Please clarify:

a) where the city has used receivership (I've talked with a few CMs about this and all but one had never even HEARD of the idea,) and

b) where are you finding property owners who allow their investments to become boarded and yet continue to pay mortgages on them? I for one have not seen that. Most are either in foreclosure, bank-owned, or owned outright.

Anonymous said...

Dyna reports:

I took a look at 2714 today. But not too long a look- appears that it could be occupied. There's kids bicycles inside and the electric looks to be connected. Not much info on this one in the city database, looks to already have gone tax forfeit. Looks like it may have been owner occupied, and has been hit with over $10,000 in housing violation fines by the city. Might this be some folks that were down on their luck and couldn't afford the fines, taxes, and house payments? I suspect the city should ask the county's permission before they tear the county's house down!

That's it, you gone and done it! said...

Anonymous said.. Well, I do not know where you are getting your figures from, however, I completely rewired a 2200 sq.ft. rehab project for less then $6K....the water pipes and stuff (no copper) $14K.....New heating I think that was $15K and was offered a new roof for $10K

VBR was $2K which was given back after all repairs was made and inspections was made and passed. Less then $500 in permits. The rest of the money went to the contractor which was alloted to the sub contractors as well.

You can ask JNS and he will tell you the crack heads tore my house up before we bought it, on top of the dog fights and drug dealers.....

Anonymous said...

Dyna replies:

I assume, given the numbers, that some of that was DIY?

One factor that's keeping a lot of these homes from being rehabbed is the city's dislike of DIYers. The city gives you some pretty short time frames to rehab a house that force the rehabber to contract out almost everything. If the city was more tolerant of, and better yet, helpful to DIYers the cost of rehab would drop dramaticly. That'd result in a lot more of these homes being saved from the wrecking ball to provide affordable housing.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Ranty "Please clarify:"

Minneapolis has put a few rental properties in receivership when the landlord lost their rental license. The objective seems to be to avoid putting good tenants out on the street by closing a building. The receiver still has to pay any mortgage on the property.

I did not say that there were boarded properties where the mortgages were still being paid. Just because the owner walks away does not mean the mortgage is discharged. There is still a legal obligation to pay the mortgage that is attached to the property. And most of these are covered by Federal law.
If the City tears down the property they can assess the cost of the tear down on to property taxes. If the owner which is probably now the mortgage holder does not keep up paying the taxes then the County can take ownership of the property and the mortgage obligation is discharged.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

ADDENDUM: the latter portion of this post included a photograph of a property and stated it was from 2416 4th St N. The first photo at the top is the correct profile of the property. A later photograph that was erroneously placed on this post has been deleted.

Johnny Northside! said...

Robert Lee Amos, who is listed on the jail roster at 2416 4th St. N., is charged with aggravated robbery and currently in custody with bail set at $75,000. His birthday is 1/21/93.