Saturday, February 6, 2010
A Healy House Gets a Slummy Makeover and the Hawkman is Madder than Hell!
Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
Earlier today I saw a Facebook status of my good friend, Realtor, and housing preservationist Connie Nompelis that said a Healy House was having its siding removed and a front porch was being converted to more bedroom space. It was suspected that the proper permits were NOT in place for this to happen. I was already swamped, but the bastardization of a historic treasure like this was too important to let go undocumented.
So I got over to 3321 2nd Ave S as soon as I could and had a very heated exchange with one of the contractors. I'm going to be quite critical of them so before that happens, let's get some disclaimers out of the way. First off, I haven't confirmed whether these contractors were the ones who had closed off the front porch or if it was like that already. However, when I accused him of doing exactly that, he didn't deny it in any way. Second, I've posted a photo of the work permit that was at the property. I'm not clear from that or the city's website if any of the work currently being done or already done was beyond the scope of the permit pulled.
So I walked up to the house and took a few pictures before one of the workers came up to me...
...and asked what was going on. I told him I work on neighborhood housing issues and a friend of mine called me about shoddy work being done without a permit. The contractor pointed to the permit posted and said everything they were doing was permitted. There may have been some accusations and adult words going back and forth at that point, but I did ask for permission to go and take a photograph of the permit, and permission was granted. The permit is pictured above, but click here for an enlarged version. Here's some of the work they were doing:
I asked why they were closing off the front porch and the contractor openly and immediately stated it was to create more rentable bedrooms in the house. Note that he said bedroomS. Plural. This may be important because the permit granted by the city specifically states "THIS PERMIT DOES NOT APPROVE A BASMENT (sic) BEDROOM, EXISTING FINISHES BUILT WITHOUT A PERMIT, ADDITIONAL DWELLING UNIT OR WORK OTHER THAN DESCRIBED." (note: the original permit has this section in all caps; it was not edited that way for emphasis by me)
Seeing as how we've had plenty of experiences in NoMi with slumlords closing off porches for more bedroom space, this made me instantly furious with righteous anger. "You're doing piece of (bad word) work that's going to attract piece of (same bad word) tenants and you're not doing a (bad word) bit of good for the community!" He shouted back, "What (bad word) business of it is yours?! We're (VERY bad word) making this house BETTER and you come along and (bad word) complain about it?!"
From this point on, I'll just summarize, since the language that we used was similar to that of a drunken sailor who stubbed his toe right after realizing that his wife was cheating on him with the same guy who stole his winning lottery ticket and set his house on fire. In other words, not appropriate for children.
The contractor insisted that the work they were doing was making the property and the neighborhood BETTER. When I explained the frequent relationship to closed-in/converted porches and problem properties/tenants, he said that I should be grateful since the porch was rotting and falling apart before they fixed it. Then why didn't you actually FIX the porch instead of GETTING RID OF IT ENTIRELY? Well, the neighborhood was such that nobody sits out on their front porches anyway.
Wait, wait, wait. Look at the picture with the open porch visible next to the newly converted bedroom space. Which property would YOU rather own? Live in? Have as a neighbor? And the houses in the area that have actual front porches all looked like people were using them just fine. But yet according to this guy's circular logic, the neighborhood was bad, so we should be thankful he's doing ANYTHING in the area. It doesn't matter if his work is directly contributing to the problem or not. And even if it is, well, we all know that crappy neighborhoods don't deserve good things, right?
I also asked why they were stripping off the wood siding instead of preserving it by just putting the vinyl on over it. He claimed that the siding was rotting, and who knows? Maybe he was right about that. When I explained, though, that vinyl siding makes the property look like (bad word), he (bad word) told me that every (bad word) property on the (bad word) block had (bad word) siding and I responded that they all looked worse than they did before as a result.
Around that time, he pointed to the "No Trespassing" signs and told me to leave. I said that I wouldn't trespass, but I was free to walk around the public sidewalks, streets, and alleys and photograph anything visible from those vantage points. And that was the end of our rather frank exchange of ideas.
Before I get into naming names, here are some shots of the vehicles used by the contractors working today.
The city's website lists Herman Capital Corporation as the owner. This company openly admits to being a sister corporation to the "We Buy Ugly Houses" crew. However, on the Minneapolis Issues Forum, someone states that the owner is an "out of state outfit." The permit posted at the property and visible online lists Safehaven Development LLC as the entity that pulled the permit. It's unclear if they are the new owners or if they just pulled the permit. And the contractors doing the work appear to be associated with Roen Exteriors.
Any information that JNS readers can share (good or bad) about these entities is requested and greatly appreciated.
It's possible that everything being done right now complies with the permit(s) that have been pulled, although I frankly have my doubts. If the work is being done outside of the scope of the permit, then we have an all-too-common issue at play here. Much of the work being done improperly is done on the weekends, in the evenings, or on holidays, when city inspectors aren't working. Or if there are inspectors out in the field, their numbers aren't proportionate to the time when so much unpermitted work actually happens.
At a previous problem property meeting, residents were advised to call 911 on anything that was "happening now." But housing code violations seem to fall below that level of urgency, even though we don't really know who to call in such a scenario. And this is a big gap in going after such activity; resources aren't allocated to respond quickly and appropriately during the times when those resources are most needed. I don't know how we get at that issue, since our housing inspectors are already overworked, but there needs to be some middle ground between 911 and 311 that citizens can call on to crack down on unpermitted work as it is happening.
Let's assume that everything they are doing falls under permitted work, or that the front porch was closed off by person or party not mentioned above. Can we get some kind of citywide ordinance that bans this kind of work? It's one thing to make a porch more enjoyable during the colder seasons. But virtually every single time a porch is completely closed off to convert more bedroom space, that property is then destined to be slummy.
Watching a problem property being created right before our eyes is not fun in the least. We need a quick response at 3321 2nd Ave S and then there has to be a bigger discussion about the tools that neighborhoods have available to combat this kind of activity.