Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman. "Head on a pole" photo by John Hoff.
Yesterday a terrific meeting was held with many Minneapolis government and community workers around how to combat predatory investors, or slumlords, in light of the foreclosure crisis. A national group, Policy Link, put together a report of various city's strategies called "When Investors Buy Up the Neighborhood: Preventing Investor Ownership from Causing Neighborhood Decline."
There were so many excellent ideas discussed in the meeting and detailed in the report, but for now I will focus on just one. And that is...
...getting the city of Minneapolis' website to have the ability to use an owner's name as a search criteria.
The Johnny Northside blog has identified this as a necessary tool for quite some time. It was first brought up in a post about the Devil (Evannor Haymon) moving in to a property at 3007 3rd St N. We didn't find this out until seven months later because neighbors don't have the same kind of tools to search PUBLIC DATA as city employees do. Then, as neighbors encountered massive slumlord after massive slumlord in NoMi, we wondered just how big of a problem each of them was.
How many properties does Bashir Moghul really own? Or Mahmood Khan? Or any other slumlord? If a new problem property arises on someone's block, how do we know if that landlord/owner has similar problem properties in other neighborhoods? And if we can find a concentration of one owner's problem properties in, let's say, Hawthorne and Folwell, but not so much in Willard-Hay or Jordan, then we know which neighborhoods need to work together to resolve things.
Right now, our residents who experience the effects of slumlords and problem properties are at a disadvantage because we cannot easily search and understand the scope of a problem. In the case of Pamiko, for instance, roughly sixty properties have been identified as belonging to Paul Koenig or one of his LLC's. But we had heard rumors that by the time his misdoings were exposed on this blog, there had already been at least one wave of Pamiko foreclosures. The full scope of Koenig's damage to Minneapolis (primarily the Hawthorne, Jordan, Near North, and Willard-Hay neighborhoods) is still unknown.
It should be noted that we can call city employees and ask for this information. But our good partners at the city are already swamped and overburdened. It wouldn't be easy for them to respond to casual questions of this nature on a regular basis - especially if we're just not sure and we're essentially going fishing for information. Getting a response in this case could take days or even weeks. But searching on the city's website from the comfort of our own home takes seconds.
The need to be able to search the city's website using property owners' names as search criteria has also been formally supported by the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council. This is an option that other cities have on their websites. Locally, the Douglas County, WI website has such an ability. One thing that is tremendously useful there is that website lists properties currently AND previously owned by the owner. The drawback of that website, however, is that the search results do not come up in a separate live link that could be shared with others (like, oh, on a blog).
Even city officials at the Policy Link workshop recognized the need to do better. Henry Reimer, the Director of Inspection Services for the city of Minneapolis, said, "We have an obsolete property information data system." While Minneapolis' website has a good framework, the previous sale date and price are often incomplete or inaccurate as well.
Another person said he wished we could bring back...
...the stocks as a way to publicly shame slumlords and throw tomatoes at them. "That's what Johnny Northside is for," I quickly responded. "We're the public stocks of the digital age." But there is at least one city that does exactly what we've done on Johnny Northside, ON THEIR OFFICIAL WEBSITE!
Allentown, PA lists a "Landlord Hall of Shame." Right on their website, officially endorsed by the city. God love 'em! Currently featured are Adam and Ira Thor, and the site shows detailed photos of how ugly and slummy the Thors' properties are. Not only that, but they publish pictures of the Thors' OWN HOUSES! The Brothers Thor (which would be a great name for a power rock band, I think) are also called out: “The conditions of these properties are particularly galling when you stack them up against the conditions of the homes where they reside.” Right. On. The Official. City. Website.
But having the owner's name as a searchable criteria won't go far enough. For instance, one slumlord, Phil Kliendl, is known to use different German numbers as LLC's for each individual property. At least with Kliendl, he uses the same mailing address in Burnsville for all the LLC's. Some landlords have as many as eighty properties, with a different LLC for each one, and the mailing address of the LLC is the subject property. We need to require that landlords who do this also list a principal of the LLC and a way to contact them other than a PO Box. The LLC principal should also be plugged into the same search criteria as an owner's name.
There were plenty of other excellent ideas tossed around, and I'm sure those will appear on this blog in the near future. For now, having this issue brought forward on such a prominent level is progress!