post by John Hoff
Click here for document from the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Game Of Slummy Thrones
Steve Meldahl is an infamous North Minneapolis slumlord whose empire has crumbled to the point all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be putting Steve Meldahl back together again. With information provided by blogger "Camden Canary," back in January JNS blog revealed details of Meldahl's complex bankruptcy, click here. This blog has written quite a lot about Meldahl over the years, click here for an example.
But recently a reader drew my attention to a court of appeals opinion (see document linked at top) which reveals further juicy details about the collapse of Meldahl's slummy empire of eggshells...
Doom Foretold On A Napkin
On their face, the court documents merely show Steve Meldahl arguing with the city's fines and housing rules, and failing miserably. But reading into the documents, what is revealed MIGHT POSSIBLY BE the final, stunning success of tactics implemented for half a decade by forces in our neighborhood fighting for revitalization. Two tactics appear to have contributed to Meldahl's downfall: the use of social media by neighborhood activists and a resulting storm of "311 carpet bombing."
I'll explain "311 carpet bombing" in a moment, though many regular readers know EXACTLY what I mean. Let's start with social media unleashed against Meldahl.
It was the Irving Inquisition blogger who first focused, almost obsessively, on slumlord Steve Meldahl. Regretfully, Irving Inquisition is no longer active in blogging though (thankfully) still quite active in the neighborhood. But during a red hot spell of social media activity, Irving Inquisition helped document Meldahl's properties and even created a YouTube musical tribute called Slumlord Sonatica.
Vividly do I recall Mr. Inquisition sketching out his theories on a napkin and saying, in summary: The key to neighborhood revitalization is driving out the slumlords and turning slumlord rentals into homesteads or (worse case scenario) vacant lots suitable for community gardens. Crime doesn't have a place to live if the slumlords don't give crime a home. Rather than swatting hornets, we should concentrate on taking out their nests.
And of all the slumlords, Steve Meldahl owns the most property.
AND (Irving Inquisition continued, to the best of my recollection) MELDAHL IS WEAK. Look at all his unpaid property taxes. So what we should do, tactically, is concentrate our efforts on Steve Meldahl.
311 Turns The Tide, Social Media Encourages Our Efforts
My own contribution to those conversations (and there were many such conversations) was to advocate for "311 carpet bombing." I believe the key to pulling our neighborhood upward is to make dozens, hundreds of 311 reports about all the things that are wrong and need to be fixed in our neighborhood, whether it's potholes or slumlord properties with obvious issues. No individual 311 report will turn the tide but hundreds, thousands of 311 reports calling down the power of the city to fix our problems...yes, that can turn the tide.
So, I suggested, we can take out the slumlords with a "death of a thousand cuts." We can wage a "war of attrition." Every time the slumlord fails to shovel the sidewalks, call 311. Call 311 on the overgrown grass. And if you learn of something really awful or ridiculous involving a slumlord property, put it all over social media to keep up the pressure.
One feeds into the other, seamlessly. Social media keeps up our spirits and reminds us to keep calling 311. And the stuff we learn and observe about the slumlord properties while making 311 calls is the sort of stuff we talk about on social media.
It's all a big CIRCLE, man. And I certainly don't mean to imply "social media" is all about blogging, either. In the last few years, our neighborhood social media is manifesting, first and foremost, in the form of Facebook groups like North Vent.
It Worked. It Actually Worked.
Now, with Meldahl going bankrupt and losing his final, desperate battles in the courts, we see hard evidence our twin tactics of social media and 311 carpet bombing WORKED. Let me draw the attention of readers to some of the content in the court document.
The order discusses some of Meldahl's "85 rental properties" as examples of the overall pattern, identifying those properties not be address but with alpha-numeric designations, like property "1A" which in addition to unpaid utility bills had (oh my, what is this?) a $60 snow removal charge.
Everybody in North Minneapolis knows that sidewalks in the toughest parts of the neighborhood can go all winter without being cleared except to the extent miserable, walking people carve little "human goat paths." The only time the city starts slapping fines on addresses for failure to clear the snow is when somebody calls 311. Why did Meldahl get hit with this fine? Somebody called 311. And keep in mind...
There was a plan in place, a tactical agreement, to do that. To call 311 on Meldahl properties. Repeatedly. Every time residents riding that particular revitalizer bandwagon noticed something wrong.
Not convinced, yet? Let's move on to the next property, which the court called 59A. What was the problem with that property? Vehicles parked in the backyard. Meldahl tried to appeal but didn't attend the appeals hearing. Maybe he was too busy coordinating the mowing of lawns or the shoveling of sidewalks or the fixing of problems associated with many, many other complaints lodged with 311. Failing to attend the hearing, Meldahl was fined $200.
The court document notes that FORTY-FOUR assessments were levied as part of "nuisance abatement." Keep in mind not all or even most 311 complaints are going to result in a nuisance abatement or an assessment. This number of 44 assessments (spread out over 85 properties) tends to reveal one thing:
Neighbors were calling 311. A LOT.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The most important thing that can happen is for Meldahl's properties to NOT end up in the hands of ANOTHER slumlord, who is likely to be EVEN WORSE THAN MELDAHL. So the city of Minneapolis needs to step in vigorously and influence the fate of these shattered pieces of a slumlord empire, some 85 addresses.
The second most important thing that can happen (but maybe the most important in the long term) is for members of the North Minneapolis neighborhood revitalization movement to learn the dramatic lesson of Meldahl's collapse. Intense pressure in the form of social media and systematic 311 complaints can and will cause the collapse of slumlord empires, but the process takes years.
Oh, by the way...
For the sake of historical accuracy, I would like to point out a source different from the court order once noted Meldahl had "105 properties," not 85. Noted.
Click here to check out a little article written on the "Landlord Politics" blog back in 2011. The anti-Meldahl campaign by neighbors, with specific mention of the blogger for Irving Inquisition, is acknowledged in a backhanded but very clear way.
Reading that article just makes me want to...
Call 311 in between bouts of puking.