Monday, May 26, 2014

City Council President Kicks Off "Houses For Heroes" Program, Now On Memorial Day 2014 Information About This Blogger's Minor Role In Starting The Program Can Be Declassified And Revealed...

Contributed photo, blog post by John Hoff

Small Group of Key Stakeholders 

Some days ago, at a small kick off event inside a spiffy new handicap-friendly house at 5200 Penn Ave. N., the City of Minneapolis and its partners formally launched "Houses For Heroes." The program was spearheaded by City Council President Barb Johnson who, under our city's "strong council, figurehead mayor" system of government, is arguably...

...the most powerful political leader in Minneapolis. In spite of this level of raw political power, Johnson always seems to work in a polite and low-key way. 

So it was only a small group of key stakeholders were at the kickoff event, though even the prestigious publication "Finance and Commerce" wrote something. I'd republish what they wrote but, well, Finance and Commerce doesn't give away most of their content for free like the hippy who runs this blog. 

"A Good Home In North Minneapolis"

I can, however, give you the template from which Finance and Commerce wrote. Though most of the time this blog resists wholesale publication of press releases, I'm going to make an exception for a press release in which I am quoted, as follows:

City of Minneapolis and Partners Launch
Houses for Heroes, a New Affordable Housing Program for Active Military and Veterans

May 19, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN) – On Tuesday, May 20, the City of Minneapolis will kick-off a new affordable housing program designed for active military and veterans and their families purchasing homes in Minneapolis. The event will take place at 5200 Penn Avenue North, Minneapolis, 55430 – a new home, available for purchase now, designed with a veteran and their family in mind by the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation (GMHC) as part of the City of Minneapolis’ Green Homes North initiative. 

The kick-off event will take place at 10:30 a.m. and feature a brief program with comments by City of Minneapolis Council President Barb Johnson, City of Minneapolis Residential & Real Estate Development Senior Project Coordinator Cherie Shoquist, Reserve Aid Executive Director Polly Weidenkopf, and President of Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation Carolyn Olson.

“The City of Minneapolis is committed to ensuring our military and veterans have a place to call home,” said Minneapolis City Council President Johnson. “Through great partnerships with national organizations like Reserve Aid and local nonprofits like Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation and others, Minneapolis is able to provide more military and veterans with access to affordable homes; after all they have sacrificed for us, helping them come home to their own home is the least we can do.”
According to Hennepin County Veteran’s services, over 12,000 Reservist and National Guard members have returned to Minnesota since 2007.  The need for affordable housing options continues to grow as these veterans complete school, marry and start families.
“I am lucky to own a good home in North Minneapolis,” said Sergeant John Hoff, an Afghan War vet who also served stateside during the First Gulf War. “I am invested in my community and want the same thing for my fellow veterans.  Access to affordable housing, the opportunity to belong to and participate in their community – for all that they’ve given, who deserves it more?  I wrote to Council President Johnson about starting some like this, something that provided affordable homes to soldiers back when I was stationed in Afghanistan. I am very excited the City is launching Houses for Heroes.”
Minneapolis Houses for Heroes is a down payment and closing cost assistance program to provide active military or veterans of the Global War on Terror with affordable homeownership opportunities in Minneapolis.  The program offers up to $20,000 in the form of a zero-percent interest deferred loan that is forgiven at the end of five years.  Priority for the program will be given to Reservist or National Guard members of the Global War on Terror who are currently deployed or have recently returned from deployment.

Reserve Aid, a national nonprofit organization that assists military families who have a Reservist or National Guard member on full-time deployment or who have recently returned from deployment or a combat zone or homeland security position, has committed $200,000 in funding for the program in 2014.  Funds will be administered through GMHC on behalf of the City of Minneapolis.  First time homebuyers participating in the Houses for heroes program will be encouraged to participate in homeownership education and counseling.  Homeownership counseling services will be available through the Minnesota Homeownership Center, Home Stretch, or Framework.

“Reserve Aid is honored to be a partner in the Minneapolis Houses for Heroes program,” said Reserve Aid Executive Director Polly Weidenkopf.  “As service members transition back into civilian life, home ownership is an important part of their future success.  We are pleased that we can play a role in that success.”

Other program partners include Hennepin County Veteran Services, Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Property Ownership By Vets As A Historical Stabilizing Influence 

God bless America. 

I could've had a better quote, but the one selected captures perfectly what I said, my broad and nebulous idea the city should do "something" to put veterans in homes in neighborhoods needing stabilization. 

My idea for this program, which I submitted to Council Member Johnson in 2011 in a handwritten letter from Forward Operating Base Gardez, Afghanistan, was written in broad strokes. Generally, I wrote about the stabilizing influence of veterans in tough-but-changing neighborhoods, and I'm pretty sure I cited the specific examples of Denny Wagner and Lieutenant Peter Teachout. (I may have accidentally promoted Teachout to Captain in that letter, my bad, but I own up to it) 

And I also wrote about the historical tendency of the United States government and state governments to make "land grants" to veterans following periods of wartime sacrifice. But with no more American frontier, how will the historical pattern of "land grants" to veterans continue? I suggested homes in our neighborhoods, particularly the neighborhoods needing the calming, protective, stabilizing influence of veterans...neighborhoods like North Minneapolis. 

And I pointed to examples in my neighborhood (Wagner, Teachout and, yes, this blogger) of how veterans will take the bull by the horns when it comes to turning a tough neighborhood into something closer to (I'm just going to throw the phrase out there) URBAN UTOPIA.

I am sure I mentioned the dramatic example of Peter Teachout's truck being torched by the pimps and drug dealers driven out of that part of the Hawthorne neighborhood and how Teachout refused to back down even after what was, basically, an act of domestic terrorism specifically directed against him and his family. 

Believe me, that example never grows old. (Oddly enough, Teachout wasn't a veteran at the time all this happened but the son of a veteran. He later joined the military, so strong was the pull for him and last I heard he's, like, doing...oh, I probably shouldn't say precisely what he's doing. But it's pretty cool) 

A Few Sparkly Details 

After it became clear Barb Johnson wasn't merely humoring me, but was actually running with my idea (which, it must be pointed out, coincided with ideas she was already working upon and had been working upon for years) I was invited to participate in an ad hoc committee to polish up the "We should give houses to vets to help the neighborhood" idea. 

I sat in a room at City Hall with a bunch of city officials and representatives from non-profits and we batted around the idea. Some of my minor contributions which seemed to have legs and kept walking after the meeting were as follows:

* Local guard and reservists should have priority, not because they deserve it more but because it won't be as easy for active duty soldiers to take advantage of the program until after their period of active duty ends.

* Soldiers fresh back from war should have priority. Though all soldiers who have served in war are quite deserving, it's the "fresh back" troops who have a psychological fire lit under their backside which is driving them to buy a home, get married, and spend the rest of their life trying to be a good citizen because THANK GOD THEY ARE ALIVE, and please pass the pork chops. (Excuse me while I pray over the pork chops)

* The program must always be positioned as a "benefit earned from wartime sacrifice" and not charity or a welfare benefit. 

Nobody must ever lose track of this. The "Houses for Heroes" program is not charity. It is a benefit earned from costly wartime sacrifice. In fact, I pushed for the name "Houses for Heroes" instead of "Homes for Heroes" because I didn't want anybody to think, "Oh, this is a program for homeless vets." 

No, this program is for overachieving vets who want to go straight from fighting a war to affordable home ownership and further acts of outstanding citizenship. God help our homeless vets and our government needs to take care of these vets, but "Houses For Heroes" is a way to help our neighborhood while helping vets at the same time, not another social program for vets. 

So there you have it. Barb Johnson was already trying to figure out some housing programs with lots of "bang for the buck." My little letter (with accompanying cool Afghan souvenir) came along at just the right time. Due to my unique vantage point (which around that time was often a highly exposed guard tower) I had some burning ideas about making a housing program appealing to veterans and I was allowed to participate in the design of that program. My role was minor but I'm proud to have played any role at all and, well, can I resist highlighting my minor role here on my blog?

Clearly, I can't. 

"My Theory of Northside Marketing Explained" 

But in closing, I must confess it would be inaccurate to say I cooked up these ideas during endless hours of horizon-scanning contemplation on guard duty in the fall and winter of 2011 at Forward Operating Base Gardez. These ideas go back at least as far as June of 2008 when I wrote a short paper for one of my Master's level classes in Public Affairs at the Humphrey Institute: a theory of selling the Northside as a place to live which I call "Market and Romanticize The Struggle." 

In that paper I wrote: 

I am suggesting the "first wave" of new residents should consist of "adventurous" personalities who have some security training, such as police, security guards, and current or former members of the military. The first wave will see an opportunity to buy valuable real estate on the cheap, and then clear out the crime in the area through vigorous grassroots efforts as one would clear litter and weeds from a vacant lot, thus making their own properties more valuable and opening a safe path for second and third waves of residents.

And so there you have it. Six years after starting this blog, I am selling the same old shtick I was putting forth in the summer of 2008. 

Only it appears after all this time...

Somebody is buying. 

God bless Barb Johnson for kicking off this program for vets and being willing to talk to anybody with ideas, even a colorful blogger writing missives from Afghanistan. 

I sure hope the "Houses For Heroes" program succeeds. 


Anonymous said...

Oh Johnny, Thank-you a million times over. I would love to have Veterans for neighbors. Ethical,respectful, deserving to be sure. This is the best idea & the best hope for North Minneapolis that I've seen in 25 years. Good job Barb!

MsJordan North said...

What a wonderful idea and huge win for our community and the heroes that will join us.

Peter Teachout is an amazing guy, who promised to take me on a mission in Nomi. If those who join our community are anything like him, well done!

Anonymous said...

If you were so instrumental in getting this program started, why isn't your fat ass in the publicity picture? It's because you only had skin in this in your fat delusional mind, not in real life.

Johnny Northside! said...

Ha ha ha. Maybe I am not in the photo because I was in the press release and I didn't want to hog the limelight. maybe I wanted to leave some limelight for Jeff Skrenes (the Hawthorne Hawkman) to enjoy.

Excuse me. I still have basking to do.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing idea! Thank you for all your hard work making it a reality!
I purchased a home in the Victory neighborhood Saturday and will close at the end of the month. I have been having severe buyers remorse over fear of the Big Bad Northside for 3 days! Reading your post has calmed much of that!
I bought the house because I share many of your beliefs. And I want to be that "adventurous" individual you speak of!
Thank you for living north and believing something better is a real future!

Anonymous said...

"Hog the limelight." That's pretty funny.

Jake G said...

Way to go John! Our vets deserve so much, we need more people to support them in life instead of forget. Props to everyone involved!

Anonymous said...

North is in desperate need of a better class of people living in it. This is a start.