Letter to Mayor Rybak: Back to the "Problem Property" Fixation

October 14, 2004

Mayor R.T. Rybak
City of Minneapolis
331 City Hall
350 S. Fifth Street
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Dear R.T.:

Relations between your city administration and landlords connected with Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee seem to have taken a turn for the worse. From our perspective, this is because the Minneapolis Police Department, with your backing, has returned to the philosophy that rental properties or their owners cause crime and that the centerpiece of your crime-fighting strategy will be to crack down on “problem properties” and on people like Howie Gangestad who is one of our members.

Evidence of your new strategy lies in the city’s creation of a “problem properties task force” which combines police and inspections functions. I wrote an article for the Watchdog newspaper about that development. It is improper and also illegal for the city to use its inspections powers as a facade for carrying out police functions. The legal term for this is “abuse of process”, though the violation is admittedly hard to prove in court. Another problem is that it is a waste of taxpayer funds to have a large group of professionals - with a payroll of what, $200,000? - devoted full time or part time to harassing certain landlords. With a few exceptions, landlords are not the criminals. You should be going after the people who cause crime or otherwise be implementing a sound crime-fighting strategy.

Yesterday, I watched your cable-television show on the city channel. You were interviewing Police Chief Bill McManus. When you asked the chief about his strategy to fight crime, he emphasized the “problem property” approach. This bothered me. We held MPRAC’s monthly meeting last evening. On camera, I denounced you and Chief McManus for your premeditated reversion to discredited policies of the past.

With respect to McManus, let me say that his conduct to date does not impress me much. Admittedly, he may be doing many good things in the city that he has managed to conceal from landlords. We have tried to reach out to him several times. Twice, Eve White invited him to be the guest speaker at our monthly meeting. Twice the chief canceled at the last minute, citing more important business. I have also tried to communicate, without a satisfactory result. Meanwhile, I notice that crime in my own neighborhood has gotten worse and that police officials do not respond adequately to neighborhood attempts to seek guidance or help. Some persons who have observed the chief at social functions describe him as arrogant.

As you know, most members of our landlord group had high hopes that relations with the city would improve after you were elected mayor. Some of us worked in your campaign. Others gave money. Several times we featured you on our television show. Despite an initial flap about your appointments to a housing task force, most of our members including me have remained your supporters. We recognize the mess you inherited from the previous city administration and have acknowledged that you and the City Council have made serious, intelligent decisions to cope with this.

The fact that the city seems to have returned to the strategy of scapegoating private-sector landlords for crime changes the situation. As stepson of a landlord who supported our group, you know or ought to know how crime affects rental properties, drug stores, and other businesses. When you ran for mayor, you made public statements which revealed your understanding of these problems. When we first met, I stood up at a public meeting to compliment you for a statement you had just made about housing issues. But you seem now to have given in to political pressures to go back to the canard of demonizing private-sector landlords.

We at Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee thought yours was a benign administration. We have watched quietly for several years in expectation of establishing a mutually respectful relationship. It has been my hope that the city administration, including the police, could have a dialogue about issues affecting us. In that spirit, we produced for you, at your request, a statement of issues and proposals concerning landlords shortly before your election. I have also given copies of our proposals to other city officials. These are not set in concrete - we wanted to offer something to get the dialogue started. We offered them to you in good faith as a way to resolve our differences through cooperative discussion rather than confrontation. I must say, there has been no response from the city.

Let me suggest this. Could not the city and its landlord community focus on one question? That question would be: If the city doesn’t want private-sector landlords to offer housing to certain types of people (criminals, vandals, thugs, drug sellers and users), where are these people supposed to live? Don’t pretend they do not exist.

There are such people who often cause problems for the community. The city needs to be honest about it and decide what arrangements need to be made to deal with these so-called “housing undesirables”. Obviously, the providers of housing need to be brought into the scheme. As much as the city or its communities are affected by misbehaving individuals, so are those who own rental properties. Landlords need to work with the city on this because it is our common problem. We’d be glad to meet with you or your representative to discuss what can be done. But we cannot accept dishonest dealing where you shift the blame for crime to us.

At last night’s meeting, certain ideas were advanced about housing the “housing undesirables”. Sheltered living arrangements might be an answer for some people. We also think that Public Housing should accept its fair share of people with problems. The worst of the offenders should live in prisons. Then there are private-sector landlords such as Howie Gangestad who accepts people as tenants that other landlords would reject. He, too, is offering a kind of solution.

But instead of commending these landlords for giving often desperate people a “second chance”, the city has hypocritically turned on them. This approach is indeed hypocritical because, if a particular landlord rejects these “undesirable” tenants, they will only live in someone else’s building. The problems they cause will not go away but merely be shifted to some other place. Or is it your policy to run these people out of town? Then own up to it. Don’t make us the instrument of your policy.

Dealing with the city’s crime problem is your responsibility. You ran for mayor. You willingly sought out its responsibilities. Then make an honest attempt to live up to those responsibilities. You can start by providing a clear answer to the question: Where are the “housing undesirables” supposed to live?

Maybe private-sector landlords should work more closely with social workers and counselors who can offer personal services to tenants with problems. Maybe there could be mediators to help resolve problems between landlords, tenants, and the community. Maybe tenants with a poor housing record could apply for rental housing accompanied by advocates who would commit to helping if problems arose. I also understand that HUD money is available for providers of sheltered-living arrangements but only non-profits are eligible to apply. I think costs could be lowered if private-sector landlords could also bid on these projects.

I am suggesting, then, that many of our outstanding differences could be resolved if the city of Minneapolis developed a more constructive approach toward housing the types of people who cause problems for the community. We landlords would be glad to sit down with city representatives to see how we could play a part in the solution. It does call for creative thinking. But, above all, it calls for honest dealing. We insist on being treated fairly by the city.


William McGaughey

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