What’s with Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee?

Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee (MPRAC) consists of five hundred or so persons who own and manage rental housing in Minneapolis. It started in 1994 when a handful of landlords decided to sue the city of Minneapolis over a range of abusive activities by the city’s inspection department.

Today its grievances encompass, more generally, what many regard as real-estate racketeering by Minneapolis city government, neighborhood groups, the MCDA, etc., in addition to inspections and police issues.

Opponents often depict MPRAC as a bunch of “slumlords”, mostly middle-aged white males, who have no real community interest but are only interested in maximizing rents and short-term profits. As a group, however, it functions as a kind of labor union for landlords which avenges injuries to its individual members. Unlike Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, which is dominated by the large suburban apartment complexes, MPRAC’s members tend to be the smaller, inner-city “mom and pop” operation, more likely to rent to poor people and racial minorities and to give a break to persons with less-than-perfect rental histories. This type of landlord often incurs the wrath of “neighbors” who don’t want such persons living among them. The white landlord who rents to minority tenants becomes a target for hidden racial agendas in these neighborhoods.

MPRAC has established a community presence through its hour-long televised meetings shown on Fridays beginning at 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Channel 6, on Saturdays on Channel 17 beginning at 6:00 p.m. Unlike most corporatized productions, these “free speech forums” have been described as a cross between a public-affairs discussion and the Jerry Springer show. The meetings themselves, held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Whittier Community Center (26th and Grand Ave. S.) , regularly draw 40 to 60 persons. The discussion topics are focused on housing and crime. The public is, of course, invited to participate.

MPRAC’s executive director is Charlie Disney who used to own and operate Disney’s table-tennis center on Lake Street until crime in that area forced it out of business. Disney himself was a top-rated table-tennis player in Minnesota for many years who used to take on all comers at the state fair. In the 1970s, he was president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association and was present at that historic tournament at Nagano, Japan, in 1971 when the U.S. table-tennis team was invited to tour China for the first time. Disney has brought his considerable organizing skills and personal charisma to the task of stabilizing the rental-housing market and fighting crime in the city of Minneapolis. With his sports cap and blue jogging suit, Disney’s appearance at an event strikes fear in the heart of the control freaks at city hall (such as police chief Robert Olson) who insist on managing the news.

MPRAC has a reputation for militancy. When the city tore down an apartment building at 1030 Morgan Ave. N. several years ago because its owner had failed to control street crime in front of the building, MPRAC picketed the 4th precinct police headquarters, located a block and a half down the street on Morgan, proposing facetiously that this building, too, ought to be demolished for its crime-fighting failures. Armed with photographs, it has held informational pickets at the site of structurally sound buildings (3330 Chicago Ave. S. and 2727 Portland Ave. S.) which were scheduled to be demolished. Lou Harvin of Channel 2 covered an MPRAC event intended to expose how inflated estimates of repair costs were putting certain buildings on the demolition list at a time of housing crisis.

Two of its best-known events took place at City Hall. In April 1997, MPRAC members descended on the Mayor’s office to protest the city’s scapegoating of the owner of the building at 1818 Park Ave. S., where Ann Prazniak was murdered. Careful questioning of this owner refuted charges of negligence. City officials beat a hasty retreat as innocent tenants at this building blasted the city for wanting to throw them on the street because the police had failed to control street crime. The Mayor placated these tenants by promising them a week’s transitional housing in a suburban motel using funds from the Minneapolis Foundation.

On the Friday before the 1998 state elections, MPRAC members accompanied by several candidates for state-wide office invaded the chambers of the Minneapolis City Council and shut down the meeting at which Council members had voted to revoke a landlord’s rental license for alleged crime-fighting failures. Again, innocent tenants were thown on the street. MPRAC videotaped and televised the shutdown showing how the City Hall bullies were brought low.

Even so, MPRAC has a positive program for improving landlord relations with the city. After the Mayor’s appearance at an MPRAC meeting in June 2000, discussions were held with her staff on its various points. (Unfortunately, the discussions went nowhere.) Generally, MPRAC opposes the demolition of existing housing stock in the city at a time of housing shortages. It opposes the confiscation of private property, blame shifting by the police, MCDA racketeering, and politically directed inspections. It proposes that the police do police work, that inspectors be impartial and well-trained, and that secrecy in government end.

Minneapolis is a one-party town. Unfortunately, the dominant party is no longer the party of F.D.R. and Humphrey, supporting “the little guy”. It has become, instead, the party of “big money” - big foundation and corporate money, tobacco settlements, trial lawyers, favored developers, bond salesmen, and special-interest PACs. We want to help turn this situation around.


Charlie Disney for Mayor of Minneapolis

Charlie has been:

* a stockbroker with Dain Bosworth in his early career

* ten-time table-tennis champion of Minnesota

* owner of Magoo’s/ Disney’s Table Tennis Center on Lake Street
(the most successful table-tennis business in the United States)

* president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association
(was present at the historic tournament that opened China to the West)

Charlie is:

* owner of rental housing in south Minneapolis* executive director of Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee
(consisting of more than 500 property owners in Minneapolis)

* host of a popular public-affairs show shown weekly on Channel 6

* tour guide on more than twenty “crack tours” for public officials,
which put pressure on the city administration to clean up crime
in the Phillips neighborhood

* a persistent critic of city policies that “blame buildings for crime”
and result in tearing down much-needed affordable housing

Charlie Disney cares about this city. Raised in Edina, he now lives by choice in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. Disney is meeting the challenge of crime. A doer as well as a talker, he has galvanized a group of property owners in the city to become a force for community renewal. Minneapolis is better than what the current city administration envisions. Under Charlie Disney’s vigorous leadership, it will again become one of America’s preeminent cities.

(leaflets distributed at 2001 DFL city convention in Minneapolis)

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