Brooklyn Park Housing Project Banner image with images of apartment complexes in Brooklyn Park

Author: Principal Investigator, Dr. Brittany Lewis, Senior Research Associate

Contributing Authors: Dr. Shana Riddick, Arundhathi Pattathil, Keelia Silvis, Peter Schuetz, Yue Zhang, Justin Baker

Project Funders: Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority, City of Brooklyn Park; Hennepin County; and State of Minnesota, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency

Looking for the Brooklyn Park Housing Project Executive Summary? Click here.

Report Overview

The Brooklyn Park Housing Project was enacted to examine experiences in the city’s large apartment communities—specifically within its “apartment corridor.” During one-on-one meetings with community stakeholders at the start of this project, one of the pain-points repeatedly shared was the divide that commonly exists between city renters and homeowners and that more was needed to better understand and respond to the realities of city renters. There was a strong desire for a qualitative study that would center project participants’ voices. The project’s Advisory Council, guided by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) research team, moved through a process where they collectively developed the project framework and its accompanying research tools. A research project can take multiple directions. This process began with a clear understanding that this would be a housing study that examined conditions in the city’s large apartment communities, but beyond that point the Advisory Council determined its framework. Ultimately, the project focused on relations amongst tenants and management, safety and security, and tenant/management members’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities. Examining the quality of one’s housing experience (resident) and working environment (property management team member) grounded this work. No research project can answer all questions or address every pertinent area of focus. The human experience exists within a multifaceted ecosystem, and a research project provides an opportunity to examine a facet of those complexities.

The central objective of this project was to humanize the experiences of renters (and in effect present the working environments of property management team members) by addressing social conditions, relationships/interactions, and the role of educational opportunities (i.e., understanding one’s rights), which shape life within the city’s large apartments. This is not to say that issues regarding affordability, economic development, education, or youth services are not essential to experiences in the city’s large apartments, but they were not the lens and direction in which the Advisory Council chose to move. Studies examining these topics should be commissioned and where applicable, analyses examining these areas appear in this report. First and foremost, this report introduces the experiences of renters and property management team members, examining what it’s like to live in these communities, raise children, or work within them.


“I moved here and stayed here because I love the fact that I live two blocks away from Riverview Park, and it’s beautiful—it’s lovely. I bring my bike there now. I hike there. And when I was going through some mental health challenges my partner and I would go there and walk.” (BP21, resident)

“I’m a single mom. For me, it’s not just about me and my four walls of a home. It’s [about] knowing my neighbors; it’s [about] feeling safe with my neighbors if something happens; feeling secure that they would call the police and say, ‘Hey, I know she’s a single mom, or I haven’t seen her in a couple of days, well, what if something happened?’” (BP03, resident)

“I wanted to be on the affordable side with our families, who really needed the extra support and housing. I wanted to bring that passion to my sites. My teams and I really want to meet our residents where they’re at. We want to try and accommodate them too, whatever it may be—accommodation, as far as a modification to your home, whether you need resources for unpaid rent—whatever we can do.” (BP24, property management team member)

Zane Avenue Map

In July of 2016, the Minneapolis Innovation Team, in partnership with the nonprofit Minnesota tenant advocacy organization HOME Line, published a report on Evictions in Minneapolis, which was inspired by Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted. The Innovation Team’s report found that 50% of tenants in the 55411 and 55412 zip codes were evicted in a two-year span. The report effectively identified eviction trends in the City of Minneapolis using quantitative data and mapping of a small sampling of eviction court case files. In August 2018, HOME Line, in partnership with CURA, completed a similar quantitatively focused analysis of evictions in Brooklyn Park and found that of the eviction cases filed in 2015 through 2017 in Brooklyn Park, 61% of eviction cases were filed by the top four frequent filer owner groups with most filings (98%) taking place along the Zane Avenue Corridor between 63rd Avenue North and 83rd Avenue North. These reports have enabled local policymakers and practitioners to begin the process of reshaping the narrative around evictions and helping to generate new and pressing questions many had not considered.

However, these reports did not take a comprehensive mixed methodological approach enabling community members, policymakers, and other relevant community stakeholders to address how and why these trends are taking place from the perspectives of tenants and landlords themselves. The Brooklyn Park Housing Study aims to better understand housing instability and quality of life in a select number of Brooklyn Park apartment communities for the purpose of producing tangible policy and practice recommendations that produce equitable outcomes.

The Context: Rental Housing Stability and the Politics of Eviction in the City of Brooklyn Park

Brooklyn Park Residents
Brooklyn Park Residents

Brooklyn Park is a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis with people of color as a majority (58%). Specifically, 29% of Brooklyn Park residents identify as Black, 19% as Asian, and 6% as Hispanic or Latino (United States Census Bureau, 2019). Foreign-born immigrants comprise 23% of the population in this city, with a significant population from Africa (i.e., Liberia, Kenya, Somalia), and Southeast Asia (i.e., Laos, Vietnam) (The Minnesota State Demographic Center, 2018). Among the 30% of Brooklyn Park residents who are renters, 68% are people of color. Housing stability and quality of life are core concerns for rental apartment communities in Brooklyn Park. While evictions in Hennepin County decreased significantly over the past decade, the number of evictions in Brooklyn Park has stayed relatively stable. As stated above, in the eviction cases filed between 2015 and 2017 in Brooklyn Park, 98% took place along the Zane Avenue Corridor between 63rd Avenue North and 83rd Avenue North. Four property owners owning 28% of rental units accounted for 65% of eviction cases. In addition, property owners in Brooklyn Park had a relatively shorter grace period for late payment. On average, Brooklyn Park evictions were filed 16 days after the rents were due (HOME Line, 2018).

Although not all filings lead to displacement, an eviction filing remains on a tenant’s record for seven years. Further, apartment managers who do not use a screening agency may even see eviction filings beyond the federally mandated seven-year window. It means that even if an eviction filing does not end in an eviction or displacement, the filing itself has important consequences for households, especially for families of color. Therefore, seeking to reduce eviction filings and ensure stable housing is critical for the city. The solution to this problem is not simply to ban the eviction filings but to explore the root causes of the problem—why do people delay rent? How do renters come into the situation of being evicted? Have there been any attempts to resolve conflicts between property owners and renters through communication and relationship-building? Understanding the factors that lead to eviction filings and alternative pathways is essential to developing increased housing access, stability, and quality.

Quality of Life Issues Regarding Affordability, Safety, and Dignity in Brooklyn Park

The long-term sustainability of rental apartment communities and the quality of life for renters depend not only on reducing evictions. Affordability, safety, and dignity in housing are all fundamental concerns.

The Brooklyn Park Apartment Vacancy Survey (Kinara and Abe, 2019) shows that between 2016 and 2019 the median rent for one-bedroom apartments in the city increased 14% and the median rent for two-bedroom apartments increased 16%. The increased rent resulted in over half of the renter households being cost-burdened (i.e., spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs) and a quarter of renters severely cost-burdened (i.e., spending more than 50% of their monthly income on housing costs). Driven by income level, housing cost burdens impact certain groups of the population more than others. With the median household income for residents at $74,000 per year and the per capita income at $32,000 per year, Brooklyn Park has a lower-than-statewide-average poverty rate (Minnesota Department of Health, 2017). However, poverty has been inequitably distributed by race in this city. Among all Brooklyn Park residents living below the poverty line, 43% are Black residents, higher than any racial identity (Data USA, 2020).

The City of Brooklyn Park has made efforts to address the affordability of housing. Over the past few years, Brooklyn Park has undertaken several newly developed housing policies and initiatives, including the Mixed Income Housing Policy, Fair Housing Policy, Tenant Notification Ordinance, and the Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) Program, which aims to support the rehabilitation of unsubsidized rental housing affordable to people with incomes below 60% area median income (AMI). Brooklyn Park has the third largest NOAH property stock after Minneapolis and Bloomington in Hennepin County, and it has the highest proportion of NOAHs to total rental stock (83%) (Minnesota Housing Partnership, 2019b). Brooklyn Park’s vacancy rate is favorable to renters and has increased from 5% in 2010 to 7% in 2019 (Minnesota Housing Partnership, 2019a).

Despite these efforts, additional housing options and programs do not necessarily lead to a better quality of life for renters. In Brooklyn Park’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan (2021), the development and redevelopment of rental housing focus on small multifamily apartments and few units with three or more rooms. For larger households, the options are relatively limited. Regarding dignified housing, the housing quality issue has been concentrated in low-wealth communities and communities of color: 50% of renters with incomes below 30% AMI live in apartments with incomplete kitchens or plumbing and/or with too many occupants (Hennepin County, 2019). Other housing challenges and tenants’ rights issues include, but are not limited to: living in unhealthy quarters, being restricted by the city’s parking ordinances, and experiencing low-level inspection standards (ACER, 2019).

Besides affordability and dignity, safety and security is another concern in Brooklyn Park’s rental apartment communities. Hennepin County’s SHAPE Survey result (2018) shows that Brooklyn Park, along with other inner northwestern suburbs, has been the least likely to be strongly perceived as being safe from crimes and good for child-raising by local residents, compared to other parts of Hennepin County. The livable outdoor environment, the family and social relationship, and comparatively affordable rental prices attract people to reside in the city but they need more reasons to live and work here in the long term.

Valuing Voices and Experiences of Residents and Property Management is the First Step of Community Engagement

Stability, affordability, safety, security, and dignity in housing relate to the life and experience of every individual in the rental apartment communities, whose feelings, perspectives, and opinions should not be ignored. When addressing these issues, community engagement ensures that the exploration of factors is on the right track and policy decisions and solutions are fair and sustainable. In a city with a diverse population like Brooklyn Park, community engagement is particularly essential to direct the improvement of living conditions for all community members. However, housing and quality of life issues inevitably strain the relationships across residents, property management, and the city, which is an important condition for solving problems and enhancing community engagement. Valuing and including voices and experiences from residents and property management facilitates understanding, which is a critical step toward trust-building and future engagement.

Community members and policymakers need to address how and why housing issues exist in order to create proactive solutions. Quantitative analysis has uncovered a general picture of these issues, but it does not look into people’s daily lives and work and generate experiential knowledge from their perspectives. Therefore, it is important to apply the participatory design of action research to ensure that the key stakeholders are included in the process that renters are engaged, informed, and empowered, and property management team members who interact with them are valued and collaborated with in solving housing issues.

The Benefits from CURA’s Community-Based Action Research Approach

CURA believes that knowledge is generated from the communities. Research can only be transformed into actions through the participation and empowerment of community members and stakeholders. CURA’s principal researcher, Dr. Brittany Lewis, employs a community-based action research approach that uniquely disrupts the power imbalances that often exist between researchers and the community, particularly in communities of color and low-wealth communities. By engaging community members, a research project can 1) build community power, 2) assist local grassroots campaigns and local power brokers in reframing the dominant narrative, and 3) produce community-centered public policy solutions that are winnable and actionable.

The reciprocal relationships across sectors built through this model allow an open process where the participants stand on the common ground of a desire for social transformation. This actionable research model embraces a racial equity framework that asserts that we must 1) look for solutions that address systemic inequities, 2) work collaboratively with affected communities, and 3) add solutions that are commensurate with the cause of inequity.

To explore root causes of housing instability, quality of life issues, and relationship-building challenges in Brooklyn Park rental apartment communities, CURA’s research team consulted with an Advisory Council primarily made up of diverse community organizations (e.g., African Career, Education, and Resource Inc. [ACER], HOME Line, Community Emergency Assistance Programs, Housing Justice Center, Community Mediation and Restorative Services), staff members from the City of Brooklyn Park, and staff members from Hennepin County. The background information and suggestions provided by the Advisory Council helped frame and shape the current research focus. In total, 28 residents and 12 property management team members, mainly from the Zane Avenue Corridor, were engaged in a comprehensive design of the inquiry. Knowledge generated from their lived experiences and opinions contributed to a racial equity lens and to developing community-centered solutions in policy and practice.

Report Sections

Expand all


African Career, Education and Resource (ACER). (2019). Housing Gap Analysis.

Brooklyn Park 2040 Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 4 Housing in Brooklyn Park. (2021). Retrieved from

Data USA. Brooklyn Park, MN. (2020). Retrieved from

The SHAPE 2018: Hennepin County Adult Data Book. (2018). Retrieved from

Hennepin County. (October 2019). Housing and Community Development Listening Session.

HOME Line. Evictions in Brooklyn Park. (April 2018). Retrieved from

Minnesota Department of Health. People in poverty in Minnesota. (2017). Retrieved from

Minnesota Housing Partnership. (2019a). State of the State’s Housing 2019: Biennial report of the Minnesota Housing Partnership. Retrieved from

Minnesota Housing Partnership. (2019b). Market Watch: Hennepin County: Trends in the unsubsidized multifamily rental market. Retrieved from

The Minnesota State Demographic Center. Data by topic: Immigration and language. (2018). Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts: Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. (July 2019). Retrieved from

Kinara, J. T. and Abe, S. (September 2019). Apartment Vacancy Survey Results for 2019. Retrieved from

Community Engagement Literature Review


More than almost any level of governance, local government has the power and positioning to improve the communities they serve. The investments, mandates, and policies of local government can create flourishing futures. Community engagement ensures that governing decisions are equitable and sustainable solutions. This is especially true when addressing housing, a complex issue that intersects legal, social, economic, and health domains. In a place as diverse as Brooklyn Park, community engagement is critical to ensure that all community members can access safe, healthy, and dignified housing.

This document is designed to serve as a resource for Brooklyn Park local government. It will briefly summarize community demographics [Section II. Brooklyn Park], and it will then explain the fundamental importance of housing to the health and success of community members [Section III. Housing and Health]. These two sections can be used to explain and validate equity-focused housing reform pursued by Brooklyn Park’s leaders. This background is followed by a dive into and academic discussion of community engagement [Section IV: Community Engagement] and a legal overview of community engagement in local government [Section V: Context for Reform]. It ends with real-world examples of models to emulate and avoid [Section VI: Case Studies].

Brooklyn Park


Brooklyn Park possesses vibrant racial and ethnic diversity.[1] Though only 20% of all Minnesotans are people of color,[2] approximately 57.5% of Brooklyn Park residents are people of color.[3] Specifically, 29% of Brooklyn Park residents identify as Black, 19% as Asian, 5.9% as Hispanic or Latine, and 4.5% as multiracial.[4] Strong immigrant communities also define Brooklyn Park’s demographic makeup, with an estimated 23% foreign-born residents compared to the statewide average of an estimated 8%.[5]


The median household income for residents in Brooklyn Park is $74,000 per year, and the per capita income is $32,000 per year. On average, poverty is lower in Brooklyn Park than Statewide, with 8.4% of residents living in poverty in Brooklyn Park compared to 9.5% for all Minnesotans.[6] However, poverty is inequitably distributed by race in Brooklyn Park, with Black residents bearing the highest poverty burden of any racial identity.[7] Despite Black residents only making up 29% of Brooklyn Park’s population[8], Black residents account for 42.8% of Brooklyn Park residents living below the poverty line.[9]


Approximately 30% of all housing in Brooklyn Park is occupied by renters.[10] Demographic information shows 68% of those renting in the city are non-white, compared to 40% of renters in Minneapolis and 36% of renters in all of Hennepin County. In 2017, there were an estimated 602 residential evictions filed against tenants in the City of Brooklyn Park. This number represents 7% of residential rental units within the city, which has 8,337 total rental units. However, this number underrepresents the residents affected by eviction because it does not reflect multiple family members involved in a single eviction, nor does the data capture informal evictions outside of the court process.[11]Another severe limitation of Brooklyn Park evictions data is that eviction courts do not record racial or ethnic information, so racial disparities in eviction rates must be estimated based on outside studies.[12]

Housing and Health

The Socio-Ecological Model

Housing has profound impacts on health and wellbeing.[13],[14] However, access to safe and dignified housing is not solely dependent on individual choice. As explained by the Socio-Ecological Model (SEM), an individual exists within the broader context of their relationships, communities, and the larger society [Figure 1]. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) use the SEM as a framework for prevention and intervention programs that target the social determinants of health (SDOHs).[15] By concisely defining the overlapping socially constructed systems that lead to health outcomes, the SEM helps to explain and frame the profound systemic disparities in the United States (U.S.) perpetrated against individuals and communities based on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical and mental ability, and other intersectional identities.

Figure 1: Diagram of the Socio-Ecological Model. Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “The Social-Ecological Model: A Framework for Prevention.
Figure 1: Diagram of the Socio-Ecological Model. Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “The Social-Ecological Model: A Framework for Prevention.”[16]

For example, imagine a Black woman who has a physical disability and a White man who is able-bodied. Even if both make excellent health choices as individuals, differences in SDOHs will affect their resources, opportunities, and overall health. Regardless of her personal behaviors, the Black woman will experience disadvantages due to a lifetime of facing structural racism,11, 12 structural sexism,13,14 and structural ableism.15 To be absolutely clear: the Black woman can still live a vibrant and self-empowered life, and the White man can certainly experience adversity and suffering. However, because of their contrasting identities, the Black woman will face barriers to housing and health that the White man will never experience. The SEM has helped to frame countless CDC interventions to improve community health by addressing the broad context of a person’s life as well as their individual circumstances.[17]

Housing and Healthy Communities

The comparative example above was imaginary, but the disparities caused by structural oppression are all too real. Black and Hispanic people are over 2 times as likely as White counterparts to live in substandard housing environments.[18] Substandard housing is living with conditions that are inadequate in terms of physical, chemical, biological, and social environment, or with inappropriate building, equipment, and amenities.[19] A person in substandard housing may experience inadequate heating or cooling (physical environment), face exposure to carbon monoxide or lead (chemical environment), have infestations of pests like rodents or cockroaches (biological environment), struggle with anxiety due local crime (social environment), have to deal with malfunctioning appliances or plumbing (building), or any combination of these.[20] All of these factors can decrease quality of life and potentially cause negative health outcomes.[21]

Housing insecurity compounds the health detriments of substandard housing, harming physical, mental, and financial health.[22] The disruption of evictions is linked to disparities in mental health, birth outcomes, and mortality.[23] Black single mothers face the highest rates of eviction in the U.S.,[24] and this disparity causes severe financial and health impacts for themselves and their children.[25] Eviction can lead to extended periods of homelessness,[26]and homelessness is correlated with extreme disparities in health and mortality.[27]

Public health and policy interventions can address disparities in housing and health,[28] but to be truly effective communities must be engaged in the changes. Addressing the “community” ring of the SEM requires collaboration with and empowerment of community members.

Community Engagement

Whether it is public health policy or the fundamental relationships of democratic governance, community engagement is critical to sustainable solutions.[29] Historically, power has been distributed with gross inequity, leading to serious social, political, and public health consequences for marginalized communities.[30] Internationally, effective community engagement is viewed as the central pillar to achieving healthy communities.[31] The World Health Organization (WHO) uses the definition “the process by which individuals and families assume responsibility for their own health and welfare and for those of the community, and develop the capacity to contribute to their and the community’s development”[32] to broadly capture the goals of community engagement. When using greater specificity, academic frameworks can help inform real-world policymakers as they strive for the ideal of authentic community engagement.

There is no single strategy for community engagement. Every community is too unique for black-and-white rules or recommendations. However, these frameworks, considerations, and guiding strategies can empower local governments to pursue community engagement with thoughtfulness and equity.

The Ladder of Citizen Participation

Figure 2: Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation.
Figure 2: Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation.[36]

One of the foundational frameworks for community engagement is Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation [Figure 2].[33] Arnstein explained her ladder in terms of empowering the “have-nots” of U.S.’s communities, the people who are “excluded from the political and economic processes.”[34] Her solution to these persistent structural disparities against racial and other social identities—her “have-nots”—was to ensure that they were “deliberately included in the future” in planning, decision-making, and implementation of policies that impact them.[35] The ladder segmented eight levels of engagement that ranged from exclusionary “non-participation” to highly inclusive “citizen power.”

The first two rungs of the ladder, Manipulation and Therapy, involve exploitative practices that only use the facade of participation to either control or placate communities, not authentically involving them in political processes. The third rung, Informing, involves education of community members but does not grant them any real power. The fourth and fifth, Consultation and Placation, give community members token roles in the process in the form of providing feedback and recommendations. Again, with these two rungs communities do not have true authority, only a surface level amplification of their voices by the decision-makers with real procedural power. However, in rung six Arnstein describes the beginnings of true citizen power in Partnership, where community members are given actual authority as part of an authentically collaborative process. When the ladder reaches Delegated Power, there is a fundamental redistribution of power with true authority, over at least parts of the process, shifting from established powerholders to the former “have-nots.” Finally, in Citizen Control, community members gain full authority over the program or policy that impacts them.

Arnstein’s ladder has been incredibly influential, but it has its limitations. While the simplistic metaphor of a ladder serves as an effective tool for explaining types of community engagement, that same simplicity cannot capture the messy complexity of real, living, intersectional communities. Despite these limitations, the ladder was the seed for many other parallel frameworks, including other “ladder” models—like the public participation ladder[37] and the ladder of empowerment[38]—and a shifted metaphor of “continuum” models—like the public participation continuum.[39]

The Public Participation Spectrum

Figure 3: The Public Participation Spectrum developed by the International Association for Public Participation.
Figure 3: The Public Participation Spectrum developed by the International Association for Public Participation.[41]

In 2004, the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) pulled key ideas from past models of community engagement to create their own utilization-focused public participation spectrum [Figure 3].[40] Ranging from least community participation on the left to most community participation on the right, this model integrates accountability—”promises” from powerholders—in addition to general “goals” of participation.

The levels of participation in the IAP2 spectrum align with Arnstein’s ladder, starting with a base assumption of minimum participation of powerholders informing community stakeholders. It was developed in accordance with the IAP2’s core ethical values[42] and as part of its mission to expand the tools and competency of engaging communities in public participation.

Benefits and Burdens

Engaging communities in health and social services requires investing time in building relationships, transparency and accountability from leaders in positions of institutional power, and intentional empowerment of community members who have been historically marginalized.[43] However, authentic community engagement can lead to numerous benefits, including improving housing management,[44] redressing health disparities,[45] promoting youth empowerment and wellbeing,[46] and alleviating burdens of crime.[47] For success, institutional values and investment of resources must align to achieve collaborative, community-led goals.[48]

True community engagement can be healthy and empowering, but it can also create burdens on vulnerable individuals.[49] For example, for people with disabilities, the burden of overreliance in a highly engaged process can lead to exhaustion and burnout.[50] This reality highlights one of the failures of both the ladder of citizen participation[51] and the spectrum of public participation[52]: In these models, maximum participation is viewed as the ideal. In reality, there needs to be a balance, with intentional empathy, communication, and flexibility built into the process to meet community members where they are over time.

Strategies for Engagement

Organizations like WHO have well-established strategies for community engagement.[53] While pursuing the authentic community engagement outlined in the Ladder and Spectrum models above [Figures 2 and 3], local governments should use intentional forethought to plan out the What, Where, Who, How, and Why for every given goal [Table 1].

Table 1: Framing questions for goal-oriented local community engagement.[54]

Key Questions

Additional Considerations

WHAT: What type of community engagement do you need?


What goal(s) are you trying to achieve with community engagement?

Has this been tried before? Who has tried it? Was the community involved previously? Why or why not?

What type of community engagement will achieve that goal(s)?

Which level of engagement from the Ladder/Spectrum is appropriate?

What is the timeframe/time-commitment of the community engagement?

One-time? Until completion? Ongoing? How many hours per week/month/year?

Is community engagement voluntary or mandatory?

Will engagement be compensated? How?

WHERE: Where will the engagement occur?


Where is your community located?

Geographic definitions? Legal/jurisdictional definitions?

Where does your government fit into the community?

How is it elected? Where is it situated? What is its authority? How is it viewed?

At which level(s) of governance will community engagement occur?

Direct/indirect authority? Boards/committees? Buildings/locations? In-person/virtual?

WHO: Who will (and will not) be participating?


What are their demographic characteristics?

Race/ethnicity? Class? Age? Gender? Religion? Culture? Political values? Diversity/homogeneity?

What are their motivations/ambitions?

How do they define “success”? Is there agreement/disagreement in their definition(s)?

What are their abilities/skills/strengths?

Knowledge? Lived experience? Organizing? Advocacy?

HOW: How will you facilitate engagement?


What formal/informal organizations will be involved?

Public/private? Business/non-profit? Volunteer? Advocacy?

How will community members/organizations be recruited and retained?

How will you communicate with them? How will you make the process mutually beneficial?

What will their roles/decision-making power be?

Advising? Voting? Deciding? Administering?

WHY: Why do you care? Why should the community care?


What are the planned/actual results of this community engagement?

What are the deliverables? How will you disseminate your deliverables?

What are the planned/actual benefits, burdens, and obstacles?

Who wins? Who loses? What barriers exist for you and for the community?

What lessons have you learned in the past/will you carry forward?

What have other local governments done? What helps/hurts the process? What was/is surprising?

These framing questions are invaluable during the planning process, and they can serve as resources to evaluate ongoing community engagement.[55] When reviewing each of these questions, it is critical to consider the distribution of power and decision making framed by the Ladder and Spectrum models above. In addition, local governments should consider which strategies for engagement match their overall engagement goals and/or project milestones. If a goal/milestone mandates community membership on a board or committee, use the SEM to determine how best to include marginalized community members without overburdening people who are already vulnerable. If a goal/milestone involves raising awareness, consider what local media, social media, and community organizations are best positioned to disseminate your message. If a goal/milestone requires long-term community interest and momentum, brainstorm what awards, recognitions, and deliverables can contribute to a reciprocal relationship between local government and community members.

Context for Reform

Open public participation defines the ideal of American democracy, but in reality the U.S. political process was built upon white supremacy to benefit white land-owning men and exclude everyone else.[56] Since the beginning of our nation, the dominant white political class has systematically excluded people of color from political and policy implementation processes.[57] This exclusion contributes to structural disparities in where people live, work, and play, creating persistent health disparities by race,[58] socioeconomic class,[59] sex and gender,[60] and other intersectional identities. International advocates demand “nothing about us without us.”[61] In political decisions that affect people with marginalized identities, policy makers and local government officials must actively incorporate the voices and wisdom of their communities in order to make lasting improvements in health, dignity, and wellbeing. Community engagement paves the way to governing ideals and flourishing communities.

Both government and private actors have made attempts to encourage community engagement in housing. These attempts vary in their tactics and sources of power. The following section will detail a number of these attempts.

Legal Context

Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the 1960s demonstrated a major federal effort to remedy the nation’s affordable housing crisis. The Johnson administration recognized the necessity of community engagement for overcoming poverty, so they mandated it in political processes through requirements of “maximum feasible participation.”[62] These mandates empowered previously marginalized communities, creating new pathways for civic engagement and reform.[63]Though federal mandates of maximum feasible participation were repealed under the Reagan Administration in 1981,[64] organizations like the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are an extended legacy of the initial era.

The Obama Administration attempted to revitalize the federal mandate for community participation in 2015 through a HUD rule titled “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH). The AFFH’s stated purpose is “to provide program participants with an effective planning approach to aid program participants in taking meaningful actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.”[65] The AFFH also required those receiving specified HUD funds to “give the public reasonable opportunities for involvement in the development of the [Assessment of Fair Housing].”[66] Scholars indicate the AFFH’s true potential can only be realized through extensive grassroot advocacy and vigilance.[67]

Despite being finalized as recently as 2015, the AFFH has already led a tumultuous life. In 2020, the Trump administration repealed the rule,[68] but in 2021 the Biden administration indicated a desire to revive the rule.[69] Due to the uncertain nature of the AFFH, at least one state, California, has decided to adopt the rule at the state level to promote fair housing.[70] It is currently unclear whether any other states may follow suit.

Advisory Boards

Cities across the United States have created “Housing Advisory Boards” or “Resident Advisory Boards” as an attempt to increase community participation in housing discussions and decision making.[71] Advisory boards are tasked with reviewing the plans of public housing agencies and providing suggestions.[72] Public housing agencies are then required to consider the advisory board’s recommendations.[73] The public housing agency is not required to adopt all the recommendations, but they are required to submit these recommendations as an attachment to the finalized plan.[74] The public housing agency must also include a narrative describing their analysis of the recommendations and the decisions made on these recommendations.[75]

Advisory boards are supposed to be composed of community members who have an understanding of and a stake in the local housing market.[76] Ideally, the advisory board members should be representative of the community in terms of socioeconomic status and their demographic information.[77] However, many advisory boards suffer from a self-selection problem.[78] This means many advisory boards are composed of more affluent community members who have the expendable time to volunteer for the advisory board.[79] To alleviate this concern, some advisory boards have implemented quotas within their bylaws calling for a certain number of board members from varying backgrounds, like Section 8 residents and/or elderly residents.[80] Without these types of quotas, an advisory board may be representative of developers or other affluent interests, instead of your average community member.

Community Contracts

Community Benefit Agreements (CBA) are contracts between a community coalition and a developer.[81]These community coalitions may be composed of community members, local workers, faith communities, and labor unions.[82] In a typical CBA, community members agree to support the developer’s proposed project, or at least promise not to oppose the project or to invoke procedural devices or legal challenges that might delay or derail the project.[83] In return, the developer agrees to provide to the community such benefits as assurances of local jobs, affordable housing, and environmental improvements. CBAs are now commonly used nationwide to resolve disputes between developers and community members.[84]

There is debate amongst legal scholars whether CBAs are beneficial or detrimental to community members.[85]Some argue that, when properly negotiated, CBAs lower transaction costs, enhance civic participation, and protect taxpayers.[86] CBAs are meant to provide the community a voice in local development while furthering concepts of economic justice.[87] However, a key criticism focuses on whether the coalition negotiating CBAs is truly representative of the affected community.[88] In many cases, the people who negotiate CBAs are neither elected nor appointed by the community.[89] In those instances, community members have no way of holding the negotiators accountable for the conduct or outcome of the negotiations.[90] Negotiators who are not well organized, who are weak or unskilled bargainers, or who do not represent the community’s interests can dominate the negotiations unchecked.[91] However, when properly negotiated by those truly representing the community, CBAs appear to have great potential.

Some CBAs include local municipalities as a party to the contract; however, this creates added concerns about the enforceability of the contract.[92] CBAs between a developer and an entirely private coalition will follow the regular rules of contract law.[93] When a municipality joins the coalition, then the developer is afforded constitutional protections they would not otherwise have.[94] This has led some to discourage municipalities from directly participating in CBA negotiations and instead functioning as a supportive outsider.

Case Studies on Community Engagement

There are a variety of initiatives across the country being tried at the municipal level intent on increasing community participation and remedying past injustices. Cities across the country have enacted a swath of well-intended policies, some of which have achieved their goal while others have missed the mark. These policies include both top-down and bottom-up approaches. They also vary in what “Rung” on the “Ladder of Citizen Participation” (See, Figure 2) or what “Stage” of the “Public Participation Spectrum” (See, Figure 3) they fulfill. Through careful analysis important policy takeaways can be learned from each example.

Los Angeles, CA: Incentivizing Affordable Housing Developments


The city of Los Angeles is known for its disastrous unaffordable housing prices.[95] The city has taken on a variety of initiatives to address the problem from a regulatory standpoint. A significant change came through an expedited environmental review process. The city instituted the Greater Downtown Housing Incentive Ordinance,[96]which was a series of regulatory changes that were designed to increase density and reduce the administrative burden of development. The ordinance eliminated the maximum for units per lot within the relevant floor area ratio, yard requirements, parking space requirements for units affordable to those at or below 50% Area Median Income (AMI), and required percentages of private and common open space for buildings. In place of the required percentages of private to open space, a bonus system was created. It also instituted inclusive zoning requirements of 5% very low income, 10% low income, 15% moderate-income, or 20% workforce housing (150% AMI).

Also out of California were two projects that highlight an interesting strategy to overcome a lack of political will or general opposition to new housing construction. In 2001, the State of California started something called the “Jobs-Housing Balance Incentive Grant Program” (JHB Program),[97] which was a grant-giving organization that gave grants to cities that used the money on housing infrastructure and amenities.[98] The other case was of tax credits to people in the vicinity of a proposed project in exchange for not opposing the project.[99] Both of these policies are in effect paying entities that might otherwise prevent more housing development in exchange for their help/compliance in getting projects built.

Policy Takeaways

The policies initiated by the city of Los Angeles provide examples of how to incentivize the development of affordable housing. The Greater Downtown Housing Incentive Ordinance encouraged affordable housing through zoning law. Los Angeles conditioned developers’ desire for more units per building on the developers’ willingness to set aside housing for varying levels of household income. This use of zoning law represents a municipality effectively using a key power to shift incentives. The tax credits provided to developers willing to invest in “affordable rental housing for low-income Californians” is yet another example of properly incentivizing developers by meeting their interests. Los Angeles still has a long road before its housing crisis can be considered remotely “solved,”[100] but the city’s attempts at incentivizing development provides an example for other municipalities.

Chicago, IL: Addressing the Costs of Segregation


Lack of public engagement contributed to huge disparities in Chicago. The suburbs of Chicago are highly economically and racially segregated.[101] These divisions cause substantial disparities in both private and public investment across the city’s suburbs. Often predominately Black and Brown communities do not receive the same level of investment as their White counterparts. This leads to higher social spending, lower socioeconomic status, lower educational attainment, and higher homicide rates in areas with minimal investment. Because of these negative effects, Chicago is currently implementing the “Our Equitable Future” plan.[102] This plan includes actions like joining the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), increasing affordable housing, conducting a regional assessment of fair housing, expanding homeownership, promoting economic development, investing in equitable education, and reforming the criminal justice system.

Policy Takeaways

Chicago’s “Our Equitable Future” plan is in its infancy, since it only began in 2018. There has yet to be an empirical evaluation of the plan’s impact. However, the plan’s constructors expect “billions in new tax revenue, increased safety, better health and personal safety.”[103] The plan’s constructors note “affordable housing builds strong communities” and “community organizing unlocks the talents of local residents.” This increased strength and wealth of currently untapped talent can do so much for a city.

Boston, MA: Resident Advisory Board Designed for Community Representation


Boston, MA established their Resident Advisory Board (RAB) in response to the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998.[104] The Boston RAB website includes detailed descriptions of the RAB’s bylaws[105]and history.[106] The RAB advises the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) in the development and implementation of the Housing Authority’s Annual Plan.[107] The BHA is required to consider the recommendations of the RAB in preparing the final public housing agency plan and any amendments to the same.[108] The BHA is also required to include a copy of the RAB’s recommendation and a description of the manner in which the recommendations were addressed in the public housing agency plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).[109]

The RAB is designed to “adequately reflect and represent the residents assisted by the BHA.”[110] The RAB is meant to contain 30 members to be selected from three constituencies of the BHA: 10 from BHA’s elderly/disabled public housing developments; 10 residents from BHA’s family public housing developments; and 10 participants from BHA’s Section 8 voucher, homeownership, or moderate rehabilitation program.[111] Each of these three constituencies has distinct elections when determining the 10 representatives from their constituencies.[112] This broad approach to membership is an attempt to guarantee historically marginalized populations are able to be heard.

Policy Takeaways

The RAB in Boston, MA provides a strong model for promoting community engagement, but it is not perfect.[113] Most importantly, the Boston RAB takes steps to ensure its membership is composed of traditionally disenfranchised persons by having an expansive number of board members (30 in total) and allocating a set amount of board positions to specific demographics. With ten members from each specific demographic, no individual member is forced to speak on behalf of their entire group. Instead, each member has other representatives from their demographic present at the table. This strategic inclusion is something to be admired.

The Boston RAB advises the BHA, but it does not have final say on any specific matter. This places the Boston RAB at the “Partnership” or the “Placation” rung of the Ladder of Citizen Participation (See, Figure 2), or the “Collaborate” stage of the Public Participation Spectrum (See, Figure 3). RAB members are active participants, but there is no guarantee the RAB’s recommendations will be incorporated by the BHA. However, since the BHA is required to include the RAB’s recommendations and a description of the manner in which the recommendations were addressed in the public housing agency plan submitted to HUD, this may be considered “power… in decision making.”

Although the Boston RAB focuses on the relationship between residents and the BHA, this model of participation can be implemented in a variety of housing contexts. For example, this same model could be applied across a sector of large apartment communities in a given city. Despite the absence of a housing authority, this sector of apartment communities could still establish a representative board of community voices by using recruitment and quota methods similar to those seen in the BHA bylaws.

Irving, TX: A Housing and Human Services Board with a Self-Selection Bias


Irving is a first-ring suburb of Dallas, TX. Irving has a diverse population like Brooklyn Park. Irving’s population of 239,798 residents is broken down demographically in the following way: 21.6% White, 14.2% Black, 19.7% Asian, 42.3% Hispanic/Latino.[114] The Irving Housing Advisory Board is composed of qualified voters from Irving, TX.[115] Board membership is limited to “residents of the city who [are] eligible to vote in city elections.”[116] Board members are appointed by the city council.[117] There are no quotas or specialized incentives to encourage a diverse board.

The board assists in “the implementation and administration of all programs funded through the Community Development Block Grant, HOME Investment Partnerships Grant, and Emergency Shelter Grant programs.”[118] The Board reviews proposed policies/procedures, makes recommendations to relevant government bodies, and functions as an appeal board for city-implemented programs funded through one of the previously listed programs.[119] The board is required to report its activities to the city council as requested.[120] Any action or inaction of the board may be approved, amended, reversed, or overruled by the city council.[121]

Policy Takeaways

The Irving Housing and Human Services Board is a poor example of a citizen advisory board for two key reasons. First, since the bylaws do not specify any details about potential board members except “residents of the city who [are] eligible to vote in city elections,” the Board exhibits a self-selection problem. This means people whose voices could greatly benefit the board’s representation of the community choose not to participate, while people who may not be representative choose to participate. The self-selection problem can lead to the board’s nine positions being filled by developers and not having a single low-income resident present. This leads to the second large problem: the Irving City Council has far too much power over the board. Board members are appointed by the city council and the city council can approve, amend, reverse, or overrule any action or inaction by the board. This extensive oversight limits the potential for diverse voices to be placed on the board and raises doubts about what, if any, power the board wields. These policies mean the Irving Board is only nominally representative of the local community.

The Irving Board only reaches the “Consultation” rung of the Ladder of Citizen Participation (See, Figure 2), or the “Consult” stage of the Public Participation Spectrum (See, Figure 3). However, there is an important caveat. The Irving Board does little to address who is being “consulted.” The Board’s self-selection problem means that those most affected by affordable housing policy may not be consulted. Rather, those in positions of power, like developers or landlords, may be the only voices being heard.

Despite the Irving Housing and Human Services Board’s flaws, it has a noble aspect which should be emulated. Namely, the board functions as an appeal board for city-implemented programs funded through a list of programs. This appeal function could allow a similar board to exert power over city decisionmaking beyond simply preemptive suggestions. By allowing a citizen advisory board to review appeals, a board could voice their concerns/recommendations at several stages of the decisionmaking process.

Detroit, MI: Concerns of Government Overinvolvement through a Community Benefit Ordinance


In 2016, Detroit voters approved a “Community Benefits Ordinance” (CBO) which requires developers to proactively engage with the community to identify community benefits and address potential negative impacts of certain development projects.[122] The CBO applies when a development project: (1) is $75 million or more in value, (2) receives $1 million or more in property tax abatements, or (3) receives $1 million or more in value from city land sale or transfer.[123] When a development project triggers the CBO process, a Neighborhood Advisory Council is established, with nine representatives from the project’s impact area, to work directly with the developer and establish community benefits.[124]

Policy Takeaways

Some scholars have concerns about the effectiveness and enforceability of the CBOs developed from Detroit’s ordinance.[125] First, there is concern that developers will be less able to acquire community support for their project, when obtaining a CBA is required by local ordinance.[126] This could make it more difficult for developers to attract investors to fund the project, since developers could no longer rely on community support to ensure project approval, thereby taking away a very valuable bargaining chip that developers had relied on in the past to attract investors.[127]Additionally, by having the City of Detroit listed as a party to the CBA certain Takings Clause doctrine would apply.[128] This would further complicate the enforceability of the CBA.

CBAs are a powerful tool of community power. To be executed properly CBAs must have community actors heading the initiative. When this occurs, CBAs can reach the “Citizen Control” rung of the Ladder of Citizen Participation (See, Figure 2), or the “Empower” stage of the Public Participation Spectrum (See, Figure 3). Although well-intended the Detroit Ordinance actually reduces community power, by placing the local government at the head. The Ordinance lowers any resulting CBAs to the “Partnership” rung of the Ladder of Citizen Participation (See, Figure 2), or the “Collaborate” stage of the Public Participation Spectrum (See, Figure 3). This reduction in community also comes with a host of new challenges regarding the enforceability of these government-backed CBAs. The Detroit Ordinance showcases how well-intended policy can actually interfere with community power. The best way for a municipality to assist with CBAs is to provide legal resources for community members, not to require developers to sign CBAs.

Boulder, CO: Apply Digital Tools to Broaden Engagement


Code for America, based in San Francisco, has worked with different local governments across the country and co-designed several in-person and digital tools to increase participation and engagement for these governments.[129]Before working with Code for America, the City of Boulder applied engagement strategies including large events, small working groups, online information sharing, and feedback collection through surveys. However, there was a need to broaden the outreach toward underrepresented audiences. To achieve this goal, Code of America’s expertise partnered with the City’s Communications Department and Department of Planning, Housing and Sustainability, the Housing Boulder Process Subcommittee, and working groups composed of public interest groups in housing issues.[130] Code of America helped modify the city’s existing engagement strategies in a six-month period that improved the effectiveness of reaching out to and engaging a broader scope of community members.

Their modifications included the following: 1) The working group met community leaders and attended their meetings to build trust. Student organizations and young professional associations were connected to bridge the city with more young residents. 2) The city’s website was revamped to highlight important information about ongoing initiatives and provided visitors the opportunity to participate in an online survey regarding housing issues. Clear links were provided on the website to allow visitors to get involved, learn about the city’s housing issues, and learn about housing options. 3) Digital tools and techniques were used to make community engagement practices more approachable. For example, Textizen (created by Code of America) could create text message (SMS) surveys and analyze results, which attracted interest and connected audiences with the city’s website; Twitter was used to promote communication with residents during community meetings and events; Meerkat and Periscope allowed to live stream events and meetings and broadcast them to the public from a mobile device; Zoom allowed residents to participate in conversations remotely; SurveyGizmo conducted polls easily; CityVoice (a place-based call-in system created by Code of America) helped collect community feedback from gathering places through the telephone. 4) The community engagement was strengthened through regular actions with residents (i.e., surveys, research projects) and positive feedback loops (i.e., appreciation, information release, product presentation).[131]

Policy Takeaways

The City of Boulder’s strategy realized “involving” residents according to the Public Participation Spectrum and reached the “consultation and placation” level according to Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation by giving community members token roles in the process in the form of providing feedback and recommendations. By creating partnerships and working with community groups who were already engaged with residents, the working group could reach out to a broader scope of audiences. Comprehensive use of 21st-century techniques benefited the city to obtain wider participation in events and conversations, especially during the pandemic. This case shows an example of how to better inform community members, collect information and feedback from residents, and involve their voices in decisionmaking by comprehensively applying in-person and digital channels.

New York City, NY: Community Empowerment through NeighborhoodStat for Crime Prevention[132]


NeighborhoodStat is a major part of the New York City Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP)—a comprehensive community-based strategy to increase safety and security across 15 public housing developments in the city.[133] Developed by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) and partnering with the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, and Southside United—Los Sures, NeighborhoodStat employs a series of community meetings that engage residents and MAP partners in sharing data, identifying public safety priorities, and implementing solutions.[134] MOCJ and community partners collaboratively identify, hire, and train MAP engagement coordinators. Then, these engagement coordinators identify resident stakeholders, build up resident stakeholder teams, and facilitate weekly community meetings at each housing development. Through these meetings, residents are empowered to come up with action plans and vote on how to spend up to $30,000 for projects and events to increase safety and security and relative issues, based on community-based research results. Once each year, senior executives from NYC agencies and MAP residents meet in a Central NeighborhoodStat meeting to solve issues that remain unresolved locally through resident stakeholder teams.[135] Through this approach, between 2014-2019, 338 new locks and over 6,000 outdoor lights were installed in these housing developments; 954 young people were enrolled in mentoring programs; and 4,476 residents were connected to public benefits in the community.[136] In Spring 2017, 175 tasks were generated from NeighborhoodStat meetings, directed to different MAP partners, and 81% were completed by fall 2017.[137] In 2019, the resident stakeholder teams engaged 353 team members and 1,600 resident participants in the citywide participatory budgeting process,[138] who were invited to provide ideas regarding projects and/or social programming to solve a diverse set of issues that influences quality of life. Together, over 6,100 idea cards were collected in six weeks.[139]

Policy Takeaways

The NeighborhoodStat approach shows a doable community engagement model toward a collaborative effort between local government, community organizations, and residents. By including residents’ voices and empowering residents in safety-related issues, the bottom-up NeighborhoodStat stands on the “partnership” level on Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation. The regular meetings held by each resident stakeholder team create an open space that allows residents to share information, express feelings, generate ideas, and discuss issues. The annual borough-wide Central NeighborhoodStat meetings hold policy decisionmakers accountable to deliver services and implement solutions. In this approach, residents—not only organizations in the community—can directly share community leadership in the power dynamics. They are no longer passively receiving information or being informed about decisions but actively engaged in the budgeting and decisionmaking process. It guarantees that practices are responsive to residents’ needs, which improves the efficiency of community resources.

The key to a successful implementation of this approach is 1) to have a city-wide consensus and commitment on utilizing community engagement and empowerment to solve community issues; 2) to identify and partner with community organizations that are involved with local residents, especially those experiencing difficulties in life, so they can build trust and connect city agencies and residents; 3) to be open to engage a wider range of stakeholders and agencies working on interrelated community issues; 4) to develop a transparent and sustainable accountability procedure that city officials and service providers will fulfill requirements from residents.

Brooklyn Center, MN: Local Example of Participatory Action Research[140]


The Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth (BBAY) helped Brooklyn Center youth (81 participants) facilitate a participatory action research project that explored the central question: “What do you want to see in Brooklyn Center in 2040 that would help you reach your fullest potential, stay in Brooklyn Center and build an awesome city?”  The report details the background of the project, the facilitation methods used to engage youth, the demographics of the participants, and key findings that came out of the project. The report ends with BBAY explaining how deeply the “facilitation team was struck by the clarity with which young people spoke on their vision for the community, and for their desire to develop Brooklyn Center into a city that reflects and celebrates that diversity of people who live here now.”

Policy Takeaways

This study was initiated due to efforts made by the City of Brooklyn Center to get input about the Opportunity Site that is a part of the Becoming Brooklyn Center initiative. It demonstrates the insight available from all community members, but it only represents community “Consultation” (See, Figure 2). As the researchers stated, they were “struck by the clarity with which young people spoke on their vision for the community.” This should serve as a testament to the untapped knowledge which is present in our communities. While the means that BBAY used to engage with the community are notable, it should also be mentioned that the facilitators specifically underscore how they ignored broaching questions about the consequences of development leading to gentrification and possibly displacement. This decision to not broach certain questions, raises the question of when, or if, certain topics should be avoided to facilitate discussion with citizens as well as the ethics of this avoidance.

NOAH Preservation and Community Engagement

NOAH Preservation for Housing Affordability

Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH), without a fixed definition, has been commonly recognized as existing rental properties that are currently affordable for modest-income homeowners and renters but are not subsidized by any federal program.[141] These properties tend to be Class B or Class C properties (or Class 4d in Minnesota), over 20 or even 30 years old, and with rent between $500-$1200. Preservation of NOAH has a lower cost and can extend the service life of affordable housing, thus not only solving the problem of short-term housing affordability, but also improving long-term housing stability.

For those regions and cities with the more serious housing crisis (e.g., Los Angeles, Chicago), the exploration of NOAH preservation approaches started earlier. In general, there are three types of approaches: private/for-profit effort, cross-sector collaboration (usually led by community-oriented non-governmental collaboration), and mission-oriented efforts by social-purpose real estate investment trusts (REITs). In Minnesota, mission-oriented social-purpose REITs, such as the NOAH Impact Fund, have also been established for NOAH preservation, and there is no lack of cross-sector collaborations. The Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) Twin Cities has led investments in NOAH preservation in multiple cities through collaboration with both nonprofits and local governments. Since 2019, several city governments have initiated policies and programs to support NOAH preservation, including tax incentive programs and below-market-rate loan programs. The latter often participates in cross-sector collaborations. In January 2020, LISC’s National Equity Fund (NEF) and LISC Twin Cities used a total of $77 million to finance Aeon’s Huntington Place in Brooklyn Park, and the City of Brooklyn Park paired $5 million. 834 units would be affordable at or below 60% AMI.[142] In general, these cross-sector collaborations have helped preserve over 1,200 NOAH units. (For a detailed literature review on NOAH preservation, please read the Appendix-NOAH Preservation:Significance, Challenges, and Practices.)

The Lack of Community Engagement in NOAH Preservation

Community engagement is critical for NOAH preservation, as well as other affordable housing development practices. A high-level community engagement with residents is assumed to allow preservation practices to meet the needs of communities. Cross-sector collaboration with mission-oriented social-purpose REITs and nonprofit organizations in NOAH preservation has addressed community engagement to some extent. With expertise, opinions, and contributions from public and private organizations in the community, NOAH preservation practices could target the most-needed locations, properties, and populations. However, even this strategy lacks engagement with citizens/residents as a valued part in the Ladder and Spectrum models [Figures 2 and 3].

By involving residents before, during, and after rehabilitation projects of NOAH properties, residents should be informed about the rehabilitation process and consulted if any concerns arise with newly preserved affordable properties. Unfortunately, there are no examples of such practices across the country. Public-private partnerships usually end after rehabilitation is completed, and there is a lack of continuous community engagement in housing management. In future cross-sector collaboration, local governments may consider reserving part of the NOAH preservation investment for community engagement, including developing or enhancing an advisory board consisting of residents and other community stakeholders, and coming up with an appropriate Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) with it.


Community engagement is a key tool for promoting health and stability. With an understanding of social determinants of health and the application of engagement frameworks, local governments can build flourishing futures through the partnership and empowerment of community engagement. Brooklyn Park is a diverse and growing city, but it has housing disparities that impact community health. The local government could learn from different levels of community engagement strategies applied by other local governments in the case studies. Indeed, not many practices have reached high levels of community engagement in housing issues as defined by Arnstein in the Ladder of Citizen Participation Theory. Consulting with and informing residents of policies, developments, and actions related to housing issues increases transparency of practices and values residents’ voices, but it is not enough to mobilize and empower residents in decisionmaking. Residents’ knowledge, experiences, opinions, needs, and passion should be utilized through a more comprehensive design of the community engagement plan, especially when it comes to issues related to their safety and quality of living. It is no doubt that it requires a deliberate design, sustainable funding, time and energy, and city-wide collaborative commitment to develop and maintain a high level of community engagement. However, there is a trend to collaborate with residents and integrate top-down and bottom-up solutions in housing issues. The NeighborhoodStat program initiated by New York City serves as an example for the City of Brooklyn Park, which is a collaborative effort between local government, community organizations, and residents. Most importantly, residents are not only informed or consulted regarding housing issues, they are empowered in needs assessment and the budgeting process. In all, authentic community engagement has the potential to create equitable and sustainable solutions to housing issues for the future. Organizing advisory boards, holding stakeholder teams accountable, applying diverse in-person and online techniques, and properly establishing Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) are methods to fulfill residents’ participation, while more creative solutions are waiting to be identified.



CURA advocates for the necessity of community-engaged research—centering the knowledge and inclusion of community members throughout the research process. This research model inverts the power dynamics commonly seen in community-based research, where an academic enters a space with a predetermined focus and questions, extracts data from the community, analyzes data without the inclusion of community voices, and disseminates findings within their peer communities. Rather than the community being a means to a “scholarly end” this model asserts that collaboration with community members produces research that is not only robust, but also bolsters trust, usage, and accessibility for practitioners and policymakers. The Brooklyn Park Housing Project and its Advisory Council (a diverse collection of community stakeholders) upheld this CURA research standard.

Research Design

This is a mixed method research project. By using both qualitative and quantitative research approaches, the intent is to offer a more comprehensive examination of housing experiences in the city’s large apartment communities—for its renters and property management team members. Qualitative data was collected through all project data sources: an intake form, interview and focus group questions, as well as a project survey. The project’s quantitative data was generated from the intake form and survey. The CURA research team was shifting to project outreach as the State of Emergency mandate was going into effect in Minnesota in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following an initial pause as the world attempted to make sense of the virus and its ramifications, the University of Minnesota system and CURA research team had to figure out what community engagement research could look like within this context. This is work that is regularly performed face-to-face, predicated upon the importance of physical interactions, which help to build comfort and rapport between researchers and participants. In-person engagement also supports a researcher’s ability to collect pertinent information communicated through an individual’s body language and gestures as well as read those cues to further probe in their interview questions. In response to the pandemic, the large majority of project outreach and all of data collection took place virtually. Advisory Council members’ networks, city staff, and community organizations remained essential resources to help spread the word about the project, but a central approach, the ability to introduce the project and answer individual’s questions through face-to-face engagement was lost.

Project Participants

Project Particpants

At the project’s outset the intent was to obtain participants from the eight largest apartment communities in the city. These communities were also the city’s highest and lowest eviction filers. Along with a desire to better understand the experiences of those who live and/or work in the city’s largest apartment communities, their eviction status (highest and lowest in the city) also allowed for an opportunity to see if there was any correlation between their status and experiences regarding housing quality, relations amongst management and tenants, and safety/security concerns. The CURA research team was contracted to engage with 40 participants—28 residents and 12 property management team members. Participating residents had to be 18 years of age or older. Participation amongst property management team members was open to all staff members on site who interfaced regularly with residents. This included those who worked in an apartment community’s main office (i.e., leasing agents) and those who worked on its grounds (i.e., maintenance staff).

However, following a low response rate amongst these eight apartment communities, particularly amongst property management team members,[143] it was determined to expand the participant pool to include the largest 25 apartment communities in the city. Solicitation to residents remained the same—flyering within apartment communities, utilizing the social media platforms of area community organizations and groups, the personal/professional networks of Advisory Council members, and outreach by Brooklyn Park city staff. The latter case included engagement efforts by the city’s Communication Department, Community Engagement Team staff, and flyering within municipal buildings. With the expanded participant pool, outreach strategies to property management team members became more centralized and strategic. With communications drafted by the CURA research team, engagement with property management teams was explicitly overseen by Brooklyn Park city staff who had strong professional relations with city property managers. City personnel directly funneled individuals who agreed to participate in the project to the CURA team member leading data collection. Property management team members chose the day and time for their participation and CURA research team members made themselves available. However, even with this very hands-on approach, there were still many “no shows,” frequent rescheduling, and repeated solicitation by city staff to obtain additional property management team members to secure the targeted number. The final collection of residents and property management team members who participated in the project was an extremely engaged group. However, assembling the participant pool—specifically the property management team members—became an unexpected process.[144]

Data Collection

This process was completed by CURA research team members. Data collection occurred virtually, in response to the pandemic. The large majority of the data was collected via the Zoom platform. However, for some participants internet access was less accessible or navigating the technology was cumbersome. For those who preferred to connect over the phone (all interviews and focus groups were recorded) researchers switched to that medium. It was important to meet project participants where they were. We did not want the pandemic, or the circumstances it created (virtual engagement), to interfere with an individual’s ability to participate in this community-engaged project. Per participant, data collection consisted of four touchpoints—an intake form, interview questions, focus group questions, and a survey. Each touchpoint allowed for the collection of a different type of data that related to the project’s foundational premise—communication/relations amongst tenants and management, safety/security, and awareness of rights and responsibilities for the two participant pools. Ultimately, the 40 participants resulted in 160 unique data sources that allowed the CURA research team to present a comprehensive analysis of housing experiences in the city’s larger apartment communities.

Data Analysis

After cleaning the collected interview and focus group transcripts, the qualitative data analysis took place in a two-part process—commonly referred to as open and closed coding. The central objective of the process is to ascertain what themes are most prevalent within the collected data. The themes, and corresponding data, are featured within the report.

The open coding phase began by producing memos. Project memos are a systematic write-up produced for each participant by examining their corresponding data sources. Each memo included an individual’s demographic (or profile) information, a summation of their housing history and current realities in their apartment community, key quotes, and proposed recommendations by the participant. During the open coding phase, the memos were examined by the research team to determine the themes that surfaced within the data. The themes that repeated most frequently became the focus of the closed coding process. In the closed coding phase, the research team went back through the original data sources examining the data in response to these more refined parameters. The five themes most prevalent in the data that guided the closed coding process were: housing quality, safety and security, relationships and interactions amongst management and tenants, dehumanizing/empowering housing experiences, and access to external resources. Ultimately, each theme is contextualized through corresponding sub-themes that illuminate the experiences shared by city renters and their property management team members. These five themes—housing quality, safety and security, relationships and interactions amongst management and tenants, dehumanizing/empowering housing experiences, and access to external resources—frame the report’s findings section.

The quantitative analysis was produced from the project’s intake form and survey data. Through these sources, the research team was able to quantify aspects of the project participants’ experiences living and/or working in the city’s larger apartment communities. These analyses allowed the research team to better contextualize the context—constructing profiles of project participants and denoting trends in their experiences. For example, these analyses allowed the research team to speak to issues surrounding affordability for the renters’ who participated in the project as well as present data regarding participants’ understanding of their rights.


Research themes that emerged

Dignified Housing

To me it means that you don’t have to be worried about who might be coming into your building! Or who might be in the laundry room or storage area. Or who might be lurking around the building—that you can just go in your own apartment building. You should feel like you live there, you should be comfortable there. So yeah, that’s what makes me just feel safe. (BP02, Resident)

I know we provide dignified housing. It’s the bottom of these buildings. These are C-level apartment buildings and they could be run down. They’re not run down. They’re maintained. We check in on people. We are active in people’s lives. We know what’s going on in every household, good or bad. It’s not all necessarily good, but we’re aware of it. (BP25, Owner)

A central question asked of all participants was whether they felt they lived in or offered dignified housing. It became clear early on that individual’s responses, especially residents, were relative and based upon past and present housing experiences. For example, where in the city a participant resided shaped their response. Also, the living situation that a person transitioned from—in particular homelessness or a community with overt violence mattered. Staff turnover rates or the sale of a building transforming its culture, for better or worse, mattered. The role of assistance programs such as section 8, PPL Cabrini, or Simpson Housing—shaping housing experiences and the options available in the market was important. And finally, participants understood that the city’s housing stock was tiered and that the communities present in this study were not the city’s luxury or higher-end apartments. As one participant, who felt she lived in a nicer community within the city’s more affordable housing stock, put it: “I feel dignified within the scope of mediocrity.” Ultimately, the role of neighbors, location within the city, and a management team’s approach or staff culture informed how participants responded.

Do you live in Dignified Housing?

Yes = 6 / N =22

Do you feel you’re a part of a management team that offers Dignified Housing?

Y= 8 / Working Toward = 4

Dignified Housing

21% of residents feel they live in  dignified housing
67% feel they are part of a management team that offers dignified housing; 33% feel they are working toward that goal


Unpacking the above graphic, no resident was outright pleased by their apartment community. Even those who stated “yes,” finding more strengths than weaknesses in their housing experience, still had negative encounters with either management or neighbors. For those individuals who answered “yes” and felt they did live in dignified housing, they based their responses on the following.

Accessible green spaces and transit

Well, after seeing the community. I really liked the campus with the trees and the common areas, but also that it was big enough where I could go sit on the lawn and read or something. And I like that there’s a bus stop right outside the parking lot because I rely on the bus a lot, so to be close to a bus stop is awesome. And they do have an exercise room and some pools. So that’s really nice for me too. (BP01)

I moved here and stayed here because I love the fact that I live two blocks away from Riverview Park and it’s beautiful—it’s lovely. I bring my bike there now. I hike there. And when I was going through some mental health challenges my partner and I go there and walk. (BP21)

Management culture that met tenants where they were

I like management because if I was 30 or 40 dollars short with my rent and I couldn’t swing it, I would just pay it the next month. He would have no problem with it. I could call him, and that’s one thing about him, I could call him and talk to him about anything. He was really like a friend to me and my family. (BP37)

Over the years, you know, he’s just easier to talk to. Easy to get along with. He ran his apartments with no rodent problems. No wondering who’s in your apartment building. What are they doing in there—none of that. He got his rent on time. And if I had a problem, getting him all of the rent, I get him most of the rent and then I’d come back and give him the rest before the end of the month. And he would just, he would work with you. Like he cared about people…I knew I wasn’t going to be getting threatened to get evicted. (BP36)

Location and basic safety provisions that the average renter should be able to take for granted

So I feel a bit, it’s in a lovelier neighborhood. Or it’s in a more affluent neighborhood, closer to parks, community access, and amenities—which is really cool. So [as a city renter] I kind of feel a bit like, I’m a tolerable riff-raff in a way. I feel kind of bad. I don’t feel like my experiences are exactly similar to other renters in Brooklyn Park. Like, yeah I deal with crap, but it’s a bit nicer here. I don’t have many challenges as are noted in other apartment communities, the buildings look a bit nicer, and it’s a nicer neighborhood. And that may contribute to having a better experience...There are no security guards. No cameras. Never have issue with people propping the door open. Never have issues like, [3rd person, petulant tone] “oh, did you see that guy sleeping in the hallway? He looks so creepy.” Nope, don’t have that. Or like “did you see those teen boys run around? I feel a little scared. They’re looking at me too long.” Nope, nothing. I feel great. (BP21)

However, what was more common amongst participants was saying “no,” that they did not feel they lived in dignified housing. Their reasoning fell into three broad categories: mismatch between housing quality and rental price, forced financial investments, and extreme health and safety hazards.

Mismatch Between Housing quality and Rental Price

Most Frequently Reported Issues


Within this category the most frequently reported issues related to unmet maintenance requests, problems with mice and roaches, negative tenant behavior—specifically illicit drug usage and sale, and unresponsive management.

Unmet maintenance requests (18/28)

They take so long! I did a maintenance request (shaking head) for the refrigerator. They came out, looked at the refrigerator, and saw the leaks. He told me it wasn’t leaking. Then I called back and another guy came for another maintenance issue. I told him about the refrigerator, he said, “Is something wrong in the refrigerator?” The guy who looked at it first said it wasn’t nothing wrong with what he looked at, but the second guy said there was something wrong, but they still never came and touched the refrigerator yet. Man, that was maybe a month or two, like a month, a month ago. I know they forgot me. It’s just crazy. I got to throw away stuff because the refrigerator, it’ll freeze sometimes then it starts unthawing, dripping on the bottom. Then it’ll freeze again. So it’s like, all my stuff in the bottom will have ice on it. Then it just melts. It’s constant. Constant request after request after request. And then they take, one time it took like four or five weeks for them to come. I kept calling them back. They like, “Yeah, we see you did a request.” (shakes/tosses head in frustration) No urgency. (BP09)

Problems with vermin (i.e., mice and roaches) (15/28)

Negative tenant behavior, specifically illicit drug use or dealing (17/28)

It’s a no smoking policy. So like, any smoke at all. And you walk in the apartment and it literally smells like smoke or like weed. Like, every day, anytime of the day. And I’m like, how as the property manager, you’re not walking through the halls like, “Oh, I smell that. I know who it’s coming from, you’re evicted.” Zero Tolerance is what they say. So how is that not something that you’re taking into consideration? And that’s why it’s frustrating because, yeah, it’s zero tolerance, but like we have 1,000% tolerance, because everyone can do it! And no one’s getting in trouble for it. My daughter said one day, “Ugh, what’s that smell?” I’m like, “Nothing! Just keep walking.” She was like, “It smells really bad.” And I’m like, (puts head in hand) “Oh no, just keep walking!” (exasperated laugh) It’s like, “Great. My three-year-old is going to get high!” (BP03)

Unresponsive management (15/28)

Forced Financial Investments

Residents’ Efforts to Improve Conditions
Residents’ Efforts to Improve Conditions

Me living in this apartment, I have invested more than I should have. I mean, I want to live in a good place. So I paint the walls myself with my money. I do little things to make it nicer, but it’s my investment because I live here. And it’s the same for other people that I know that live in this complex. (BP04)

Even when we’ve been here three years, they have never painted our apartment. But we painted our own apartment. Interviewer: If you ask them to paint it would they? Hell nah. Not while you’re living there. (BP05)

One in four residents indicated that they have made financial investments to their units, either responding to basic needs (i.e., security) or to make the apartment more livable for themselves and their family. Many made clear during their interviews that they were not alone in investing in the maintenance of their units. They had neighbors and friends in their apartment complexes who made similar financial investments. Most shared that they originally reached out to management or maintenance to see if the complex would make the improvements, but were told no. Frequently during interviews participants stopped to ask the interviewee questions that commonly pertained to their rights as renters. Many of the questions had to do with apartment upkeep. For example, how regularly was management supposed to paint a renter-occupied unit? How often should carpet be changed across renter occupancies? The CURA research team members conducting the interviews directed these residents to community resources such as HOME Line and the African Career Education Resources Inc. (ACER). The team members also utilized their contacts within these organizations as well as contacts within the city to have questions answered. They relayed the information gained to participants.

In terms of financial investments: participants shared that they painted their own units, purchased security systems to monitor their apartments and, in some cases, the perimeter of their unit where their vehicle was parked, paid to have their carpet cleaned at move-in or shared that neighbors had installed their own carpets because of their condition, and purchased traps to combat rodent “infestations” in their buildings. Finally, one resident shared that he was told by maintenance to purchase a product at a home improvement store to remediate an effect caused by a maintenance issue in his unit.

Maintenance taking a week or two to come fix this water thing doesn’t make any sense, you know? And I have sat here with water just running. Before my tub was doing the same thing. Now, my tub got a big yellow line going down it from the water running. And then after they came and fixed it, they had the nerve to tell me that I can go to Home Depot and buy some stuff that would get it out. Why should I have to pay you to get it out (laughing with frustrating), you know what I’m saying? Maintenance told me that, real talk. (BP10)

Health and Safety Hazards

Ignored or grossly delayed maintenance and repair work within apartment communities led to potential health and safety hazards. Across the interviews these included hygienic and sanitation issues (i.e., animal and human urine/feces in buildings), mold, pest infestations, poorly completed maintenance work that prolonged the initial problem, building disrepair and damage (i.e., burst pipes, holes in roof, electrical issues), and infrequent or inadequate building cleaning. Fifty percent (50%) of residents reported such housing conditions (14/28).

Of the nine apartment communities in this study, these most severe housing issues came from five communities. The participants featured below live in two apartment communities. However, in only one of these cases was the situation fixed by an external intervention, and it was through the persistence of the resident and her family rather than management seeking reinforcement. However, each of these cases warranted external intervention.

Gas Leak

I had a gas leak that my mom, every time she’d come in she said, “I smell gas, I smell gas.” So I called [apartment complex] people and told them, “My mom said she smelled gas and I’m pregnant.” So they come in, they did their spray test, they said, “It’s not a gas leak.” And my mom said, “No, something isn’t right about that. I smell it and it’s pretty heavy.” So my mom said, “Let me call the gas company.” So I went over to the office and told them what I was going to do. I told them, “Look I have to go over your head and call them people to see if there’s a gas leak.”

So, I did that. They came in, the gas was leaking from inside of my wall behind the stove. When the man told me to get out, the way he did it, he told me, “Do not go back in here.” They wanted to shut off the whole building’s gas.

They fixed it, but I was smelling this gas my whole pregnancy. They didn’t fix it until I was seven months pregnant…It took probably a week or two for them to fix it. But [apartment complex] told me there was no gas leak. And my mom, she wasn’t believing it. I guess I was just smelling the gas for so long I was so used to it. She said every time she came in the door it hit her in the face. So she told me, “Call the gas company,” and I did.

Interviewer: And after the gas company came out did [apartment complex] management, did they say anything? Like, “Oh we’re so sorry.” Nope. They said nothing at all, nothing. (BP14)

Rodents in the Walls

We had squirrels in the building, they bit a hole in the hallway wall. My neighbor next door, they bit a hole through his ceiling, through his cabinet, and he caught one behind the refrigerator. I called management and complained, ‘Hey we got squirrels!’ I’m in a housing program and I called my housing worker. I told them ‘Hey it’s a squirrel, it bit through the ceiling.” It took them [management] two months to come out and repair that hole in the hallway.

I had squirrels in my wall, maybe three years ago. Listen to me, three years ago, I was hearing them, ‘Hey [owner’s name] I got squirrels. They’re in my wall. Their scratching. They in the top, their scratching.’ The maintenance man comes out and he heard it. He said, ‘we can’t do nothing about it now because it’s getting close to the winter time.’ I said you have to do something. He said “I’ll put on a screen.”  I said “okay.’ Spring came, nothing. Summer came, I said ‘Hey what happened to you all trying to get rid of the squirrels?’ The maintenance man said ‘Oh yeah, we’re just going to close up.’ No, you’re not going to close up nothing. You’re going to go in there and go get whatever is up in there, out of there. I had a neighbor, when I first moved here, a squirrel died in her walls, she kept smelling something. All day everyday she kept smelling something. Then she had maintenance come out and they opened up the wall and the squirrel fell out, a lot of maggots swarmed on her floor. They didn’t even change the carpet. They took a wet-vac and got it up. They took a wet-vac and got it up instead of changing her carpet. (BP33)

Water Quality/Water Damage

Well, I will tell you something that happened once. The water from the sink was overflowing. The sink overflowed and when it was overflowing, it was like black water. It overflowed and it reached the bedroom carpet as well as the living room carpet. Can you imagine how long the apartment remained in this condition? The apartment was extremely messy. It was around February, and on March 15th I remember very well because of COVID, some people came here to do some work. They tore down some walls because there was a lot of water in the apartment. They also brought, because everything was wet, they brought some fans and those fans were making a lot of loud noises. And I have videos. I have pictures of everything that happened. And they also brought some people, a supervisor, a maintenance supervisor or something like that. Because of these fans and because of this entire situation, my electric bill skyrocketed. When I talked to them about it, they never paid the difference. I had to pay this bill out of my pocket. And it took about two or three months for this apartment to come back to its normal state. If I have the chance to move I am going to take it because I can’t endure living here anymore. I have never got delayed or behind on any payments. I know that I make my payments in two parts, but I have never fell behind on my payments.


Okay. I’m so sorry that happened. So I just want to make sure that I’m clear. So the water situation happened in February. They didn’t come to fix it until March 15th, middle of March. And then the fans were to dry the carpet, but did they not change the carpet that was full of water?

Well, they broke the wall. They tore down some walls because it was very, very wet. And there was some people who did some work because the lower part of the wall in the bedroom, as well as in the kitchen was very wet. They saw the carpet and they said, “We are going to change it,” but they never did it because they think COVID-19 is an excuse and they never came back to change the carpet. They said that they were going to change it and put vinyl flooring instead of carpet, but because there was many problems due to COVID-19 and the situation was very strong back then, with many protocols in place, they never came to change it. Supposedly, they were going to change it. I asked them if they were going to give me a different apartment so I could move in there while they were fixing this apartment. And they said “no.” They said that I had to get out, but I said that its not possible because you guys don’t want to change the carpet completely. You have to give to me another apartment or another space so I can put all my stuff. And besides that, I cannot make my children go homeless because you guys are not giving me any solutions. So I’ve been living here with many difficulties and I only have one job. It has been very hard for me. As a single mother, I’m sacrificing all that I can to be able to move out from here because its not safe at all here.


Right, right. I just want to make sure that I’m clear. So while all this was going on, you still remained in the apartment. You never left?

No, we never moved. We did remain here all of that time, in that uncomfortable situation. (BP08)

Throughout the interview process Brooklyn Park residents were very candid; letting the research team into their homes and lives. They shared hard, and at times shocking, housing experiences. For some like BP33, they concluded their interview with a great sense of relief, fortunate for the opportunity to tell someone the things they had gone through. BP08 is featured at length in this final section, in part because of the severity of her housing experiences and the blatant disregard by management. However, she is also featured because the research team wondered if another layer to her dismissal had to do with the fact that she was a Spanish-speaking resident. She participated in the project through the assistance of an interpreter. Was it easier for management to dismiss her needs because she could not go to the office and easily verbalize her frustration in a language they understood? She could not repeatedly call or submit emails documenting her effort to engage with them. BP08 was eager to share during her interview. Her interpreter had to interject multiple times asking her to slow down because he could not relay the content accurately in the large passages she was giving him. It was clear that she was hungry to let someone into her housing situation—she wanted to be heard. There were diverse layers that informed residents’ housing experiences and the dignity (or lack thereof) that they felt in their dwellings. And residents’ dismissal took different forms; in this instance the research team would argue that English language proficiency was a factor.

It irritates me because you all [city of Brooklyn Park] need to do a surprise inspection—quick! Don’t let them know that you’re coming. You should know what type of landlords you’re dealing with. As residents, we’re either dealing with the landlord who cares. Or we’re dealing with the one who only cares when it’s time to care. (BP33)


Do you feel you’re a part of a management team that offers Dignified Housing?

Y = 8 / Working Toward = 4

Management team members who answered “yes” rooted their responses in the following conditions—regularly beginning with corporate management and concluding with their onsite management team.


I absolutely think they do. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to go and be a part of [names management group] because they don’t just put band-aids on things. If something needs to be fixed, if something gets brought to our attention by a resident, it’s something that we take care of immediately. There’s no, “Oh, we don’t have that in the budget.” It just gets done and that’s the type of company that I wanted to work for overall. Examples of corporate investment: the carpet in the common area that’s a large project, they replaced that. Right now we’re actually working on replacing all the roofs on all the garages and in the summer we’re redoing the parking lot. There’s some trip hazards on the stairs that people brought to our attention just this past winter that we’re taking care of now and this summer. (BP39)

I think that they do [provide dignified housing], they understand the philosophy of spending money to preserve your asset. At the same time there have been five companies that I’ve worked for in all of these years, and this one is by far the best in terms of working for them, but also how they treat their residents. (BP28)


They have several other properties. But having your actual owner come out to your property is not heard of very often. He came out, and we’ve come up with these [safety] plans, and everybody has the same vision. Everybody has the same goal that they want to see happen out here. It’s nice to have that support from upper management. It’s also nice that we’re able to bring in the city, the police department, and everybody be on the same page. Everybody has the same vision or goals as we do. The police want to see the activity out here stop just as much as we do. (BP40)

No, I will say and I’m not just saying this because Brooklyn Park was such a key part of our rehabs and the people we dealt with through the city, but for the most part, they keep us in the loop on, you know, stuff like this opportunity where our voices can be heard. Our liaison, our police liaisons are so engaging. They reach out to staff. I mean, I don’t know how many times they’ve dropped off boxes of masks since the pandemic started. But it’s little stuff like that. Just open lines of communication are key, and I think our big thing in Brooklyn Park right now is we are having a lot of stuff going on in the community, as far as car thefts and mail theft. We had some definite issues at [apartment complex] I know they’ve [the city-police] got their hands full, I get the blotter reports every day. (BP24)


Living here [in their apartment community], not only do I get a better understanding of what’s going on, it also shows the community, that—”Hey, I’m not above you to live on this property and pay what you have to pay.” I understand that this is a lot of money for my residents. I want it [apartment community] to look a certain way, not because I’m going to live here forever, but because I want you to be prideful of where you live. (BP40)

I want them to feel that we care. We do care. We want them to know that they’re heard. We want them to know that we want them to have a nice place to live. We’re not just here to collect rent and move on. (BP40)

Well, we do have to remember we’re still in customer service. These are our residents, this who we are here. We are being paid to do a service for them. So we want to make sure our community thrives. We want to make sure our residents are safe. We want to make sure our residents feel safe, respected, and honored. We want this to be your home. We don’t want to do 20 turns a year. (BP24)


We do our best with customer service. We do what we can to keep our rents low. We are a tax credit property, so we have some guidelines, but we are nowhere near max rent for any of our unit sizes besides the 3 bedroom. I think generally we do a really good job. We have been working diligently to upgrade, to do some rehab in our units. For example, we had the roofs put in, probably in the last three years. Renovated kitchen cabinets, all those types of things within the last two years. We’ve been working with Metro Blooms to set up ring gardens. So making those connections and trying to make connections with our tenants—drawing them closer to the resources in the community. (BP27)

That was a huge thing at the other company I worked for. They were up to 700 work orders and people had been waiting for years to have their doorknob changed or whatever. Their leaky sink fixed, and here that’s not the case. They’re caught up on work orders by the end of the day all of them are done. So there’s nobody that’s waiting for even a week, it’s two days maybe at a max if it’s busy. But usually, they get done daily through the app. The maintenance supervisor that I hired is amazing, he gets them done same day and that’s important to him too. (BP39)

On the other side, I think the breakdown kind of comes sometimes when management may not be asking questions of their superiors that could probably solve issues with residents very quickly. Rather than just giving them, not a false promise, but maybe just not the right information out the gate—instead of researching it. I find I’ve had a lot of that with a couple of my sites as of late, where it’s just, “Well, you know, if you had talked to your manager this could have been resolved. The resident would not have been calling corporate looking for me. We could have appeased them so much easier and gave them the answers they need—whether it was good or bad. They would have felt heard and they would have gotten the information that was correct.” So it’s that too, you know, management needs to continue to train. Management needs to continue to hold themselves accountable, and make sure that their site has everything required to fulfill their job and also make the life of our residents easier. (BP24)

In most cases management’s rationale extended from corporate, more rarely included the city as a consistent partner, addressed the culture they looked to embody with their staff, transitioned to themselves, and then moved outward to the staff that they oversaw. However, in two cases, property managers solely framed their responses around what corporate management brought to the table, removing themselves (who play a lead role in shaping interactions in their apartment communities) from the equation. In these two instances, the research team would counter the managers’ claims that they provide dignified housing to residents. A central reason was the violence that they described at their sites—inflicted upon both residents and staff. In one case a manager shared being consistently terrorized by youth who use the property as a hang-out spot. In the other case, the manager shared her fear about sitting in front of a large picture window in her office because she feels it makes a target or sitting duck. She’s responded to a lot of violence in her community and was fearful of potential for retaliation.

Almost daily, we have to call 911 to get this big mob of teenagers out of the building. They terrorize us, day in and day out. They set off alarms. We have the fire trucks here almost every day, for false alarms from these kids. We have so much vandalism and just destroying the buildings. They have made the lobby area basically into a living room for themselves. They sit in there and smoke, and make a mess. They harass people, coming and going. We call the police everyday for them. We call, but they usually leave before the police get here, or they think it’s funny to have to police try to chase them through the building. (BP28)

Of those who stated that dignified housing was something that management was working toward, they shared the following, as things standing in their way: COVID (especially with maintenance), the complex’s size, inherited maintenance issues, complex’s age, staff shortages, lacking communication with the city, and funding.

Exemplar obstacles:

I think the only thing that would be great is being able to keep up with the funding. Residents want us to do more and more, but you can’t do it all right away. In between that time, of first staking out a new property and then being able to fix things—that’s the only part where I feel the people that are moving in aren’t going to be given the product that we really would want them to have...The other big problem in the actual apartment units are problems with plumbing. The pipes are bursting. It seems like we go through floods a lot. (BP38)

When you take over a property that was new to you, you don’t always have all the resources available. You don’t always have all of the back-history that you need to be able to succeed and move forward. So I think if there’s been a challenge that’s been one of the challenges, is that we don’t know all of the history so we’re still learning. Even after being here a year we’re still learning. (BP30)

For the most part, I think management provided suitable housing, based off of our weekly meetings… But, of course, you know, there’s always the piece about budget, everybody kind of screams about budget, which I definitely understand. And then, of course, we come back to COVID. There are individuals who are not paying their portion of rent. That affects things too. (BP26)

I think for us to be more successful it would be—we’re understaffed. It’s hard to find quality staff and keep them. Particularly maintenance, right now I’m short on maintenance crew, caretakers, and we are short on building managers. So pretty much everything. So I think because of that it’s hard for us to keep up with all the workflow and run as smooth as we should. (BP38)

Well, that question, I guess, for me, I’m still learning this business honestly. So, I’m going to be honest with you I’ve been here a year, and it’s so much to learn. There are so many things to manage. I don’t know [if they provide dignified housing] exactly because I’m still learning day by day. Learning how to work with the multi-family culture itself, so I can’t really say right now. (BP29)

BP29’s case is interesting in that they indicated that they were unsure about the quality of the housing provided because they were transitioning into a new position. They came across as overwhelmed at times during the interview when discussing their new role. They definitely spoke to practices, especially regarding tenant communication, that seemed very supportive of healthy tenant-management relations. However, an inability to speak to the quality of the housing provided to residents was a problem. Though the remaining management team members could speak to productive instances meant to enhance their communities such as installing new cameras, hiring a new security team, replacing a pest control company with a more reputable one, rehabbing units and apartment grounds, management’s responses (where possible echoed by tenants) showed a persistent lack of personal investment. External factors (i.e., staff shortages, community size, maintenance issues) are very important and their impact can definitely resonate within an apartment community, but in recognizing their impact managers seemed to relinquish their own power. The question becomes, within such a context what can a manager still give to their residents? How can they show up—through themselves, the team they lead, and the staff culture they co-create? The interviews illustrate that some of the things within an individual’s control are their approach to communication, their follow-through with residents and team members, actively looking for ways to foster healthy relationships, and efforts to engage in community building.

Residents who lived in apartment communities where their management indicated that they were working toward providing dignified housing shared examples, within management’s direct control, that they would like to see on site:

[Slowly, loudly, as if talking to a child] Get to know us! For real! Come out into the community! I only see you when you have bad news. But you know, if you take one building at a time and just go, be at the entrance! For example, we just had this one building manager, she used to sit right there at the entrance when she was trying to take care of something. Choose your building, and let them, let the building know who you are! (BP05)

It don’t cost money for them to create an opportunity for us [management and tenants] to get to know each other. Why wait until things blow up. If you allow it to fester—it’s like a balloon. It keeps blowing up, keeps blowing up, keeps blowing up and then it’s going to pop. And at that point it’s too late to stop the onset of the problem. So if management will do their part and the tenants will do their part. (BP05)

Do more to understand how people feel and what would make them feel happy and comfortable living here. It might be at those cook-outs. Sometimes the cook-out could just be to get a hotdog and meet your neighbor. And sometimes we could have meetings where we meet up to talk about stuff like building improvements and safety. We can talk about ideas we have that could help improve the place, make it better… I think they should have more events talking about improvements that can make the building safer, especially for the kids. (BP10)

I’d suggest just having a real sit down, like a real sit down—they need to sit and watch the cameras. Sit down and have a real understanding of what’s really been going on here. (BP17)

They aren’t cleaning as much as before [former management company]. I used to hear them every morning vacuuming. But now you can go weeks, at least a week, without seeing the entry hallways mopped. Because people bring trash through and their trash drips. I’ve seen it, it’s bad. It’s smelly. Now when they do the hall cleaning, they do it with dirty water so you still have the smell. You got 1 mop and bucket of water to do every entry. Do you know how many hall entries are in this building?  You use 1 bucket of water. So you got that smell. They’re not doing what they used to do [former management company]. (BP09)

My suggestion has to do with maintenance. I know everybody is a little bit busy and people cannot promptly come when you need it. But, at least, if they can just call. I mean, they have all renters’ phone numbers. Create a call list, call individuals and let them know if you can’t come. Currently, you have to wait or just keep calling, keep calling.... But sometimes it’s very difficult. Communication could be much better, effective communication would be my only suggestion. Tell a person if you can’t come on time—let them know. Call them back. They have our numbers. They have all of our numbers. (BP12)

For me to feel better about the management either way, before COVID or after COVID, it comes down to what kind of pride is management taking in the property? And I believe, I completely BELIEVE IN THE BROKEN WINDOWS theory. COVID or not, if it’s clean, the grass is kept up, the parking lots are swept and that kind of stuff—it encourages people to have some type of pride and ownership in where they’re living and that’s not happening anymore. And I don’t think that it’s a COVID issue. I just don’t think that’s a COVID issue. I think that’s an anytime issue. And for me, in terms of pride in where I’m living—that’s a thing that I could say. A lot of people are like—”Well that’s kind of hood over there.” But if the property management, if something was broken I know they were coming to fix it. And they were coming to fix it right. And they were coming to fix it quickly. It just seems like somewhere along the line people just don’t care anymore. (BP13)

Compared with many cities across the metro area, housing in the City of Brooklyn Park is more affordable with a lower average rent price.[145] Housing options that are more affordable for low-income individuals and families need to balance the payments and services, while the achievement of affordability should not be at the expense of the housing quality. Still for these apartments with quality issues, renters nonetheless experienced affordability challenges.


According to the survey results collected in this study, about half of the respondents’ monthly income was lower than $1,500, and four of the participants brought home less than $500 each month. The importance of affordable housing was something most every participant spoke to during their interview, but challenges existed before and/or during the pandemic that placed increased strain, for many, on housing situations.

Before the Pandemic

Affordability, with conditions

Financial Strain in Housing
Financial Strain in Housing

Among the 28 interviewed residents, 11 (39%) indicated that affordability was one of the reasons that prompted them to move to Brooklyn Park. However, through this research project we learned that affordability was not always sustainable. Only five of the project participants shared that they did not suffer from financial strain each month when paying their rent, utilities, and building maintenance fees.

BP21 was excited about the affordability of apartments in this area, as she said, “Compared to other apartments, these apartments are of better quality, so it feels weird for me because they’re also the least expensive. They used to be $715 [five years ago]. I’m like, ‘Oh my God! That’s so cool!’” But she also mentioned that, “the price keeps increasing without any amenities or additional support.” BP03 expressed a similar comment—”I’ll say it was the only place that I could actually afford… I pay $880 for a one-bedroom apartment. There’s not a swimming pool. There are not really a lot of amenities.” BP34 was looking for a place to move, but “right now I’m having another baby. I can’t afford it.

For the residents interviewed in this study, a one-bedroom apartment (priced around $900 to $1,200 per month) and two-bedroom apartment (priced around $1,200) would cost 60% to 80% of their income.[146] One participant shared that they had experienced an eviction due to non-payment of rent. Seven participants (25%) indicated that assistance from housing programs (e.g., Section 8) allowed them to afford rental properties within the city.

Section 8—Yeah, that’s the only way I can afford the rent nowadays. (BP37)

Affordability, challenged by rising rent

Rising rent prices are not an issue unique to the City of Brooklyn Park. With changes in population, the housing market, and inflation, rent increases are inevitable. Though a national trend, in recent years, the Twin Cities metro area has seenan increase in the trade and renovation of older properties, exacerbating the loss of affordable housing.[147] This situation happened to BP10, who used to live in Minneapolis and was forced to move after a sale and major apartment renovation.

“And then what happened was that [the apartment building was sold to another owner]. Then, they put all this fancy equipment in there for the workout room and all this fancy stuff for the rich... I don’t want to stereotype but [the new owner] bought it and hooked it up, put dishwashers in every apartment and all this different stuff, and charged crazy rent. I couldn’t afford it. So I had to move.” (BP10)

The result of the Brooklyn Park Apartment Vacancy Survey[148] shows that, between 2016 and 2019, the median rent for one-bedroom apartments increased 14% from $822 to $940, and the median rent for two-bedroom apartments increased 16% from $979 to $1,132. The rising rent made over half of the renter households cost-burdened and a quarter of renters severely cost-burdened (i.e., spend more than 50% of their income on housing; Brooklyn Park Economic Development and Housing, 2019). The rent has continued to rise in 2020 and 2021. Until July 2021, the year-over-year rent change has increased 3% from 2020.[149] BP13, a single mom with an eight-year-old son, shared that she lost faith in her current apartment complex after experiencing persistent housing issues that went unresolved. With the ongoing issues, she shared that the rent did not stop increasing. Over an eight-year period the rent increased significantly from $600 per month to $900 per month. BP07 shared during their interview that they were also looking for somewhere more affordable.

“I am not comfortable where I live and this is not appropriate for me… I’m waiting for more affordable housing for myself because I’m at my retirement age. I’m looking to move.” (BP07)

Management efforts to help

Some property management teams were aware of the difficulties their residents experienced and made efforts to help them catch up on rent payments. For example, they allowed for split payments and delayed payments so residents could stagger rent payments to align with the receipt of their paychecks. Residents appreciated this strategy and felt it reflected management understanding their situations and showing that they cared.

“If I was $30 or $40 short with my rent and I couldn’t [pay in time], I would just pay it next month. [The property owner] would have no problem with it… Nobody had to pay their rent for one month.” (BP37)

“I could go there and tell [the property owner], ‘Look, I’m having a little trouble with the rent,’ and he never gave me any problems… If I had a problem getting him all of the rent, I get him most of the rent and then I come back and give him the rest before the end of the month. He would just work with you like he cared about people and stuff.” (BP36)

“I have never got delayed or behind on any payments. I know that I make my payments in two parts, but I have never fallen behind on my payments.” (BP08)

This strategy also empowered residents, helping them to manage and plan their finances. These management team members trusted their residents and respected their financial difficulties. This strategy could be even more appreciated during the pandemic.

“I think that there are residents out here that are constantly making a payment plan and they don’t want to be hit with [COVID-19], but it’s taken them a month or two or three or four in order to catch up. So they’re constantly making a payment plan.” (BP22)

During the Pandemic

Additional challenges occurred

People experienced job loss and income loss during the pandemic. A census survey shows that nearly half of all households in the United States experienced income loss due to employment during the pandemic, and the impact was greater among households with a lower income level.[150] This situation resulted in additional burdens and challenges for families’ finances. Incidents of past due rent greatly increased and management teams encountered more difficulties collecting rent payments.

“Right now with COVID, collecting on rents is very hard.” (BP23)

“[During the pandemic], it’s probably 10% of our residents that are still paying on time without any question, that have the rent paid on the first [of each month] and don’t have a shortage or some problem.” (BP25)

Even with the pandemic, residents shared that rent prices continued to increase and new maintenance fees were assessed by management teams, which further reduced the affordability of rental housing. Without transparency and clarification by management, the new fees and rent increases confused some residents and made others upset. However, it seemed that situations in other areas were no better than in their current apartment communities. Residents felt forced to stay in the present situation and wait for changes.

“I was trying to get out of here. And then with the pandemic, the options weren’t really around and the rent was really expensive. I think a lot of people extended the rent, so it was higher. So I felt like I had no choice but to stay in my lease, and now, I’m trying to get out of my lease.” (BP03)

“I mean, you complain like, “Hey, I need you to fix this. I need you to fix that.” And it takes them forever to get a fix. And sometimes I know a few people that said that they were charged for it. So sometimes you don’t want to actually report things because you don’t know if they’re going to charge you for it... I think that’s something new because I didn’t hear this when I moved in. So it’s sad because it’s starting with COVID when you’re already money-short and [the management] are coming up with these things… It could go for $50 to a couple hundred [dollars]... And [the management] increased [my cousin’s] rent even with COVID. They shouldn’t [increase the rent with COVID]. And I know I didn’t have my rent increased this year. It’s the same complex. Why would you do that and treat us differently?” (BP04)

“Management needs to be more understanding with people because a lot of people around here have low income. And some of these bills that they’re sending people, they [residents] can’t afford. For my brother, he got a $4,000 bill [for the water leaking]. That’s not just for the water, [but also] carpet they did not replace that under him. They did not replace their carpet, but they’re charging him for that.” (BP14)

“They [the management] tried to charge me $370-something for the five bottles [left in the refrigerator when moving out].” (BP36)

Rental assistance and payment support

Consistent with the nationwide public policies supporting people who experienced employment disturbances due to the pandemic, residents in the City of Brooklyn Park also received financial support from federal, state, and local governments as well as non-profit organizations. With stimulus checks, rental assistance, and community resources, residents could better afford their rent and living expenditures during the pandemic. One of the property management team members shared the experience of adjusting the income-based rent payment for people who had lost jobs and income and connected residents with community resources they needed.

“Since COVID, I’ve had help with rent payments… I think I got help from the city. And I think the other one was from the state.” (BP13)

“Mary Jo helped me one time when I got far behind [with rent payment]. She paid to help me, put me up.” (BP17)

“I talked to the city of Brooklyn Park. They had resources available for me during COVID. When I was taking care of my grandkids and my daughter was an Essential worker, and then, I told [the city] about it and then they gave me money for it. I told them, ‘Look, they [grandkids]’re using a lot of electricity with the internet. They’re at my house at least 10 to 12 hours a day.’ I got growing-big grandkids. They’ve eaten up groceries. Brooklyn Park really helped me. They gave me like $775.” (BP36)

“Whoever was behind [the rent payment]—I heard one person was behind like $6,000—the organization paid all of it [with rental assistance].” (BP37)

“We have a lot of residents who are able to pay the rent [with COVID] because it is affordable, and it’s based on income. So we’ve been doing a lot of recertification with lowered income, losing jobs... We’re not there to evict them at the end of this pandemic. We’re there to help them, in the meantime, try and find those resources.” (BP23)

Management teams also received additional housing subsidies from the government which covered the gap in rent payments received from residents. These funds increased management’s capacity to help resolve the difficulties encountered by their residents.

“I think the city paid $49,000 out of past-due rent. So, that was very helpful. A lot of these residents are very grateful for it.” (BP22)

Safety and Security

A pervasive sense of insecurity has been generated from the experience in apartment complexes and the external environment. Although management teams have made efforts to improve safety and security in these properties, due to internal and external factors that impair these safety measures, fundamental changes do not occur. There is a call for a collaborative mechanism in the community to make a difference.

A Pervasive Sense of Insecurity

For interviewees, being safe and secure means being able to live comfortably and move around the community freely during the day and night. However, there was a pervasive sense of unease and insecurity expressed by residents and management teams during the interviews. Among all tenants and management team members interviewed, six out of 28 (21%) tenants indicated that they felt safe, while two of them expressed safety concerns later in their own interviews; three out of 12 (25%) management team members expressed explicitly that they felt safe working in this area. For those who felt safe and secure, security measures beyond the requirement of Minnesota Statutes (e.g., smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, emergency exits, and carbon monoxide alarms) including cameras and security guards were unnecessary.

Safety & Security
Safety & Security
25% of management team members feel safe  working in the area

However, for the remaining interviewees, even with additional security measures (i.e., security cameras and security guards), they felt unsafe. During their interviews, many residents were seriously considering moving to other, safer neighborhoods in Brooklyn Park or other cities. In one example, due to concerns about personal safety in one of the apartment communities, a hired vendor also left. Their sense of unease and insecurity came from both the external environment as well as inside the apartment complexes.

Insecurity in the larger community

Although some project participants appreciated that the City of Brooklyn Park is close to nature and the nearby parks are great for outdoor activities, others made clear that it is by no means the best choice in terms of safety. “Shootings”—a high-frequency word that appeared again and again in the interviews, made residents and management team members afraid to enjoy life in these neighborhoods. Apart from shootings, there were other types of violence and crimes, including but not limited to robberies, thefts, stabbings, and drugs. Crowds of youth congregated and moved across apartment complexes, damaging apartment facilities and instigating violent activities. Violence and crime not only broke the tranquility of the night, but also created fear during the day. Families with children indicated that they did not let their children play outside. In fact, an interviewee mentioned that the crime rate in the City of Brooklyn Park went down by 33% since May 2020. However, this change was not reflected in the experiences of those we interviewed and their sense of security. This statistic did not seem to permeate down into these apartment communities, alleviating people’s concerns about safety and security in this area.

There’re shootings. There [are] stabbings. There [are] drugs. There [are] domestic issues. I don’t feel comfortable having my daughter walk outside. We don’t go for walks around here. We’ll get in the car and drive, just because the people around here are very reckless, and they don’t care… And it’s not something that you would really know about a place until you move in and you realize—oh, this isn’t what I thought it was going to be. (BP03)

We don’t feel safe anymore. There’s a lot of crime, especially in this area. I don’t feel safe going to work and live and my girls are here to do homeschooling. I’m always worried because there were a few instances where there were shootings nearby… Well, we got a few assaults with weapons… The kids were coming home on the bus and there was a shooting right when the bus was coming, and it’s just two buildings down... There’s a little shopping mall there with a few stores and there have been a few shootings in a couple of months, and a few people got hurt. So, I’m definitely not shopping there anymore. (BP04)

The police are there every weekend, like clockwork Friday, either for domestics or we don’t know [what]. We just see the sirens and see the light and things. And then, my grandson is there and he gets excited, seeing a police car, but who needs all of that every week? It’s really a little much for me. I just can’t handle the stress. You cannot predict where criminals will be or where these things will occur. (BP07)

Some days ago, there was a shooting in the backside of this building at 10:00 PM. I could hear over 20 shots that were fired around. About two weeks ago as well, there was one on the backside of this very same place where I heard the shots. (BP08)

I don’t really feel comfortable now, all the stuff that goes on, shootings, and young people running through the building, fights, gambling, all types of stuff, robberies. (BP09)

The one [shooting] was 10 feet from my office. Two weeks into my property, I want to move my desk. That sounds so sad but I want to move my desk. There is a shooting that ends up on the evening news that is literally in that building right there and the kid ends up being paralyzed. I’m scared. I’m scared walking by my window where they get pissed at me. They want to shoot me… You’re seeing that spill-over effect from the plaza. That’s behind your apartment community. (BP23)

I heard shootings in the apartment complex around my area. The area is cool but it’s a little bit scary. I’m a little scared to go outside by myself because it’s been a lot of drama. And on the other side of this building, someone did drive by and shot at someone in the complex and they went to the hospital. (BP35)

We were seeing a lot of crime going on here. A lot of it was juveniles. Some of it was adults. They were getting into our buildings. They’re secure buildings, but they were getting into them, sleeping in there. They were doing drugs in there, trashing in them, defecating in them. Every time we tried to catch them, they were gone. A lot of it was happening late at night. (BP40)

Insecurity inside the apartment complexes

If security issues in the larger community made interviewees afraid to go outside of apartment communities, the safety concerns inside their communities made people feel even more helpless. For households living in these multi-family apartment complexes, they must accept living with ethnically and culturally diverse neighbors, sharing common areas, and apartment facilities with each other. Only when residents and management teams work together to maintain the security of the apartment can everyone enjoy the amenities and spaces comfortably. However, most of the apartment complexes where the interviewees lived and/or worked have become a microcosm of the larger community. According to interviewees, violent and illicit activities (e.g., shootings, drug use, smoking, vandalism, fights, and domestic violence) often occurred in hallways, stairwells, and laundry rooms, where security measures were relatively weaker because of a concern about residential privacy and/or budget considerations.

Table 1. The frequently mentioned violent and illicit activities inside the apartment complexes and the example quotes from interviewees.

Violent and Illicit Activities



The smell of pot is in the hallways a lot. I’m afraid of the drug use and the violence that’s been around too. (BP01)


Sometimes I think, “Oh my God, I could get high just walking down the hall!” Because it’s that strong! (BP04)


There was a lady who violated the no-smoking policy several times with three warnings. (BP19)


Smoking stuff that doesn’t smell really good and the smell comes out all the way to the hallways, like marijuana, not cigarettes because I don’t think that’s cigarettes. (BP32)

Shooting, Fights, Domestic Violence

There was a shooting here, not long ago, where a child got a hold of a gun that was on a coffee table and shot and killed his brother. They were toddlers, both of them. And management evicted them because it’s against the lease to have firearms. (BP01)


In 2020, Brooklyn Park experienced quite a bit of shootings, and I know a large number of those shootings were within these multi-housing complexes. It wasn’t just shootings. There were all other different types of related crimes that were occurring in and on these various properties throughout. (BP26)


People are not feeling safe. The crazy part is people may not even know that. So, you may not even know about your neighbor three doors down who has six police reports for domestic abuse because you just don’t hear it. Maybe because before COVID you weren’t home and didn’t know. But now you’re home and you’re like, “Well, they fight a lot.” (BP03)


Everything! In our building, it got worse. There are so many domestics, and everything—deaths, domestics, shootings—everything. (BP09)


We had all kinds of fights and gun shoots, then all kinds of stuff. It’s like fighting, drugs, alcohol, a lot going on, and a lot of domestic violence. [BP20]


When I first moved over [in] 2013, they have some type of, I guess, prostitution ring going on, but I never noticed anything. I don’t want to talk to anybody for months. There were a couple of girls that moved upstairs from me, and all they did was fight, having men running in and out, all types of stuff, like bringing in four or five dudes at a time, and there was constantly fighting in a hallway. (BP33)


[One of] the buildings [is] the most dangerous buildings here. And sometimes it gets dark early… So I gotta walk back through there and come and be like, “oh my goodness…” and I’ll be trying to walk as fast as I can walk. (BP20)


Somebody broke somebody’s window, and somebody cut the lock off of my garage door. Well, I’m going to tell you, I know who I believe took the lock off my garage door. They cut the lock off of one of [the property owner’s] garages too, and they didn’t take anything. They didn’t damage my car. What they did was they cut it off both locks and to have them both in front of my car, on the floor, to let me know, “Yeah, I can get in your garage if I want.” (BP36)


Squatters. It’s been an issue for the last few months. People are sitting in the hallways or breaking into laundry rooms, and they’ll pee, poop, sleep, and break into storage lockers. (BP39)


Almost daily, we have to call 911 to get this big mob of teenagers out of the building. They terrorize us, day in and day out. They set off alarms. We have the fire trucks here almost every day and for false alarms from these kids. We have so much vandalism and just destroying the buildings. They have made the lobby area basically into a living room for themselves. They sit in there and smoke the blinds and make a mass, harass people, come in and go, and they usually leave before the police get here, or they think it’s funny to have police try to chase them through the building. (BP28)


In the short journey from a parking lot to an apartment building, residents also felt unsafe. Work schedules forced some residents to have to leave early and return late—accessing parking lots in odd hours. Parking lots’ dim lighting during these periods adds to the insecurity of these journeys. Some violence and crime that occurred in the larger community could easily extend into complex parking lots. Interviewees mentioned instances where criminals evading police would drive their cars into the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex. Sometimes, fights and shootings on the streets outside of the complexes would spill over into parking lots. Interviewees shared that parking lots were also high-risk places for intentional crime. Interviewees experienced car break-ins, car thefts, and robberies at gunpoint in the parking lots. Participants were unclear whether the perpetrators were neighbors or individuals from outside the complex. One of the tenants said that three out of four of her cars were hit in the parking lot, though she had no idea how these damages were caused.

What makes it more frightening to me is because my daughter was in a parking lot; a gun was put on her head in her car. It was scary. (BP11)

I’ve had four cars since I’ve lived here. Three of those cars were hit in the parking lot, including the car I bought brand new…And then my license plates were stolen. (BP13)

Apartments are being broken into. People are actually shooting in the parking lot. And a lot of stuff happens because it is kind of a bad area or whatever, so people will do stuff out in the street and then they’ll drive into our parking lot. (BP14)

People do come around this apartment complex when it’s dark and like one lady, I don’t know what the situation was, somebody came up to her. I don’t know if they had a knife or a gun or whatever the case, and stole her purse. (BP16)

We are having a lot of stuff going on in the community, as far as the car theft, the mail theft... We had a lot of trespassing and a lot of traffic from the younger crowds. I think it brought some unwanted activities. (BP24)

We’ve had a ton of break-ins through the garages, people’s vehicles being stolen or broken into. (BP39)

One of the property managers said: ‘I think that they [tenants] should be able to feel safe in their apartment. (BP22).’ However, this was not the case. Even in their actual apartments, tenants shared feeling scared because of the harassment by their neighbors. In one of the apartment buildings, a woman with mental health issues regularly stayed with her partner, who was a resident. The building’s owner and two residents who lived in the community participated in this study, and they shared that residents frequently complained about the harassment from her. The guest in question even broke into the interviewee’s apartment when she was out of town. Everything in the apartment was destroyed, together with the tenant’s confidence in continuing to live in this apartment community. Beforehand, this tenant had installed a camera and alarm system in their unit because of concerns about safety within the apartment complex. Even so, she still suffered from a traumatic ordeal. In addition to physical damage, tenants also suffered emotional harm from neighbors. In another case, the interviewee told the story of an African-American woman being racially discriminated against by a white male neighbor. His insulting words and threats to kill the African-American tenants caused panic in the apartment. Yet in these two cases, due to mental illness, the people who caused harm to others were not punished.

Back here in November, my apartment got broken into. His [a neighbor’s] wife moved in maybe a week or two later, but she had mental health issues and she thought every woman was screwing her man… She causes confusion and chaos through the building and through the apartment complex… She harasses neighbors. It was a lady that stayed downstairs from me. She’s in her 50’s. She’s not gonna know this woman about her husband. [But the woman said,] “My husband’s been over here screwing you…” She did drop the iron off the third floor… I got kind of tired. I had to tiptoe in my apartment, in the building to avoid her. I had to park from one side of the parking lot to the other side to avoid her, and I kept telling them I shouldn’t have been here. (BP33)

He [a white male] met one lady in the elevator and he said to her, “I just want to let you and people know that I’m gonna start killing you guys.” And she said, “Why?” He said, “Because white people are on the streets homeless and you people from Africa are living in apartments in this building.” (BP11)

Tenants felt they had to protect themselves (i.e., purchasing security systems, staying indoors in their complexes, and traveling by car rather than on foot in their complexes) because they did not feel security was properly offered by complex and city authorities. Among interviewees, four tenants stated that they installed private alarm systems in the apartments. Another tenant installed a chain on the door to the balcony. Living on the second floor, she thought, was not enough of a deterrent for criminals. She had to keep the light on to sleep at ease. Pets could also increase the sense of security. A tenant depended on her Chihuahua and the pit bull downstairs to detect risks.

Management Efforts Haven’t Led to Fundamental Changes

Management teams are not completely failing to put security measures in place to address safety hazards. At a minimum, all of them have installed devices to ensure basic housing safety in accordance with city codes, including smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and emergency lights. Management teams have cooperated with regular city inspections to maintain and improve the function of these devices. Apart from safety and security measures required by city codes, different apartment complexes have taken helpful efforts to strengthen safety and security in the buildings. However, most interviewees were not satisfied with the current security situation and wanted to see more effort. Moreover, internal and external factors have impaired the effectiveness of current security measures, making some of them useless.

Helpful Management Efforts beyond City Codes

Safety Measures Taken by 12 Properties
Safety Measures Taken by 12 Properties

Moving beyond what is required by city codes, many management teams have installed cameras, fob systems, buzz-in systems, additional lighting, and security guards to improve housing security. Among the 13 apartment complexes engaged in this study, 69% (nine) of properties have installed cameras and another one is planning on installing cameras; 31% (four) of properties have hired security guards to provide after-hour protection; 31% (four) of properties have installed fob systems or buzz-in systems to prevent non-residents from entering the buildings and another two are planning on implementing this measure. Apart from these visible safety and security measures, 69% (nine) of management teams also adopted helpful policies and procedures. These include: notifying tenants about safety concerns in the building and in the larger community and reminding them about the corresponding safety measures; working closely with the city and the police liaisons for information and guidance; maintaining regular inspections of appliances and facilities in the buildings; enforcing measures (with varying severity) against tenants who frequently violate rental policies or incite violence; screening tenants more carefully through creative methods (see Table 2).

It is worth mentioning, that among these helpful efforts two property managers described methods with more engagement and collaboration. One effort involved residents and the other collaborative measures with the city and management company. The manager working at the apartment complex ZA7 brought up an “on-the-lookout resident” model, where residents were recruited as eyes and ears for the management team to provide information about suspicious activities. The advantage of this model is to decentralize managerial responsibility to some residents and cultivate a sense of ownership within the apartment community. The logic being, since residents live in the apartment complexes, when they walk in or around the buildings, they will notice potential risks and will more promptly report them to the management team. Compared with security guards, the on-the-lookout resident model is more economically efficient. In the example shared, the management team paid their phone bills and may pay them a small amount of compensation for their service. Residents can be more sensitive and responsible when it comes to environmental factors directly affecting their lives, and they can observe a community 24/7. A disadvantage is that when residents report information to the management team, if the team members cannot show up in a timely manner then some problems may not be resolved effectively. Also, residents should be mindful of their own personal safety, and may not venture into places within the community where there is a high risk for illicit activities. Furthermore, residents will go into situations without any personal security measures, and there may be risks for bodily harm. In general, this method is more applicable in the apartment complexes reported by participants to have lower crime rates.

“On-the-lookout resident” will get a concession every month and some of those residents have my personal number because the company pays for the bill. So, some of them will send pictures and contact information. They’ll say, “This is going on.”—kind of keep us updated on when we’re not here. But again, it kind of has to be hands-on. (BP22)

Another instructive case came from the management at the apartment complex ZA5. First, the property manager actively chose to live on-site, so that she could respond to and solve problems even after hours. She said that she had good communication skills for connecting with residents. For example, she was not afraid to challenge a person who violated the rental policy and felt very comfortable questioning and expelling suspicious non-residents in her buildings. More importantly, she had a comprehensive collaboration with stakeholders, including the management company, her facilities director, the property owner, and the Brooklyn Park Police Department. In the strategic planning phase, she involved the police liaisons who gave her a clear understanding of how and where to install equipment to improve security. Before proposing the plan to the management company for financial support, she gathered the opinions of the property owner and the facilities director. The advantage of this model is that it enables stakeholders to be on the same page and reach a consensus on the upcoming changes. This method is especially effective in the planning phase, allowing management teams to set up security measures in one comprehensive step. This method not only requires management to spend more time communicating and coordinating across stakeholders, but also requires the cooperation of all parties involved throughout the process.

We talked to the management company and have come up with a plan. We have met with Brooklyn Park Police. We have met with our facilities director here, my supervisor here. The actual owner of the property has come out here. We just put bids into having security cameras installed throughout the property, license plate readers to be installed, and gates at the entrances because we have a problem with people dumping on our property… You’re getting your police department involved. He came out here, walked the entire property with us, and told us where he would suggest putting surveillance cameras; where he would suggest putting the license plate readers. He had some suggestions of putting more lighting on our buildings. So we put all of that in the proposal that has already gone to the owner, who is on board for it. It’s a lot of money to move around to pay for it, but they’re on board to do it. (BP40)

However, even if the management teams adopted these methods that they thought were helpful, out of the 13 apartments, only two of them received explicit positive feedback from management and tenants. Within some apartment complexes, there was a discrepancy regarding safety and security between management and tenants. For example, the manager at the apartment complex ZA4 indicated that the management team felt it was safe to work here, but none of the tenants agreed with this statement. Although the majority of participating interviewees from the apartment complex W2 expressed positive attitudes, a dehumanized issue also occurred here (please refer to the “Dehumanization and Empowerment” section).

Table 2. Visible safety measures beyond city codes, other helpful efforts taken by management teams, and positive attitudes from interviewees, by apartment complexes.

Apartment Complex

Visible Safety Measures beyond City Codes

Other Helpful Policies and Procedures

Did any manager feel safe?

Did the majority of residents feel safe?


Locked doors; installed the camera system around the parking lot and at each of the dumpsters

Stick to safety policies especially during COVID; notified tenants about safety issues in multiple ways (e.g., flyer, text message)


Added cameras in the entryway, planning to put more outside; kept security door locked; added additional lighting; added more foot patrol with a security company

Kept good communication with the city and guided by the city for any readjustment; notified tenants about safety issues




Buzz-in system; planning to have cameras

Leveraged social media to screen applicants and check backgrounds



Installed cameras in a few buildings, at the entrance level and in the garage; hired security guards





Fob system for each private door; buzz-in system at the entrance




ZA1 and ZA8

Added lighting in the building; added 24/7 cameras inside and outside of the buildings (15 cameras at Brooks Gardens, and some cameras were on the second level of the building); updated all lighting in the common area; buzz-in system and fob system

Worked closely with police liaisons; had candid conversations with tenants who did not follow policies and procedures, and provided coaching plan for them; requested guests sign-in and sign-out and stick on buzz-in policy; maintained regular checkups for appliances


Installed a security guard; installed 68 cameras on the property and planned on adding more; had a security lock on the office door; planning to have fobs at entrances






Cleaned households out when they had too many police reports




Replaced the lighting in the hallway; added lights at the back door; installed over 40 24/7 cameras (for each building) all around the buildings (i.e., parking lot, hallways, entrances, laundry room) that police has access; installed a gate with pokes; routine checks for safety equipment; buzz-in system; hired security guards

Kept good communication with the city and received guidance from inspectors; kept communication with tenants with any updates about safety issues and reminded tenants to report safety issues; stick to the policy of no-drink on the stairs; maintained weekly pest control services; walked the buildings on a daily basis



Installed cameras throughout the property; had gates at the entrances; planning to install license plate readers

Manager lived on site; kept communication with the city regarding things happened in neighborhoods; guided by the police department regarding safety measures; listened and talked to tenants who were making troubles




Installed cameras at front and back entrances; planning to have a fob system

Communicated with tenants about the importance of safety; had candid conversations with tenants who might generate safety issues




24/7 cameras throughout the property and in the parking lot

Engaged “on-the-lookout residents”; kept communication with tenants in multiple ways (i.e., flyers, emails, letters)



Note: 1) The information included in this table comes from the narrative analysis of interviews. There might be other efforts that were not mentioned in the interviews. 2) “N/A” indicates that no tenant or manager from the corresponding apartment was interviewed. 3) indicates that at least one participating manager or the majority of the participating residents expressed a positive experience regarding safety and security in the apartment complex in the interview.

There are various factors that hinder efforts to produce fundamental changes. The internal obstacles and external environmental influences are detailed below.

Internal factors that impaired the effectiveness of safety measures

Management issues. On the one hand, the internal factors that impaired the effectiveness of safety measures came from management issues. Indeed, management teams installed security cameras. However, 43% of interviewees mentioned that the number of cameras in their apartment complex were insufficient; some cameras were malfunctioning due to vandalism or the lack of maintenance; and management teams were not using cameras appropriately to monitor safety and security as they should. At most complexes, many of the cameras were only installed at the entrances of the buildings and some of them were near the dumpsters. Almost no cameras were installed in hallways inside the building. Among the nine apartments with cameras on-site, only 30% (three) properties had cameras in their parking lots. For management teams, cameras have two functions. One is to monitor the behavior of residents to prevent them from violating apartment community policies. For example, installing a camera next to the dumpster allows management teams to find out if any residents are throwing away trash inappropriately. However, from the researcher’s perspective, the more important role for cameras should be to protect the safety of residents, not to surveil them. The lack of visible security facilities in the most needed area provided opportunities for illicit activities. As an interviewee said:

A lot of the things that were occurring were occurring where? In the hallways. There’s no camera system in the hallway. (BP26)

What made people feel more frustrated than the lack of security cameras was that even with the cameras installed, management teams failed to use them to monitor safety effectively. Tenants reflected that often, when they approached their management requesting evidence from camera footage, the answer they got was that the cameras were not working at the time in question. This would definitely make people lose confidence in these safety measures. After all, what can truly establish a sense of safety and security is to know that there is consistent monitoring occurring behind the visible devices.

So they installed security cameras. And I said, “Oh, well, could you look at the security camera?” And they were like, “Oh, this camera wasn’t working that day.” Okay, so we have security cameras that we’ve been waiting for, and now they don’t happen to work?! (BP03)

They added cameras for it [violence in complex] and I don’t see any changes since they did that update… They install cameras, but sometimes the light fixture’s outside. I don’t know if it’s a sensor that only [works] when you pass it. I will like it to be on the whole time, so it can give you more of a sense of security. The cameras can actually record with lighting, cuz it’s different if it’s dark. You’re not going to see anything [if it’s dark]. (BP04)

It had different camera locations, but every time you would say, “Look at the cameras,” they would claim that, “Oh, well, the camera doesn’t work…” per se… They’re not recording. They never were recording. (BP06)

My 2018 car’s plate got stolen. I called the police and they’re like, “Yeah, the cameras weren’t running.” So, we have no idea what happened. And I’m just like, “what do I do?” (BP13)

They have cameras everywhere now. But it’s just, okay, are they working? Are you guys using them? That’s the question. (BP16)

Cameras have to catch the act. They don’t catch people. Everybody says, “Let’s put cameras and cameras will be great.” That’s great. But you don’t recognize who that is, or that person is wearing a hoodie. (BP23)

The same problems also appeared with security guards. Management teams hired security guards with the intention of patrolling the apartment complexes after hours. However, 48% of interviewees complained about insufficient security guards on site or security personnel failing to perform their duties at work. Usually, the management teams hired security guards to take care of the property after management team members left in the evenings. They were expected to patrol from the evenings and into the early morning hours. Nevertheless, some of them only stayed until one or two o’clock in the morning leaving their posts prematurely; some of them embraced the heavy responsibilities associated with their jobs, but could not manage due to insufficient manpower; some of them were not routinely visible to residents leading them to wonder if they were actually on site; some of them ignored the activities that negatively affected residents lives; residents shared instances of security smoking and drinking with residents during working hours. Many residents felt their safety needs were not enough to make meaningful safety improvements. All of these issues resulted in security measures that were often implemented in vain. People wished for an increase in security guards’ presence, with some desiring security guards 24/7 who would really take care of the buildings.

Have more security and train security. Not just a guy that puts on a kind of a cop suit and walks around, like someone that really knows what he’s doing... Walk more there. Be there. Stay there. Be attentive. (BP03)

Let me say something about the security guards that they have around here. It’s only two or three security covers [a great number of] units. That’s not enough… Other security companies that they had, well, people will complain about them because they were going into the units with these people, and they were getting high with the people around here. You would think, “Okay. If I called you for security purposes, I wouldn’t be feeling secure because you’re out here, getting high with other people.” (BP06)

We have security guys, but mostly walk, doing stuff, smoking… I’ve just seen them chilling on the back, doing what security shouldn’t be doing. (BP09)

Security will never go to people... I think they’re kind of scared. I’m not going to lie. I think they’re kind of scared because of the people out in the parking lot playing their loud music and having a gathering. They don’t say anything to them. (BP14)

Well, if you’re calling security, saying that, ‘Can you take that penny or that quarter, whatever it is, in the door?’ And they say, ‘Okay, I’m taking it out.’ You go down and look at after two [O’clock] later—they haven’t done sh*t… They don’t do anything. (BP16)

Only one interviewee expressed appreciation for a good security guard in their complex. The interviewee said, “I liked him because he was [the best] out of all of the security people that they had here, he was the only one that would walk through the building and do what needed to be done, the rest of them don’t do that. (BP19)” This security guard communicated patiently with residents. He was an African American man, and fellow interviewee, who grew up in public housing and took very seriously the role of safety within the apartment complex. By interacting with people in a positive way, trust was built up between tenants and security staff. From this safety guard’s point of view, he felt security would be more effective if security guards were assigned at least 8-12 hours a day. Security guards should work in pairs so that they can watch each other’s backs. He felt it would be better if the security guards were armed to cope with high-risk situations. He also encouraged management teams to introduce an advanced dispatching system to connect security guards, the security company, and the management office.

We had a very elaborate system. There were barcodes [around the apartment complex] and we would have to go around and scan those barcodes. There were timestamps and dates [recorded] when we were there. If there is any damage or anything like that there, we can take photos. We can send notes and those went straight to the security office and those went straight to the management office. (BP26)

Other than camera issues and security guard issues, management teams need to pay more attention to developing and following safety policies and procedures, have a more proactive attitude toward safety issues, and take real action when encountering safety problems. BP33 described her experience where a former tenant still retained a full set of apartment keys and could easily enter the apartment complex and her apartment room. It is ridiculous that the management team did not require returning the keys when people moved out. These procedural omissions will cause serious safety hazards to current residents. Tenants made it clear that action from management teams is a key in solving apartment complex problems. BP03 was filing a police report for a neighbor who had repeatedly harassed her, and she shared what the police stated: “You know, the property management company is the one that’s going to have to do it [respond to the tenant’s behavior],” and if the management team does not actively respond, “that [the solution for the safety issue] probably won’t go far.” Unfortunately, the police said: “The property managers [of your apartment complex] just don’t care.” COVID brought additional challenges to property management. At some sites, the pandemic reduced management’s onsite manpower, which has increased the difficulty in monitoring and supervising safety and security issues. The eviction moratorium requires more creative ways to cope with tenants who violate rental policies, repeatedly provoke incidents, and create potential safety hazards for their neighbors.

I understand everybody needs a place to stay, but when they use this house as gang hangouts and stuff, they send these girls out to get these apartments for the purpose of it… I think [the previous management team], when they had it, it wasn’t as worse as it is now, because [the current management team], they allow anyone to move in. (BP05)

They got 10 and 12 people that live there... We got six people living in one apartment; we got seven people and three kids living in another. You are never supposed to sublease your apartment out, and you’re only supposed to have three to the maximum or either two adults and two children in a one-bedroom apartment… But to them [the management team], they don’t care. You tell them, “They’re here,” and they go, “Okay. Their rent paid.” That’s all that matters. (BP06)

People have dogs. The one girl downstairs has two HUGE dogs. There’s no way she should even be able to keep those dogs in an apartment. (BP07)

Resident issues. On the other hand, residents’ violation of safety policies and procedures also impaired the effectiveness of safety measures. The most striking issue described by interviewees was the phenomenon of doors being propped open, either for residents themselves or for their guests. Around 50% of interviewees mentioned the door-propping issue. People utilized stuff such as pennies, rocks, sticks, candles, rugs, and milk bottles to prevent the doors from closing completely. Sometimes, especially in wintertime, people hold the door open for others, out of goodwill, but this behavior could cause harm to themselves and/or their neighbors. This phenomenon occurred in almost every apartment complex. This was not new or surprising to managers. From their experience, it had always been a big problem in property management no matter which city or apartment community they were in, the community’s size, or who the residents were. This problem compromised the fob systems and buzz-in systems effectiveness.

We have a huge issue of people leaving the doors unlocked, which bothers me so bad. (BP03)

You have to really rethink the whole door security system because it’s so easy for somebody just to leave a stick in the door. (BP05)

People come in and put coins in a door for other people to come in, which of course we know is not safe because sometimes you see people sleeping in a hallway. It’s not safe. (BP18)

I have, at my property, a really hard time with people popping doors open, to keep them open so that they can come and go… Put pennies or rock on the door, and the candle, things like that. (BP22)

One of the biggest issues that we had over there was doors being propped open… You didn’t even need a fob for the most part. Honestly, I would say 75% of the time, you would find doors open to where you can just kind of walk in and walk out, and walk in and walk out... I used to go around and kind of say to myself, “I wonder how many doors I’m going to find open tonight.” (BP26)

As far as property doors open, unfortunately, that’s not just here. That’s everywhere you go. Whether it’s downtown, whichever property, size, company… That’s always going to happen again and again, many times. Its residents themselves think they’re being helpful. That’s been everywhere, ever since I started working in this industry. (BP30)

The propping of the doors open is huge. That’s why we were looking into cameras for the entryways because everybody’s using the rug and it’s propped open. Residents are coming all the time and don’t feel safe because the door’s always propped open. (BP39)

Propping doors open brought more serious risks in terms of trespassing. In total, 33% of interviewees recognized homeless people and strangers entering and exiting the buildings. Residents shared that it was hard to tell whether these non-residents would engage in illicit activities in the building, and it just increased the sense of insecurity across residents. Some interviewees truly felt scared by these individuals, who were wandering and sleeping in the buildings, and some had already been harmed by these people.

Homeless people [were] living in the stairwell. So, how [do] they get in the building?—Other people let them in. So, that’s kind of scary because you don’t know who lives there and who doesn’t… They’ll put sticks in the doors or pens or anything to keep the doors open (BP01)

People come in and out of the building. They’re neither from this building or they’re from different buildings, and doors will be propped open, and random people just come in here. (BP02)

We had our laundry room doors open around here. We got people that come in these buildings at the back door here. They sleep in the hallway. Not only sleep inside of the laundry room. We have children that go in there. They literally have sex in the laundry room... Literally, we had one guy, a couple of months ago, who actually was trying to rape one of the building cleaners. (BP06)

I can see people sleeping in the hallways. Over the years, I have actually seen people outside of my door, sleeping in front of my door. If I look at my peep hole, the guy was lying in the hallway, and I was so scared of this guy because this guy will literally be walking around this apartment complex for two and a half years. People say, “Don’t mess with him. He’s crazy.” This is ridiculous…If you’ve seen him, you will be scared too because he’s always been covered up, always has a face covering. (BP16)

If the rationale for propping open doors was for the convenience of residents and non-resident guests, thus unintentionally causing safety issues in the buildings, then those who deliberately destroyed apartment facilities made already compromised security measures more fragile. Residents or non-residents who intended to conduct illicit activities in or around the apartment buildings spray painted or covered up security cameras, set off fire alarms, and broke locks on security doors. Twenty percent (20%) of interviewees expressed their worries about the broken door locks. Sometimes management teams failed to repair these doors in a timely manner, or the frequent damage made it difficult to keep up with repairs, making these security doors no longer effective.

There are a few tenants that sabotaged the door, so it won’t lock. I don’t know if they don’t have the key fobs to it because they [the management team] only give you two or three [fobs], no more than that. I don’t know how many people live in different apartments and that’s why they sabotaged the door, so they could just go in and out without the fob. (BP04)

They’ve broken them [cameras in the hallway] and then sprayed and painted the cameras. The cameras did not operate. They’re not even seeing anything yet. They painted all the cameras that face the door… They covered it up. (BP05)

One [door] over here is totally jacked up. They [the management team] don’t fix this. So many times… It’s ridiculous. But guess what? The same people smashed that door. (BP19)

Management teams called on residents to take ownership within the apartment communities and report suspicious issues to them. In some instances, residents turned a deaf ear to the safety policies and procedures. For example, during COVID, people ignored the order to wear masks indoors, making other residents afraid to share common areas with them. On the contrary, taking too much ownership was manifested in the abuse of rental rights. Some residents allowed non-residents to live in their apartments and overloaded apartments with more than the number of people accepted by the rental policy. Management teams and residents surmised that these residents avoided dealing with management teams because they knew they were in violation. So, when a safety issue occurred, they would rather choose not to report it.

They [the management team] want you to put it on a piece of paper with people’s names. They want people to sign it up, but people are not going to sign it up because they don’t want you to know how many people are living in the apartment! (BP05)

It’s one of my primary concerns. I don’t want to leave my apartment complex and see someone at my door, walking by without their mask on. We have a small enclosed mail room and everyone goes there and no one’s wearing a mask, including the mail lady or the Amazon delivery driver. They’re almost gathering. (BP15)

External factors that increase the pressure on safety measures

Vandalism of safety devices by non-residents and the lack of involvement by law enforcement to help solve safety issues were major external factors that increased the pressure for safety measures in the apartment complexes. No matter how prepared the inside security measures were, the apartment complexes would not have an iron wall that isolated all dangerous factors from the outside. Management and residents were overwhelmed when many external safety hazards came across the boundaries and spilled over into the interior of the apartment complex. According to interviewees, many cases of vandalism of safety devices (i.e., security cameras, security doors, lightings) were conducted by non-residents. Management teams tried to control trespassing and crime non-residents engaged in. No matter how hard they tried, management shared that the criminal activity simply moved from one apartment complex to another, but was never eliminated from the context. Management teams had to be vigilant about when they would return to the apartment complex, which would be another round of tests of their safety measures. The problem is that management teams should not independently bear these external pressures. Unfortunately, they felt that insufficient city patrols and disconnected police resources made them feel they were fighting alone. As one property manager said:

I think that as a property manager, we’re on an island. Every night when I go to my car, I’m worried. (BP23)

As a new property manager, she did not feel she received enough information from the city about what was happening in the community, let alone any guidance on safety measures. She indicated that when she began managing her site she got no information from the city about the two rival gangs fighting for its territory. She was ignorant about this issue until hearing it from a resident. For a period of time, a small group of teenagers caused trouble across several apartments in the area. Again, management team members felt information from the city or the police were lacking. The previously quoted manager’s ignorance on this matter prevented her from being prepared before the small group escalated into a larger group of troublemakers. While in the phase of dealing with the problems of youth congregating and making troubles, several management team members complained that there was not much police presence at all. When another manager recalled her experience in Blaine, she said that Blaine had not only had regular officers engaging with their community, but they also had cadet officers to support management. It was not that Blaine had the best solution. The large majority of managers who participated in this city hoped for more police involvement.

In terms of participating management teams, police involvement was not always lacking in the community. About twenty years ago when the crime problem reached its peak, controlling the crime rate became a priority in the community and the crime-free housing policy came into being. Gradually, things went to the other extreme. To realize the goal of crime-free housing, police were overwhelmingly involved in community issues, including housing-related cases. Managers’ denying applicants and evicting residents caused issues such as homelessness. To correct excessive police involvement, the police department reduced their involvement again, and the responsibility for safety and security has increasingly shifted from the public sector to the private sector—”You know, 20 years ago, the police department handled security and safety and our obligation was to keep the doors locked, and now it’s at the point where I think you almost have to have your own private security to handle the site. (BP25).” It is not easy to reach a balance, but the management teams call for the public sector to increase their presence, information sharing, and technical support.


In short, residents’ and management teams’ sense of insecurity stems from inside the apartment complexes and in the larger community. A combination of internal and external factors is associated with the failure of safety measures across the community. Therefore, enhancing and maintaining the safety and security of these apartment complexes is not only the responsibility of management teams. It requires the joint efforts of management teams, management companies, residents, and the city. Sharing the same issues, concerns, and goals in terms of safety and security, there is a call for a collaborative mechanism for stakeholders to stand together. However, as observed by interviewees, management teams and management companies do not share information about what has happened on their properties; security guards from different security companies do not share knowledge and communicate with one another. “If everyone is not on one accord and everybody’s kind of dancing to the beat of their own drum, then this initiative or any other initiative will only go so far,” said the only security guard who was praised by residents, “When we talked about a collaborative effort, we have to look at not only these apartment complexes and the security, but the police need to be involved, City Council need to be involved, and any other entity that has any input and impact on the outcome of whatever the safety initiative is.”

An interviewee talked about the positive experience when she was working in Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct, where there was good cooperation between police and management that may inform practices in the City of Brooklyn Park:

The police, people, and property management should always work together because we can connect the dots for each other. It was just dynamic in the fourth precinct. It was Chief McDonald, he was just incredible… Minneapolis understood that link. He understood how important that was and we worked really close together for years and I wouldn’t have been successful there without it. (BP28)

The Ecosystem and Relationships in the Apartment Community

“The Situation”

Management don’t care whether people are propping the doors open or smoking weed in the hallways because they don’t stay here. Whatever happens at night, happens. What happens, happens. I’ve been here for like four years and I only saw the security guard about four times. (BP17)

So I’m a single mom. So for me, it’s not just about me and my four walls of a home. It’s knowing my neighbors, its feeling safe with my neighbors if something happens. Feeling secure that they would call the police and say, “Hey, I know she’s a single mom, or I haven’t seen her in a couple days, well, what if something happened?” Or being able to walk outside and feel comfortable enough to walk to the park and not worry that someone’s going to harass me. It’s just feeling safe in my apartment, but also feeling safe in who surrounds me and who lives around me. (BP03)

I think safe and fair housing is to allow serious people in who really want a place to stay to have quality housing. People who really want to do something for their family. You know, there are some people who really have a desire...but other people make it so hard...And the pandemic didn’t help it because some people think, “Now I know you can’t put me out. So I am going to act any way I want to.” 

There are residents out here that are constantly making a payment plan, but it’s taken them a month or two or three or four in order to catch up. They’re not completely behind, but they’re struggling nickel to nickel. But I mean, they’re fighters, they don’t wait until the last minute. They don’t want to be in the hole, seeing a little bit of help for them so they have time to breathe would be helpful. (BP23)

When I moved into this complex, they had the neighborhood night out and then they had another event before school started—where they did group activities. They had games and the whole complex was invited. It allowed us to interact with each other, with different neighbors and not your little group that you’re always going to. So things like that, I think it could work to get us together—little different things. I know with COVID right now maybe that’s not possible, but if things get better I think, we should, they should go back to doing that. I think that worked. Those things stopped two or three years ago. (BP04)

According to managements’ positive experiences, relationship development and improvement could be built upon:




Investment in Youth

“My teams and I really want to meet our residents where they’re at. We want to try and accommodate them too, whatever it may be: accommodation, as far as modification to your home, whether you need resources for unpaid rent, whatever we can do.” (Management, BP24)

“Well, first and foremost, there’s got to be an open line of communication. Management needs to be approachable; management needs to hear what the residents are saying and that works both ways.” (Management, BP30)

“We use AppFolio so that way everything’s recorded. Anybody can see a conversation so if we need to reference back to something. It’s all there. You can send group messages to people; we are able to input work orders for residents. In terms of completing maintenance requests, they’re [residents] able to see if it’s on hold or if they’re [maintenance] waiting for a part.” (Management, BP39)

“I partnered with a lot of different people there [Minneapolis]. We had a mentorship program for young people… We got them all pizza for dinner, and they had to sit through training with my staff on proper etiquette… We bought them matching T-shirts and trained them to be servers at the events that we were having for our marketing events and made them a part of it. We had them all out there painting benches. Just being a part of everything.” (Management, BP28)

However, BP28 indicated that
“I wouldn’t have the resources here [in Brooklyn Park] like I did there [Minneapolis] probably.”



An apartment community is an ecosystem. Tenants and management sit at its core, informing day to day interactions. As they live and/or work on site, their relationships go far in defining the ecosystem’s culture, framing its values, and determining what actions are (and are not) acceptable behavior. Within the interviews, accountability (often the lack thereof) was a central theme that defined these relationships. Though accountability, and a shift in culture on some level, was desired by all—there were great differences in terms of where to begin and what was at the root of the breakdown. Some saw management (i.e., practices and interactions) as the root cause; while others felt that change began with tenants—specifically their behavior and investment in the site. At its core, what is the impetus for a community’s culture? How individuals answered the question often informed the steps they took or the options they felt they had before them to respond to the situation. It’s agreed that change is needed; however, where to begin, who takes the lead, and what entities should be involved for change to occur must be examined. Moving outside of the ecosystem’s core and into its “arteries” (i.e., city government, corporate management, and advocacy groups) took different shapes for residents and property management. What was not always clear, especially for residents, was when something spilled over and was no longer an apartment community issue and required intervention from one of the ecosystem’s arteries. For many, the core of the ecosystem is broken, but transparency and knowledge about how and when to tap into the system’s arteries was a challenge for some and an unknown for others. 

Ecosystem’s Core: Management and Tenant Interactions

Making Sense of the Context: How did we get Here?

It was clear that a shared desire to get to a place where strong relationships, communication, community building, safety and security resonated throughout the apartment communities. However, to get to this goal, it’s beneficial to unpack the mindsets that permeate the space and will go far in shaping the path forward.

For those who understood the root of the breakdown to come from management, they framed their views in practices and interactions that began at a resident’s move-in.

Lack of Investment in the Product put on the Market (10/28)

Interactions in the Office (13/28)

Follow-through/Trust (11/28)

One of the painters came to me and told me, he said, “It’s sad, if you go into some of these apartments, they don’t fix them up or anything. If a person moved out of that apartment, they will sweep up a little bit to make it just a little bit cleaner, but the carpet can be disgusting. You know what I am saying. The doors can be broken. They just move them in knowing that stuff is wrong with the apartments. And because people need a place to stay right now, they’re willing to move in there. BP05

They’re not friendly anymore. They used to at least make it sound like they care, but now when you call they’re crabby. They’re just like, “Oh, I will tell management and they’ll let you know”. And you never get a call back from that. Management has changed a lot and very frequently, so that may be a reason. And they’re getting younger too. I don’t want to sound rude or anything, but maybe that could be another reason why they just don’t care. Because, if it’s their first, they’re in their twenties and they used to be a little bit older. And they used to live here too. A few of them did, but I think those ladies left. Again, they don’t have an answer for you. I mean, you call them with a concern and you want an answer and they’re like - “We’ll let the manager or supervisor know and she’ll give you a call”. And then you never get that call. BP04

It’s a lot of unsafe stuff that I’ve seen, but I stopped reporting it because I just felt like, even though people say, “Well, people need to hear what you have to say.” But at the end of the day, if I keep on and I have all the emails for months since [management/owner] been here that I’ve emailed. I told them “Okay, this is this, this is that, that’s what’s going on”. The property manager, she’s not a good person to depend on. She’s a big liar. She doesn’t hold up her end of her bargain, what she’s supposed to do. That’s not good for me because I need to be able to trust you - that you’re going to do what you say that you’re going to do. BP06

No management team member who participated acknowledged being a part of the entity at the crux of the breakdown in relationships at their site. However, one property manager spoke to the healing and repair work she and her team were doing on site—rebuilding trust with tenants—as the byproduct of a breakdown caused by the last management team. She was overseeing a fully new staff and looking to prove to tenants that the culture was changing under her leadership. Residents felt that though it was management’s job to oversee maintenance in the apartment community and residents’ housing experiences, that was not enough for them to invest in the space. Stated in different ways throughout the interviews, residents wondered if things would be different in their community if management—specifically managers—lived on site. Would the culture change for the better? Thirty-six (36%) of residents shared this sentiment. And the two interviewed property managers who did (or had) live on site spoke to the value and perspective gained from living in community with their residents.

They didn’t want to listen to the problems going on because they don’t live here. You don’t live here. Once you shut that door at five o’clock, you’re like, “I’m done with [name of apartment community]. I’m going wherever I live, which is a safe environment. I don’t have to worry about the shootings I don’t have to worry about the drugs. I don’t have to worry about the fighting.” They don’t have to worry about any of that. (BP06)

For those who rooted the need for change in tenants, they framed it around their behavior and interactions with both their fellow residents and management.

General Behavior (5/40)

Turning a Blind Eye (4/40)

Changing Mentality (4/40)

I think a lot of the tenants are kind of reckless. So I guess I can see too why the property managers are very hands-off; it’s because if the tenants don’t care Then why should the property management in a sense? But it’s just how you treat a shared space, the hallways, the foyers, the parking lots, things like that. The tenants have showed the property managers that they don’t care either. And I think that that is why management is very hands off, and why there’s not a lot of community building - its because it’s not a community…So I feel like the tenants set the vibe. So I’m sure the property management doesn’t want to do community outreach barbecues, when things are just going to get crazy. You know what I mean? So it’s like the tenants have set the vibe for how it is around here. And then the property managers just go with it, that’s what I would assume. BP03

But when someone is arguing with 15 people. Or these people are having an altercation and they’re yelling through the balcony at five o’clock in the morning - that’s a problem. That’s hard for other people. People also don’t speak on it. Literally, they just mind their own business and they just keep going. They won’t ever say like, “Oh, gosh, did you hear so and so and so and so yelling?” Oh yeah, I heard. It’s just no one would call the cops. It’s just a very mums-the-word thing. People just don’t want to get involved. They don’t want it to come back and affect them. BP03

Taking ownership. Taking ownership of their home. Right now I can tell you that the mentality here is, “I don’t care. It’s not mine.” Now please understand, that’s not everybody. I literally, every day, we have to go into the mailbox area and pick up the junk mail that they just throw on the floor. So it’s like, “Okay, if you lived in a housing development, would you do that in the middle of the street?” You would not. BP23

Though less frequently reported, framing tenants as the impetus for a community’s negative context did occur. Not to say that fellow residents and management team members did not speak to poor tenant-initiated relations amongst tenants and with management, they regularly were not presented as the crux of the breakdown. As BP06, a Zane Avenue corridor resident, indicated “management are the ones who have control, in terms of creating the culture. They have control over who lives in these apartments.” For those who advanced this view the above quotes illustrate that the rationale ranged from “reckless” behavior to a need to take “ownership” within the space. As BP23, a Zane Avenue corridor manager, indicated in their interview when speaking to the mindset she wanted to impart to her tenants she concluded the exchange with: “[t]his is your home. I just work here”—inferring that the apartment community was ultimately their space to shape or mold. BP23 expounded upon this idea, the mentality that residents should adopt, in their interview indicating that ownership does not involve policing neighbors, but community caretaking. On face value the idea of taking ownership where you literally live seems harmless or even appropriate. The idea of having pride in where you live is sound, and a shared desire amongst all interviewees (residents and tenants). However, an issue arises when such logic is attached to many of the communities presented in this study—spaces experiencing inadequate housing, poor relations, and/or different types of violence. BP23’s community, for example, was fraught with violence that she described as creating fear in both residents and staff. One may argue who would want to (or feel secure) stepping up and taking “ownership” within such a space. Though not helpful in the long run, in the short term such environments lend themselves to residents turning a blind eye, if anything, for self-preservation.

Instructive Cases–Built Upon…

A level of clarity can be found in examining ideas surrounding why individuals feel a context has taken a particular shape. Such information can help us better understand why certain strategies may (or may not) be executed. It’s also important to examine instructive examples that sit at the core of the ecosystem, to gain an understanding of what elements have been brought to the table to initiate healthy relationships and interactions between tenants and management teams. These examples, shared during interviews, reflected: current interactions at city apartment communities, relations from years past within Brooklyn Park’s apartment communities, other complexes a staff member formerly worked at, and how a given approach is informed by a staff members’ background. Each example will be followed by a synopsis outlining the individual’s professional profile and housing community.

Built Upon–Engagement

I wanted to be on the affordable side with our families and our seniors, who really needed the extra support and housing. I wanted to bring that passion to my sites. My teams and I, we really want to meet our residents where they’re at. We want to try and accommodate them too, whatever it may be. Accommodation, as far as modification to your home, whether you need resources for unpaid rent, whatever we can do. That’s what I try and have my staff bring to the table, if you know of anything, especially with COVID, share that information—that’s been a very big thing. (BP24)

BP24 is a regional manager who oversees multiple properties in Brooklyn Park. The research team also interviewed one of their property managers within this project. Through the interviews something that became clear in both of their professional backgrounds, and shared work history prior to coming to Brooklyn Park, was decades of work experience in social service fields. Collectively they had approximately 30 years of experience in social service industries—focusing on housing access for vulnerable communities or mental health. It was clear that an emphasis on meeting individuals where they are at was something essential to BP24 that she modeled and looked for in her staff. Examples of this were found in site-specific modifications made during rehabs to better support families and allocating time to staff to search for community resources, commonly found through churches and nonprofits, to bring to residents’ attention.

Built Upon–Communication

Well, first and foremost, there’s got to be an open line of communication. Management needs to be approachable, management needs to hear what the residents are saying and that works both ways. You know, if I sit down with a resident, you get, you’re going to read very quickly where they’re coming from. Whether there’s a language barrier, whether there’s something else going on. And my whole thing is, we as property management, we may be affordable, but we are also in customer service. So that’s what we need to provide to our customers. On the flip side, there’s a lot of things that in affordable housing our residents are required to do in order to stay eligible. That’s provide documentation, these are things that are spelled out when they move in. And they do yearly recertification. So it’s just showing up. Management showing up. Management being present. Management returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner. Management being willing to listen, hear our residents out, acknowledge whatever the issue may be, whether it’s a work order, whether it’s a run issue, whatever the case, they just need to be present in hear them…Again, I will always fall back to open lines of communication, you know, that’s the biggest thing. Callbacks, make sure you’re reaching out, make sure they feel able to approach to you, it solves 90% of management problems that there’s an open line of communication. (BP30)

Across her city sites communication, like engagement, took diverse forms. She and her manager noted consistent activities at their sites (during and outside of COVID). Sites offered food shelves, clothing drives (i.e., winter coats and back to school supplies), and resource fairs. Their open lines of communication translated into open-door policies, where management shared that conversations with tenants were reminiscent at times of social service counseling sessions. A space was created for residents to feel both safe and vulnerable to discuss facets of their lives.

Built Upon–Transparency

It depends on which software they’re going through, but we use AppFolio so that way everything’s recorded. Anybody can see a conversation so if we need to reference back to something it’s all there. It’s really nice. You can send group messages to people; so we have [“X” 100] units we can shoot out one text message to everybody. It’s really nice. You can put everything into that app and then it will go to us. We are able to input work orders for residents or they can input the work orders themselves through there as well. They can text back so if they want to send us a copy of their updated insurance they can either put it on the website or they can set up the text message so that we’ll get it on our site. In terms of completing maintenance requests, they are able to see if it’s on hold or if they’re [maintenance] waiting for a part—all that good stuff is updated by the maintenance staff. Residents are able to see all the notes that will come through and it will actually give them notification too.


Wow. I’ve never heard anyone mention anything like this. Is the platform expensive? Do you know by any chance?

No. I don’t know exactly, but I know it’s more reasonably priced than some of the other ones. (BP39)

BP39 began their career in property management as a caretaker, moving up to assistant manager, and is currently an onsite manager. She has been a manager in Brooklyn Park for a little over one year. Prior to her current position and management group, she worked at five different sites with another company. She described her current management group’s financial investment in its properties as something that attracted her. Through her employment she became aware of what she described as their strong investment, compassion and patience with their staff. Arguably this same investment in their residents’ experiences can be seen in the usage of this platform. It allows residents to monitor different aspects of their interactions with management—in particular maintenance requests. These are processes visible for all to see—they require follow-through and accountability. Though such technology may not be suitable for all residents, particularly seniors, it is a tool that can aid in transparency in management for a majority of city residents.

Built Upon—Investment in Youth

I partnered with a lot of different people there [Minneapolis]. We had a mentorship program for the young people. Well, they kept getting in trouble, I had a property that had three city parks near it and daily I’d come into work to another horror story. And I was so tired of the moms and the younger siblings that had to pay the price, because the teenager was off the mark, and that’s the protocol for us. Well they break the law, or they do this or that, you give the head of household a letter, and you know if it’s serious enough, they have to move out. So I came into work one day and I had somebody come in and say “well three of your kids beat this homeless guy at one of the parks last night.” It was like “damn it,” but, so, I went off the protocol—I was taking a big chance. And instead of talking to the mothers, I called the three boys in and I gave them hell, one at a time. And then I gave them community service and I had them for the whole summer, every Saturday. And they had to, whatever their passion was, that’s what they had to do every Saturday with the younger kids on the property. I had tons of kids, I was desperate to come up with some kind of idea, and so it started out with that. I also, my leasing staff, we got them all pizza for dinner, and they had to sit through a training with my staff on proper etiquette. It was funny, we were winging it! And then we had marketing troubles there, it was hard to market that particular place so we trained them. We bought them matching T-shirts and trained them to be servers at the events that we were having for our marketing events and made them a part of it. We had them all out there painting benches. And just being a part of everything. And it made a difference, and that was really cool. I don’t know that I could, I wouldn’t have the resources here like I did there probably. I just don’t know if I could reach these kids because they don’t live here, so that’s my problem. But if Brooklyn Park, on a larger scale, could do something like that. Oh, I can’t even think of all of it. We were always busy with it. Anywhere from Prom Dress Drive to a partnership with the Omegas [Omega Psi Phis, African American fraternity]. We partnered with them and they started trying to lead these young boys and young girls, too—but it was mainly the boys that were needing things to do. Through the Omegas, I worked with a few of them pretty closely, I started working with Bishop Kay and Amanda at Summit Academy and we just had a great thing going. It was going so good and then we started even getting the Army working with us. At my last national night out they brought in a Blackhawk Chopper and we were making some really big. It was cool because now every once in a while, one of those kids, they’re not kids anymore, and they’ll call me up. Shelli, I want to get my life in order I’m looking for a place to live. I feel safe that you work there. They’re reaching out to me now and it’s like wow they remembered me? I was just the crabby old lady, you know. It actually, that job gave me my heart back because after being a property manager for so many years, I mean by 15 years, you’re kind of jaded, probably by 10 years, but yeah, it was like “wow.” I miss that one. I wish we could do something like that here. (BP28)

Property management has been multi-generational for BP28. It was an industry she knew well, as her mother was a property manager. She’s been in property management for over 20 years and formerly was a regional manager in the Twin Cities area. She desired to manage this particular property because she wanted something close to home, a smaller size, and a single property that she thought would be quiet. The latter she did not receive. In terms of the cities in which she’s managed properties, she indicated that she’d like more support from the city of Brooklyn Park—specifically from the police department. She wants a stronger partnership to help combat the violence perpetrated by area youth. The above example is from her time managing a property in Minneapolis. She offers one strategy to engage young people—an approach she was a part of creating. In its origin the programming was impromptu, but over time blossomed into a collaboration of diverse local networks.

Ecosystem’s Arteries

In the above relationships and interactions something that became less clear at times was when something spilled over from the apartment community and became a situation that required external intervention. During interviews, this idea was often shared by residents. Three arteries that came up during interviews, as spaces individuals called upon or desired to call upon but were unsure of how where: the city, corporate management, and area advocacy groups. For many the core of the ecosystem is broken, but transparency and knowledge about how and when to tap into the system’s arteries was a challenge for some and an unknown for others. 

The City

Overall, 75% of management team members indicated that they wanted more information and/or direct support from law enforcement to run their sites.
Overall, 75% of management team members indicated that they wanted more information and/or direct support from law enforcement to run their sites.

Both property management team members and residents discussed where they saw the city in their housing experiences. For management “the city” regularly meant the police department. It was an entity they typically described interacting with through a liaison—with varying levels of success. Two property management team members spoke highly about relations with this institution. One discussed the support the police department consistently provided to their team during the pandemic, bringing them PPE supplies. The other discussed the collaborative process they were undergoing as they upgraded their security protocols on the premises. However, outside of these two examples others indicated that they wanted more from their partnerships with the city. They wanted more information/support to better understand and attempt to counter issues at their sites, such as car thefts, car break-ins, mail theft, domestic violence, youth violence, and drugs. One property manager went as far as saying:

In Brooklyn Park, they [city], specifically don’t communicate as closely as other cities. I used to work closely with the fourth precinct [Minneapolis]. And coming to Brooklyn Park, they don’t realize we’re partners. The police and property management should always work together, because we can connect the dots for each other. BP28

Overall, 75% of management team members indicated that they wanted more information and/or direct support from law enforcement to run their sites.

For residents, some saw the city as indifferent to their housing experiences. One saw it as a non-factor because their community was privately owned so the city could not interfere, but the majority wanted its support.

I feel like the city’s responsibility—I feel like the city should be aware of what’s going on. And if they haven’t seen any improvement or development in that apartment complex I feel like they should be able to take action and be like, “Okay, such and such apartment building hasn’t worked on this issue, residents are still complaining. So we’re going to go down there and if the management doesn’t fix it by this date of next week, then we’re going to take action and they’re going to have to pay for whatever.” The city needs to do something to show that they actually care about the residents! (BP02)

Increased transparency was desired to know when the city should intervene and who to reach out to within the government. In terms of their requests, they were broader than management’s concerns. Increased police involvement was discussed, but the central desire for city intervention regarded housing conditions and management relations. From project surveys, only three people had ever submitted complaints to the city regarding their housing. One individual indicated that it took over 45 days to resolve the problem and another indicated that it was resolved within one month. The third individual stated that a person from the city came to her apartment to “interview” her regarding mold in her bathroom, but did not enter her unit and did not support its remediation. Two residents had personal contacts within the police department. One had direct contact information for two patrol officers whom she met while living in Simpson Housing who periodically checked in on her. The other resident was in communication with various arms of law enforcement, including homicide detectives. She had direct contact information and seemed to speak with them regularly. The latter individual was also the only resident who discussed calling upon city housing authorities to respond to conditions in her apartment community.

If you’re in the right you can go into there [onsite office] and start fussing like me and say, “Hey, hold on. This is broken here, I need this done. I’m not going to keep on writing. I’m tired of asking y’all. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to call so and so over here at the Inspector’s and I’m going to have him to call you.” That’s what I had to do…You got to realize it doesn’t matter if a person owns a building. There’s still rules and regulations that are set in place for everyone. It doesn’t matter about you being the property owner. There’s are always code compliances. (BP06)

In general both property management team members and residents wanted increased contact with the city. However, for residents, their need begins with having a better understanding of when something moves outside of the realm of their apartment community—warranting external intervention. Following that information, they then need to know who to contact for support.


Corporate management was an entity in the ecosystem that property managers praised as providing training opportunities, funds for rehabs, and supporting community engagement initiatives on site. No property management team member spoke negatively in any way about their current management group. However, residents turned to corporate management much less frequently. They utilized it as a last resort for unmet maintenance requests, when they (or friends/family) felt dismissed by on-site office staff, and to address hazardous living conditions that they felt site management ignored. Moving outside of the ecosystem’s core got results, but also had negative consequences for residents.

They don’t have an answer for you. I mean, you call them with a concern and you want an answer and they’re like, “We’ll let the manager supervisor know and she’ll give you a call.” And then you never get that call. The only time I got a few things fixed in my apartment was when I wrote an email to the main office at central, letting them know like, “Hey, are you guys going to fix the bathroom there is mold? You guys going to fix the leak in my roof, it’s mold?” And I know my rights. So I went into the city, the city website, and got a few of the laws that they have, that they have listed and I added them to the email just so they know that I’m informed. And I got it fixed right away. I got an email, “No we changed management and we’re going to go and fix it.” But I mean, we shouldn’t have to go to that extreme, we should just call [site office], let them know, and they come fix it. (BP04)

I have to be honest with you there’s nothing good that I can say that they’re [onsite office staff] doing. They even have Spanish-speaking staff and yet they don’t care. They won’t help the person who needs help in their language. They’ll be like “Oh, well the supervisors don’t speak Spanish.” And then I go in with my cousin. She wanted to renew her contract again. And it took her almost a month to get in touch with someone that would help her do it. They increased her rent. They didn’t give her any reason. They were just like, “Well, new contract, new pay, new rent.” But when I went in to sign my contract, I don’t know if its because I complain a lot and they know me already because I’m always the one who is like, “Okay, if you’re not going to listen to my friend in Spanish, then I’m going to call the central office and do it in English for them.” And then they’ll call you and get things fixed. I don’t know if that’s because they know me already—that I complain a lot. They pay a bit more attention because of it. (BP04)

They do nice stuff, they do community stuff. They have things like cook-outs for people sometimes, they serve hotdogs and chips and stuff like that. They do some nice stuff. The management does. The only problem I ever have with them is when it comes to something that needs to be fixed. Then one time, the door that I go through to get to my apartment, I broke the key in there. I went to the office and asked them if they would fix the door. And one woman at the desk was like, “We can’t keep fixing the door every time people break it.” And I’m like, “What do you mean? That’s not fair to me. My bills are being paid.” You know what I’m saying? That should be fixed automatically. I know we’ve got people breaking it, but that’s not fair to me that I have to walk all the way around to the other side of the building just to go to my house. Then when she said that I was like, “All right.” (BP10)

I asked for the corporate manager. So I called the corporate manager and I explained how I felt. I said, “I’ve been living here for X amount of time and I have issues with my back and walking and this door has been broken for about two weeks. Nobody has been in to fix it. And this is what she said, she said, “Mr. BP10, I’m sorry about that. I’ll get back to you in a few minutes.” By the time she called me back, a half hour later, somebody was up here fixing that door, see what I’m saying? And then she called me back and she said, “If you have any more issues or problems, you should call me.” She was on top of it. But then when I go back into the office here, they feel some type of way about me, when I walk in there. Like I did that, a I went over their heads type of thing. I think, if that’s the way you feel, then that’s just the way you feel. That’s what a corporate manager is for. If other managers are not doing what they’re supposed to, then you go to a different person. I’m not going to sit there and argue with you. I went to another person. And I tell you, she called me back in 20 minutes and by the time I was there to check the lock, it was fixed. I shouldn’t have to go that far to get certain things fixed. That’s only one of the many issues. Other than that, everything is pretty cool about this place, it really is. (BP10)

In these examples residents are successfully asserting themselves. They had a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong and turned to corporate when they felt they were being unfairly dismissed. However, these individuals also shared the consequences of their activism. BP04, a Latina mother of two who has resided in her community for close to a decade, viewed her assertiveness as “complaining” and being a “problem.” During the interview, the CURA researcher who facilitated the interview made clear that they saw her approach as self-advocacy. Her sense of self will likely not be altered from a single interview process, and it was clear that she would continue to advocate for herself and others when needed. However, her engagement resulted in a harmful view of herself within management interactions. BP10, an elderly African-American man who lived alone, acknowledged a difference in office staff’s treatment toward him following this interaction. If needed, it seemed BP10 would contact corporate again, but later in the interview indicated that “going over their head” led to him avoiding the office when possible because of the negative treatment. His self-advocacy led to him avoiding an entity that should be a central complex resource for him.

Advocacy Groups

This was a local resource that not many discussed. One property management team member indicated intentional efforts to connect residents with local advocacy groups—specifically to access food or clothing. A few participating residents came to the project through outreach partnerships with two community groups: ACER and the Organization for Liberians in Minnesota (OLM). However, the large majority of participating residents were not connected to community resources though appreciated the knowledge shared during their interview by research team members so they could become connected. As the project regards housing experiences, HOME Line and ACER were the two local partners most readily introduced to project participants. Two residents, who were strong housing advocates in the city, indicated that many of the residents in their community who they partnered with had moved because of housing conditions, and it was difficult to get new residents—often younger residents—interested in organizing.

There is a group, a very small group who organizes. And there’s a lot of residents who have left because of the way things work here. They left because of the safety factors. Now when you pass out flyers and you say, “come out, let your voice be heard” and people don’t come out—what does that say? We can offer you resources to change, but we can’t make you change. And when people get set and comfortable, you know, it’s like, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix.” But its people like you [referring to interviewer] and other people who are out here advocating for fairness, but to some they figure “Hey, you don’t bother me. That’s fair enough.” (BP05)

Connecting with like-minded city residents or advocating for change in the midst of contexts where you do not feel heard or valued is frustrating. Residents like BP05 and their spouse invested energy in that process, advocating for themselves and their neighbors. Other project participants were grateful to learn about local resources, wanted to see change in their apartment communities, and/or wanted to be a part of that change. More seamless channels are needed to connect participants, like those we interviewed, with area groups and networks advocating for renter’s rights.

Dehumanization vs Empowerment

In the three previous themes, we described complaints that caused inconvenience or dissatisfaction for both residents and management teams in Brooklyn Park apartment communities. However, some of our participants described experiences that were far worse, with reckless disregard from apartment management, tenants, and Brooklyn Park city institutions leading to truly dehumanizing experiences. Most stark among women, low-income, Section 8, and Black, Hispanic, and/or Latino tenants, we heard stories of neglect, exploitation, and discrimination that left residents overwhelmed by feelings of fear, powerlessness, and degradation. Members of management teams echoed tenant frustrations in dehumanizing institutions that created cycles of mistreatment and struggle, leaving both residents and managers feeling trapped in unsafe situations.

Yet despite adversity, the resilient self-empowerment of our participants showed that these Brooklyn Park community members only lacked external support, not internal capability. It is critical to name both the dehumanization and empowerment of Brooklyn Park’s apartment residents to understand how to collaboratively build flourishing communities. This section will highlight the struggles and strengths of our participants, starting with stories of dehumanization but ending with examples of empowerment.

Mothers and Babies Living in Mold

A recurring complaint among tenants was unresolved water leaks and mold. Living with mold is a health hazard that can lead to myriad negative consequences.[151] For infants, early exposure to mold can potentially contribute to developing chronic illnesses like asthma.[152],[153] Failing to address mold shows negligence at any time, and failures across multiple years reveals a persistent reckless disregard for resident health, safety, and dignity. Living with unaddressed mold is degrading for any tenant, but it was utterly dehumanizing for two mothers who were forced to bring their newborn babies home to molding apartments.

BP14 is a Black 36-year-old single mother who has lived in the ZA4 apartment complex for over six years. She moved to Brooklyn Park from Saint Paul thanks to affordable options that brought her closer to her family, but she has always felt that because she is on Section 8, she is stuck with “bottom of the barrel” housing choices. The limited housing options available to BP14 meant that she had nowhere else to go even if her building’s management failed to address maintenance or health concerns under two consecutive management companies.

In the summer of 2018, BP14’s apartment flooded during a storm—”It rained in my apartment from the ceiling. My whole carpet was wet, my pictures on the wall were wet.” A flooded apartment is a nightmare at any time, but the timing made this a crisis for BP14. She was pregnant and scheduled to have labor induced within days, so if the wet and mold were not immediately addressed, it would be more than her health at risk—it would also be a risk to her newborn baby. Despite the hazards to her and her baby, management failed to make her apartment safe.

They did not change my carpet, they did not fix the ceiling. The only thing they did was dry it, try to dry it, and paint over it. … It was thundering and storming, and then the rain just made my carpet [so wet that] when you step on it you see water. Like swish swish, and they did not replace my carpet. …I remember running back to the office telling them, “He will be here soon, I’m going to get induced, you all have to hurry up and fix this!” …[But] they [the former management company] don’t care. [The current management company] doesn’t even care. They don’t care. (BP14)

BP14 brought her newborn son home to a damp, moldy, smelly apartment. The building management had used “big fans” to dry the worst of the wet, but they did not replace her carpet, move her to a different apartment within the complex, or give her money for a temporary stay at a hotel. Before the flooding, BP14 had wanted her home to be ready for her baby, so she and her brother had worked together to clean everything up in her apartment. The storm ruined all their work and left her apartment less safe than before.

Almost three years later, BP14 is still stuck at ZA4. A year ago a new management company bought ZA4, which theoretically could have marked a time of positive change. Yet for BP14, “nothing changed but the name” when ZA4 was sold. She would love to live somewhere else with her son, ideally in her own home in the suburbs. This dream is not financially possible for her right now. In her own words, “I feel like I’m trapped, and I feel like I’m a slave.”

Less than three years after BP14’s ordeal in 2018, another woman in ZA4, BP34, went through an almost identical experience. A Black 37-year-old mother, BP34 has now lived in ZA4 for two years, so approximately equal periods under the former and the current management. The first year her apartment was livable, but her situation degraded when the new management came in. Neglected leaks led to water damage and mold.

It’s nasty. There’s holes in the ceiling, water damage in the walls from the snow and the rain. There’s mold coming out the window sills. The windows don’t open really, which is a hazard because if there was a fire there was no way for us to get out if we can’t make it to the door. (BP34)

BP34 has put in requests to have these health hazards addressed, but the maintenance requests were always either ignored or “lost” in the system. Mold was one of a whole host of problems in BP34’s apartment that were only addressed after long delays, if maintenance got to them at all.

The fire alarm didn’t work, we put in an order for that. They never received it, so they say. Went without a refrigerator for three months. The stove wasn’t working. We literally had to turn on the iron just for the stove to heat up, and then we’ll smell gas in our apartment. The rugs basically hadn’t been cleaned, they smell like mold in there. (pause) It’s just a lot.

Interview: (sympathetically) No, I understand. And you were saying before that you put in requests to maintenance and they told you either they were lost in their system, is that what they said?

Yeah, first they said they had it, and then they said next minute it’s gone.

Interview: So does that mean they deleted it? Because they saw it.

(Tiredly) Yeah. (BP34)

These mold issues were not addressed, not even when BP34 had a baby in Spring 2021. BP34 was forced to leave her apartment and live with family, waiting for promised repairs to be made. Despite intervention from our team and community resources, the renovation completion date keeps being pushed out. In our interview, BP34 expressed distrust and despondence toward ZA4’s management. BP34 used the same words—”doesn’t care”—that BP14 used to describe the new company that had bought their shared AZ4 apartment community.

[ZA4’s current management company] doesn’t care. At all. …They’ve been there for a year. They don’t care about their tenants, the housing, the living situation, or the crime in the area. (BP34)

As of May 2021, our team is still working with BP34 to get her apartment repaired in partnership with community advocates (see ACER and HOME Line in External Resources). Millions of dollars have gone into renovations for the ZA4 complex in recent years, yet the shared experiences of BP14 in 2018 and BP34 in 2021 raise a frustrating question: If so much money has gone into ZA4, why did a mother in 2021 bring home her baby to the same molding negligence as in 2018?

Failing to address health hazards for mothers and babies shows a disregard for the fundamental human worth of residents like BP14 and BP34. This type of dehumanization could have long-lasting physical, respiratory, and psychological impacts on both mothers and their children.

Feces and Urine in the Halls

BP20 is a resilient Black 51-year-old mother who has lived at ZA4 for four years. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in her current building in Brooklyn Park for four years. A religious and motivated woman, BP20 has owned homes in the past, and she is working as a teacher to financially return to homeownership again. However, a series of misfortunes and financial hardships have left her feeling trapped in a place she hates.

It’s just all the hardships I go through. It’s like, I don’t know what the sign is. I’m trying to talk to God to see what’s going on. You know, “Why do you keep me trapped in this cage at these apartments?” (BP20)

As she bluntly puts it, her apartment building is “the ghetto, the slums.” BP20 also confirmed what we had heard from other participants in ZA4, that persistent feces and urine infests the public hallways. During our interview, she described having to clean animal feces from outside her door since cleaning staff did not.

And then sometimes people come out here, bring their animals out, and they poop everywhere. Then people tracked poop back in the building. So I have poop in front of the door. So I went to put baking soda and all kinds of stuff so I wouldn’t smell it, took one of my old mops, and tried to mash it in or whatever. Wiped it or whatever, then I threw it away. (BP20)

BP20 regularly dealt with more than animal excrement. In her apartment complex, she has had to learn to avoid human saliva, urine, and feces throughout public places. Her unflinching descriptions of the disgusting living conditions astonished our interviewer.

And I don’t like touching the handrails. I did that previously before, I came back with spit on my hand. So I’m like, “this place is just gross.” And then you have people that relieve themselves and their dogs in the hallways too, so—

Interviewer: (interrupting) —Wait. Urinate in the hallways?

And poop! Yeah! Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: (shocked) And poop?!

Yeah! Now, since they got all these cameras, I don’t know what they are watching for. Because you can’t see this? Because I smell it! (shaking head) So this is, oh my God, this is horrible. (BP20)

Beyond the obvious health hazards of uncleaned human or animal excrement in public places, these situations are utterly dehumanizing and show a reckless disregard for residents. BP20 knows she deserves better, and she doggedly advocates for herself at ZA4. Through persistent complaints to management, resilient efforts to improve her situation, and a foundation of prayer, she keeps hoping and striving. However, the compounding circumstances of a car accident caused by a 16-year-old driver hitting her, COVID-19 related job insecurity, and hits to her credit score mean she is currently trapped.

Trapped with Terror

BP05 and BP06 are a Black husband and wife who are parents and grandparents together. Originally from Chicago, they were both raised on community engagement and activism, fundamental values that they have carried with them their entire lives. The couple told stories together and finished each other’s sentences throughout their joint interview, exemplifying a strong partnership in their marriage.

The couple have lived in ZA4 for three years. Though BP05 and BP06 feel safe in their individual apartment, they described a terrifying lack of security in the wider apartment community. Between tenants propping doors, management failing to fix broken locks, and laundry rooms never having locks in the first place, people experiencing homelessness have easy access to the apartment building.

BP06: We had our laundry room doors open around here. We got people who come in these buildings at the back door here. They sleep in the hallway. Not only that, they sleep inside of the laundry room. We got children that go in there and literally have sex in the laundry rooms, because these doors are not closed at night. And that’s [just] one of the things that’s not secure. …They [people experiencing homelessness] made their bedroom out of that closet there. (gestures toward hall) I mean, you can smell the scent from the person, from the homeless guy, who used to come in the hallway. I had to literally get on them [management] and say, “Hey!” I take pictures. I sent them to the property manager. “Do you see this?” They had all kinds of stuff on the floors. You could see nail polish. They had all kinds of stuff in there. It was a bedroom!

Interviewer: Somebody was living there.

BP06: And not only this! I’m going to tell you how bold they were: They would put their shoes outside the door if they took their shoes off!

BP05: (laughs in exasperation while nodding helplessly in agreement) …One day we went in there, and they weren’t there, but their shoes were at the door!

The easy access of strangers has left the couple feeling anxious for children and female cleaning staff in the community, especially after a recent terrifying experience.

BP06: Because we have children, we have babies that come through these hallways. And if I see them by themselves, I say, “Where’s your mom? You need to go and find your mom.” Because we have people literally, like, we had one guy, a couple months ago, actually was trying to rape one of the building cleaners.

BP05: (nodding solemnly) Yeah.

BP06: He tried to snatch her in one of the laundry rooms.

BP05: (in agreement) In one of the rooms.

BP06: This laundry, this room right here (pointing behind herself) is always open. It’s unlocked right now, as I speak! I can go there right now and literally show you on the phone that it’s open.

The couple later explained that the police were called in, but the attacker was able to escape out a separate door. Despite this entire terrifying incident, there were no visible efforts on the side of management to improve safety.

Interviewer: From [ZA4’s management’s] standpoint, from what you just shared they knew that this happened, but they still haven’t done anything to shore up those doors?

BP06: (shaking head firmly) No. 

Interviewer: Put on more secure doors? Lock the doors?

BP06: (shaking head) Nothing. Nothing.

Interviewer:[ZA4’s management] have not even increased safety and after that attack happened? 

BP06: No. Because let me tell you something: The security guards that they have around here are only like two or three security guards. This is an [indicate complex size] unit! That’s not gonna be enough. There’s not enough security around here.

Interviewer: Are your security guards 24/7 or did they cut off at a certain time? 

BP06: It’s 24/7, but by the time you make it around here or the police come, they’re gone [the attackers/threats are gone].

The severity of this incident and the absence of immediate action shows a reckless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of both residents and staff. The story of this attempted rape was one of the most extreme that was shared with us, but this incident reflected broadly expressed frustrations with internal security. Many residents across multiple apartment communities expressed frustration that cameras and security in the buildings where they lived was far inferior to the external security measures outside of the buildings. Consistently these residents wanted their safety in their homes and living spaces to match the external appearance of safety.

Danger does not always come from strangers, it can come from within the community itself. That was the case for BP11 and the other Liberians in her apartment building, ZA8. In many ways, the 76-year-old West African grandmother and her husband were living in their ideal housing situation. BP11’s husband has chronic health conditions that impact his quality of life, but ZA8’s accommodations and staff responsiveness allow them to live comfortable, self-empowered lives together. However, at the time of our interview there had been a recent source of terror from within her apartment community against Liberians that was yet to be resolved.

Yeah, we have a tenant here who—I think he’s an American?—and he met one of the Liberian ladies in the elevator. And he told her, “I just want to let you Black people know that I’m gonna start killing you guys.” (pauses, rubs hands together in a self-comforting gesture) And she said, “Why?” He said, “Because white people are on the streets homeless, and you people from Africa are living in apartments in this building.” And so, she got afraid. She told us and we told her to call the police. And so she called the police. The police did come and [because] there was [only] one apartment between them [the Liberian woman and the man who threatened her] she could hear them talking. According to her—I wasn’t there—she heard the police asking him, and he said, “Yes. Don’t you see those Black people here? I mean, how can they be living in buildings when white people are on the street homeless? So yes, I’m going to kill them one by one.” (tongue click) And so the police made a report, and, and they brought it to management. We’re still waiting to hear from management, what are they going to do. He still lives here. That’s our fear, because some of these people do these things. And then they will later make a problem [face consequences]. Making problems [facing consequences] doesn’t bring back a dead person! So, that’s our fear. But you know we are people of faith. We say our prayers, and we believe that God will make a way. But still we—we are in fear. (BP11)

Though this example of white supremacist terroristic threats was extreme, multiple tenants and managers expressed frustration at barriers to evicting potentially dangerous residents. One manager, BP25 of W2, explained that evicting someone based on missed rent was easy, but trying to evict a person based on alleged violence, domestic altercations, or even police records was far more difficult. These barriers were amplified by policies during COVID-19 that prevented evictions, with multiple participants beyond BP11 expressing fear and helplessness from the inability to escape frightening neighbors.

A recurring theme from residents was the feeling that police and management passed blame when it came to security, creating unsafe situations for the residents trapped in between. BP04, a 38-year-old Latin mother, has lived in W3 with her daughters for seven years. In recent years she has felt less and less satisfaction with W3’s management, especially after a frightening incident that threatened the safety of her daughters.

I was coming from work and [my daughters] called me and they’re like, “Someone is trying to come in. We can hear them trying to get the lock in.” So I call the complex and they’re like, “No, you should call the police.” I’m like, “They’re inside the building! It’s your responsibility too! You say you have security, you should send someone right away! Or, maintenance! They’re always driving around checking apartments, so they should be able to at least walk in.” It was like, “Oh someone is coming in. I have to go.” But nope, they just said, “Call the police.” (BP04)

Even when her daughters were in immediate danger and unable to wait for police, management would not take basic actions to protect their safety. BP04 had to coach her daughters through turning up the TV volume and pretending adults were in the house to scare the man off until BP04 could get home. When an immediate threat is within the building itself, especially when children are at risk, “Call the police” should not be the only response from management.

BP03, a White 31-year-old single mother who lives in W1, has experienced the helplessness and frustration of hearing “Call the police” from management and “It’s up to management” from the police. A male neighbor repeatedly harassed her until BP03 feared for the safety of herself and her young daughter, yet no matter which authority she turned to, her fears went unresolved.

I kinda was forced to file a police report. (grimaces) And the police took it, and they were really nice, and they talked to me and gave me some advice that, “Okay, try this, or try that.” But the police even said, “It’s up to your property management at this point,” and then the police said, “And we know your property management [at W1]. So it’s probably not going to go far.” So even the police know that it’s not going to be received well because [W1’s management] just don’t care.

Interviewer: Wow. (incredulous, sympathetic) If you don’t mind sharing? So, something happened within the community you filed a police report with the city, but the city—Why did the city say that for something to happen, it would have to be on your property managers?

Because I don’t think the police can evict people. …So basically, I had a safety issue. I’m like, “I don’t feel safe.” “Okay, we’re going to put that on the police report. You know, make sure you tell your property management company.” And then he said, “Well, you know, that probably won’t go far.” And I was like, (eye roll, frustrated) great. And so that’s why they gave me other coping mechanisms to try to figure it out or to get past it. But then he literally said, “The property management company is the one that’s going to have to do it. And also because of COVID, like no one’s really getting evicted right now.” …I know I’m going to reach out to HOME Line to see what that is for me. But (long inhale) that’s kind of about it. (BP03)

Since she could not turn to the police, BP03’s only hope was her management. Their inaction in her situation left her feeling desperate and outraged, like she was only viewed as a recurring rent check instead of a human being.

It’s—it’s crazy because the last couple months, it’s been really rough for me where I live and—(emotional pause, looks away from camera)—just literally two days ago, we were back at the police station. And I brought my dad with me [to go] over the same situation. Another incident had occurred, which is why we were there, but then my dad was talking about this whole situation in general. And the cop said, “Yeah, we just get that a lot from these huge, large complexes. There’s good people and there’s bad people.” He was like, “And the property managers just don’t care.” And that’s why I was having this conversation with my dad, and I said I think a lot of people just look at it like, “Oh, well, this is an apartment that pays rent. So it’s coming. So we don’t care as long as we get our money! There’s no reason to like to reach out!” And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s like, yeah, but you have people who are scared to live in this apartment building! And you don’t care! You’re not doing anything to fix that. Because you just want your money. And that’s just like a yucky feeling. (BP03)

Discrimination Based on Race and Class

Both tenants and managers of color have experienced racism from residents, building management, and Brooklyn Park City institutions like the police. BP29, a Black 39-year-old manager at ZA1, faced barriers due to her race. Though relatively new to property management, she has rich experience as a social worker translating trauma-informed practices into real-world services. She always tries “to meet them [tenants] where they are” and “to work with the tenants and not against the tenants.” Yet she is cognizant that she has faced pushback and barriers based on her race from people who are “set in their ways.

In some management teams, the prejudice of those who are “set in their ways” can be so bad that it drives people of color away. Even tenants can easily perceive this trend. BP16, who is a Black 46-year-old mother who fled New Brighton for the diversity of the Brooklyns almost twenty years ago, was totally unsurprised when a Black man lasted less than a month in the mostly white office in W3, the apartment where she lives.

It was a Black guy working in the rental office. And I was like, (side eye) “Oh, OK.” I said, “You’re in there with all those women?” And he goes, “Yeah.” I go, “Huh.” I said “Okay,” Within a couple weeks of that he had ended up quitting. But I already knew that was going to happen anyway, I just didn’t say anything because it wasn’t my place. The people, some of the people who are in the office, are really shady. I’m just gonna put it like that. They are really effing shady. (BP29)

BP16 was not the only Black tenant to notice racism impacting management staff. BP10, a Black 50-year-old grandfather who lives at W1, saw racism in the hiring practices at his apartment. He was hesitant to use the term “racist,” as his bar for racism was set by his mother’s experiences from the deep south. However, he was disturbed by the obvious lack of diversity in his building’s staff.

I don’t even really consider myself African-American—I’m a person. But the thing is I’m Black, put it that way, in the eyes of the other people. The thing I don’t like about that is, like certain jobs and stuff around here, which I don’t have anything against anybody, because I’m originally from New Jersey, so I never witnessed racism really. My mom probably did because she was born in the South, but anyway one thing that bothers me, most of the people that work, that’s doing these little extra jobs and stuff, and the people at the office, I think there’s one African-American woman [who] works over there. And all the maintenance, there’s no African-American people and the people that help clean up, there’s no African-Americans. I feel some type of way about that. … I feel like it’s not fair. Because a lot of times, you would see different people all the time, new people working at the office. There’s one [Black] girl that’s been there since I’ve been here. …[Staff are] mostly white. …And the jobs that the African-American people do are at the front desk. All the people that got the job of importance, that they can make the career a little better, I don’t really feel they’re [Black people] getting a fair chance. (BP16)

Each of these three examples occurred in three separate apartment buildings, but the result was the same: racism leaving people of color feeling dehumanized and devalued. For two of our participants, dehumanizing experiences of racism included the Brooklyn Park police. BP02, a Black 21-year-old woman who lives at ZA5, stated succinctly that, “As a Black female, I don’t feel comfortable with the police.” B14, the mother from the beginning of this section who had to deal with mold in her ZA4 apartment, went into more depth about her bad experiences with Brooklyn Park police as a Black woman.

I don’t think that all police are racist, but I’ll be damn sure I think the ones in Brooklyn Park are. I sit and I watch out of my window all the time. I watch them pull people over, I watch them harass black and white couples. If it’s a black man with a white girl, they get him out the car, sit them on the curb. They don’t have anything. They’ll be in handcuffs and everything, and they end up letting them go. I remember a cop flashed his lights at me because I’m standing in the window, I’m looking out [and] he sees me using my cell phone, he flashed a light on me. [But] I can watch because I’m concerned! (BP14)

BP19 is a Black 56-year-old woman who came to Brooklyn Park to be near her daughter and grandson. She is a confident woman who is always ready to form positive relationships with neighbors and management, but she is also completely unwilling to tolerate mistreatment or disrespect. After three years at W1, her current apartment, she is ready to get out and away from the condescending contempt of her building’s corporate management.

When management—no, I shouldn’t say management. Because me and [my building’s manager] get along fine. When a corporation tells you that “It’s affordable, and because you are low income, and just accept it the way it is,” even if you complain? (shakes head vigorously) I don’t—That’s unacceptable to me. …When I called her [the corporate manager] and I talked to her about an issue. And she was like, “But it’s affordable!” And, in other words, what you’re telling me is because my skin color is Black, and because I’m, because I’m either low income or I have Section Eight, then I have to accept whatever issues that go on out here in this complex? And, no, I don’t! I have, I should be able to express myself and live respectfully if I respect everybody else! (BP19)

This dismissiveness was directed at numerous issues, ranging from maintenance issues to security. It left BP19 feeling despondent and discarded, not a member of a community but as a dehumanized form of income.

Corporate ain’t never gotta worry about me calling them ever again. Now them? (shakes head, expression of anger and hurt) To talk to whoever runs this building? She is, I consider her as racist, and prejudiced. She won’t have to worry about me calling her ever again and saying anything. Because if, if my thing is, if I’m worried about my safety and I’m worried about helping you guys maintain [security] after all the work that you guys don’t put in there? And you don’t care? Then guess what, let me step back, because I don’t care.” (BP19)

Individual, Interpersonal, Community, and Institutional Empowerment

This section described unjust dehumanization, yet our participants always shone through with resilient empowerment. The City of Brooklyn Park is full of love, vibrancy, and hope. Individual drive, family ties, diverse communities, and human compassion reveal the strength of our participants’ spirits. At individual, interpersonal, community, and institutional levels, Brooklyn Park residents and management teams practiced empowerment for themselves and their neighbors.


Some forms of self-empowerment are simple and straightforward, like investing in apartment home security and personalized decorations. Some residents feel frustration that they need to put extra money into their rental homes, but people like BP19 and the married couple of BP05 and BP06 take pride in the mentality of home ownership that they have brought to their rental apartments.

The personal pride in their physical living spaces is reflected in the self-advocacy each of these Brooklyn Park residents practices. All are tireless advocates for themselves against inaction, negligence, or discrimination from their respective management organizations. For example, when BP05’s and BP06’s individual apartment doors were not staying shut and maintenance continually delayed, they kept up the pressure on maintenance for weeks until their door was finally replaced.

BP06: The doors are so unsafe around here, you literally could just take some of the doors and (gestures yanking a door open). Our door used to be like that! If you gave it one good kick, it was open! And I told them, “No. You’re going to fix this door. I don’t care [what your excuse is].” One of the maintenance guys said “[Would] you like one of the [locks] off of one of the other apartments?” I said, “No!” I said, “I’ve been here almost three years! I need you to go out and buy me one that’s really good, and I need you to buy me…” 

BP05 and BP06 together: “…a brand new door!”

BP06: (nodding) Don’t come bringing me hand-me-down stuff that comes out of somebody else’s apartment!

BP05 and BP06 know what management’s responsibilities are, so they are resilient in self-advocacy. They also proactively communicate with and advocate on behalf of other members of their community, particularly elders at ZA4. They do not plan to stay at ZA4 forever and call it a “pit stop,” but they intend to leave a positive legacy behind themselves.


Family was brought up again and again as a reason why participants made Brooklyn Park their home. When serious adversity burdened participants, family members were sometimes the most important support in getting back on their feet. This was certainly the case for BP34, who left the mold spores and health hazards of ZA4 to live with the safety of her family. Thanks to this generosity, she had a safe place to stay during the ongoing ordeal of her apartment repairs. Indeed, many parent and grandparent participants spoke about how important extended family was to raising children and grandchildren.

Emotional support was another critical form of familial empowerment. As BP03 navigated police reports and negotiated with management all while trying to protect herself and her young daughter from a harasser, she had the love and reinforcement of her father. Family was one of the key reasons she came to Brooklyn Park in the first place, a sentiment shared by many. The value of Brooklyn Park as a family-oriented city cannot be overstated.


Another recurring source of comfort and support for immigrants and people of color we interviewed was “diversity security,” the feeling of belonging and security that comes from being with people who share your cultural or ethnic background. Many participants talked about Brooklyn Park’s diverse communities as a key draw to moving here, speaking with open gratitude about how everything from the people to the ethnic grocery stores made them feel at home.

Participants like BP11 and BP04 gave as much back to their communities as they received. As well-connected members of their respective Liberian and Latino communities, they proactively provide linguistic services, reading, explanation, and advocacy for friends and neighbors who have less English fluency. Both women served as informal resources for their communities, with BP04 advocating with management on behalf of Spanish-speaking community members and BP11 serving as a trusted ally in the face of white supremacist threats of violence. The bonds of cultural identity that unite individuals into these communities is a force of loving empowerment.


Management teams showed creativity and dedication in pursuing institutional empowerment for themselves and their residents. BP23 sees community-building as a core part of her job as a property manager, promoting community empowerment by building “neighborhoods” out of “apartments.”

I’m the smiling face in the office. Usually my door is open. I’m willing to help! I’m telling people if you’re behind on your rent, please come talk to me. Don’t hide from me because I’m here to help. I can try to help you find resources. Instead of being that manager, I’m more of the person in the office that you can come to if you need help. And I’ll be honest with you. In all the other places I lived [where I worked], that’s how I built a community within my properties. They start watching out for each other instead of just themselves. And they start coming to me with more. They’re feeling more comfortable coming to me to build that property dynamic. So that it’s not just me renting a unit, it’s me renting the whole community and being part of a community. A neighborhood versus just an apartment. (BP23)

BP29 has the same humanizing lens as BP23 from her background in social services. When approaching tenant relationships, BP29 brings trauma-informed practices to her work as a property manager. She aims to “meet each individual where they are,” always remembering the humanity of her residents and to “work with the tenants and not against the tenants.” If a resident comes to her struggling to get food, clothes, or any other necessity, she connects them to organizations that can get them what they need.

Hennepin County always sends us emails about funding available for the residents that are struggling behind. I provide those resources. I also got some resources from different churches right here, because I’ve been in the neighborhood, so I utilize some of the human services resources in Brooklyn Park as well. (BP29)

By building these humanizing practices into the institutions of their apartment management teams, people like BP23 and BP29 empower and strengthen their communities. What they do is not revolutionary, but the impacts are powerful.

Access to External Resources

Management teams and residents have received different types of community resources to support their living and working needs in the city’s large apartment communities. However, in some areas, more options are needed—particularly regarding safety and security. A lack of educational training has caused residents to not know their rights, appropriate solutions, and available resources regarding rental issues. Comparatively, management teams have access to much richer educational training resources regarding property management and housing issues, either from their management companies or from external resources. Project participants made clear a need for enhanced competency regarding safety and security, communication, and engagement.

External Resources for Management Teams

Management team members communicated that what they need most is support from the city for safety and security needs. Some property managers indicated that they benefited from good communication with the city (i.e., engagement with police officers, the police liaisons, and the fire department), while others experienced obstacles when attempting to consistently engage. In the latter cases, property management team members indicated insufficient communication regarding community issues and happenings as well as inaction by the police to occurrences at the apartment communities.

Positive experiences with the city

Those who had positive experiences with the city said that the departments and personnel they interacted with provided necessary and effective support for management teams when safety issues were involved. BP23 and BP29 spoke glowingly about their engagement with local police officers:

The police officers themselves have been really, really great. (BP23)

A good thing I do like about Brooklyn Park—Brooklyn Park police are very active and very aware of [the apartment complex]. (BP29)

Moreover, some police maintained a healthy interaction with management teams in their daily work, providing them with pertinent community information, updates on resources, and safety guidance. The trust between police and management teams were often established through daily trivial matters, as a property manager said: “Having the police officer liaison is helpful,” although their presence was reduced during COVID, “It’s nice to have somebody to reach out to and I don’t need to call 911—this is not a 911 issue; this is not an emergency issue, not even a non-emergency issue—more just a question. That’s nice to have that go-to contact (BP27).” Similar comments came from BP24, who received personal protective equipment (PPE) from liaisons during COVID and had them show up for community events:

Our police liaisons are so engaging. They contact, they reach out to staff. I mean, I don’t know how many times they’ve dropped off boxes of masks since the pandemic started, but it’s little stuff like that. And then our National Night-Out—of course, we didn’t host last year. A year before, they were out there with us. We had a construction kickoff. They were out there with us. (BP24)

Sometimes, the information and help the city actively delivers to management teams can enhance cooperation between the two parties.

I think we have made huge strides with our relationship with the city, and I feel that we work quite cohesively with them and that we are able to not let things drag out or if a tenant has an issue that becomes so significant to them… I think he [another management team member] has really good rapport with the city and often, if something escalates to the city, he’s already well aware of it or we’re pretty diligent and [the city officers] saying like, ‘Hey, this may be coming your way, just a heads up;” “Let’s see what we can do here to take care of that.”… I think we also have a great relationship with the police department, the fire department, those types of things, which I think are critical. (BP27)

Not enough support from the city

Feeling like you’re operating on an island—was the sentiment shared by management team members who felt they lacked resources and support from the city. Some rooted this sentiment in favoritism by city staff or the strength of past personal relationships—rather than a standard operating practice. As BP26 mentioned, a security guard and former police officer, city personnel they were acquainted with were very active in helping him, while those who had no idea who he was often behaved indifferently towards him and showed little concern for his needs and questions. This reality was also reflected in the different experiences of BP23 and BP27. During BP23’s first year working in the city, she could only obtain information on safety issues in the community from complex residents. BP23 shared that they did not receive any notifications from the city, let alone information on safety concerns or approaches. BP22 echoed it in the focus groups as she said:

[The crowd of youth] started growing, like there was something moving around the property and we didn’t know what it was, until we caught them on camera… The communication between the city and property managers definitely needs to be worked on. They need to let us know what’s going on out there before it comes to our property. (BP22)

While for BP27, a property manager with over five years of working experience in the city, she not only received notifications but also suggestions for help from the city (see direct quote above). In fact, from the managers’ interviews, the apartment complex overseen by BP23 had more security issues than that managed by BP27. In addition to the lack of resources from the city, BP23 suffered poor treatment and disregard when attempting to receive the aid of 911 operators:

From within the city, I have not seen the support that I thought I would see here. I do have a liaison. I met that liaison once and that was the first two weeks I was here. I haven’t heard from that liaison since. We’re told by the police department that whenever we have any type of thing going on here, call 911, call 911, which we do. So, we have a lot of problems with one building that people like to hang out at, they don’t live here. We’ll look at the cameras and we’ll call the police. And literally, 911 operators would go, ‘Oh, [the apartment complex’s name] again!?’ It’s very frustrating. They’re sick of hearing from us. (BP23)

Fortunately, BP23 had positive support from police officers when they showed up at her site. While for BP24, she shared experiences that were contrary to BP23’s. Her liaisons were very engaging, but she was worried about the manpower of the police department in the city:

The police are spread pretty thin, I think. I just don’t know if they have the ability to respond to everything they need to respond to. (BP24)

BP28’s experiences confirmed this concern. On the one hand, they agreed that a large number of criminal activities had stretched the police force; but on the other hand, the protests and racial reckoning in response to violent law enforcement practices (particularly in the Twin Cities metro area) made them hesitate to seriously respond to issues in the city’s apartment communities. BP28 described police officers’ standing by and inaction increased the management teams’ worries.

The police, I think, need to be a little more on board with property management. And I’m not saying that they don’t respond because they do. But when they get there, I think they don’t really know what to do, and I think part of it is from everything that happened over the last year. They’re feeling a little bit tired and scared to do their jobs… I was trying to protect the property, but theyall they can do is walk away. They can’t do anything. So that hurts us… I said to one of the police a couple of months ago. I said, “they [crowds of youth]’re over here across the street at the little strip mall, engaging in illicit behavior in front of you, and you guys are looking the other way.” And he said, ‘We know they’re there. If they are there, we know they’re not at your place.”… It’s just sad. I wish there was something that they could do. (BP28)

The request for effective solutions toward the crowds of youth

For management teams, the most troublesome issue is youth crimes in this area. It is also the place where they most need but lack effective interventions and resources. BP28 had a positive experience when dealing with the problems generated by crowds of youth; however, these successes were experienced when managing an apartment community in another city. They started a program that began within the apartment community directed at youth who violated apartment policies, participated in illicit activities, or made trouble in the community. The program grew to include a mentoring program, gave youth the opportunity to determine ways they wanted to re-invest in their apartment community (i.e., participate in fundraising events, create programming for younger kids, help with groundskeeping), and connected with area nonprofits and civic leaders. “It made a difference and that was really cool,” said BP28. However, in Brooklyn Park, she said:

I probably wouldn’t have the resources here like I did there. I just don’t know if I could reach these kids who don’t live here. So, that’s my problem. But if Brooklyn Park on a larger scale could do something like that [construct something like the former programming] it could make a major difference. (BP28)

Rec on the Go was a city program that some management teams discussed using to connect youth residents with leisure time activities. However, to best connect young people with area resources, BP22 indicated that connections had to be formed with families (specifically their parents) “if we don’t get to know them by name, by who is their mom, then there’s no way of keeping control over issues with youth behavior.” Management teams tried to leverage nonprofit resources to cope with this issue. Some successfully connected with community groups; while others experienced more obstacles and could have been aided by the city’s involvement:

I had a partnership with the [Omega Psi Phi] fraternity. We partnered with them and they started trying to lead these young boys and young girls, but it was mainly the boys that were leading things to do. I worked with a few of them pretty closely and then I started working with Summit Academy and we just had a great thing going. It was going so well, and then we started even getting the army involved. (BP28)

[We] should definitely focus more on the Blue Shirts. So, there’s a program out there. That’s called Blue Shirts. It focuses on these youth, which is a small program, and we discussed this with our officer, “How do we bring this program in here and take control of this situation?” And it didn’t go anywhere. It didn’t go. Well, they never picked up their presence here. But I did research on them and we tried to have them come here. But maybe it’s smaller, they don’t have the funds. (BP22)

Residents’ Experience with External Resources

Residents living in these apartment complexes are mostly low-income households that need a larger scope of external resources from the community to support their daily lives. To this point, there are different types of organizations and programs in the community that can provide them with various resources. However, sometimes external resources, especially those related to safety and security, may not effectively meet their needs—either because residents lack knowledge regarding the existing resources or limitations on the providers’ part.

Residents’ experience with external resources supporting their daily lives

Some residents indicated that they received community resources and services to support housing options, solve issues when they felt property management had done something wrong, pay rent in an emergency situation, and cope with other daily-life difficulties. Most of their experiences with these resources were pleasant, although sometimes some services were not provided in a timely manner. For example, BP33 mentioned that when she contacted the African Career, Education, and Resource Inc. (ACER), the staff could not help her solve the problem in a timely manner as expected. She thought that the staff might be busy with other cases. However, she still trusted ACER and would like to reach out again for the help.

Table 1. Different types of community resources that have supported residents’ lives

Types of Resources


Tenants’ Experiences

Identify housing options

PPL Cabrini Partnership, Simpson Housing

They [Simpson Housing] were just really like a family! They helped us in that Section Eight housing program to get an apartment in Brooklyn Park and they gave us a lot of resources. They helped me out with getting a backpack and school stuff. They were like, “If you ever need help, we’re here.” They even helped us pay a portion of our rent! (BP02)

When Cabrini came, I told him I didn’t want the GRH program because I wanted to work. That’s what I used to do. I [have been] working since I was 16, and I’m 47. I want to work. And so, “Well, we got a housing thing. It’s called Cube where people want to be independent on their own and want to go back to work.” (BP33)

Issues regarding tenant rights/legal service

ACER, HOME Line, lawyers (through the personal network)

I haven’t gotten any other [options]. I know I’m [gonna] reach out to HOME Line to see what that is for me. (BP03)

I think I did talk to her [ACER’s staff] in the very beginning, and I think she got really busy. But I would really like to reconnect with her. (BP33)

Keith is a Muslim, but Keith’s mama used to go to Brian Harris’ Church and Brian Harris is my granddaughter’s godfather. And so, we knew Keith. We knew Keith Ellison when he was a Hennepin County public defender and a lawyer. (BP36)

Rent payment support

The funding from the county and the city, Section 8 Housing Program, Mary Jo, CEAP

Since COVID, I’ve had help with rent payments… I think I got help from the city. And I think the other one was from the state. (BP13)

Mary Jo helped me one time when I got far behind [with rent payment]. She paid to help me, and put me up. (BP17)

Other services for daily life

Food Shelf, churches, Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMS), African American Family Services, United Way 211

ARMS is a program with mental health, and they help you come up with some living goals and help you accomplish them. (BP01)

When I first moved here, I was referred to African American Family Services and they helped me. I got furniture and that kind of stuff because we didn’t have any of that. (BP13)

Note: The information included in this table comes from the narrative analysis of interviews. There may be other resources residents used that were not mentioned in the interviews.

Not enough support from the City and the Brooklyn Park police

Do you feel comfortable reaching out to the city with any unresolved issues from within your apartment community?
Do you feel comfortable reaching out to the city with any unresolved issues from within your apartment community?

When asked “Do you feel comfortable reaching out to the city with any unresolved issues from within your apartment community?” —56% (15 out of 27) answered “Yes,” 37% (10) of respondents felt uncomfortable reaching out to the city, and 7% (2) said that it depended on the situation and who the officer was. Among those who held a positive attitude, two respondents said that it took more than a month for the city to deal with the issues and one indicated that even feeling comfortable, he/she was not confident that this approach would help resolve the problem successfully. Among respondents who held a negative attitude, five lacked knowledge about who to contact and what the city could do and two had concerns about racial inequity.

Residents’ negative experiences with external resources usually came from interactions with the Brooklyn Park police. When a crime is discovered or experienced, calling the police is a very normal choice. However, only 18% (5 out of 28) of participating residents expressed positive attitudes and showed trust toward the Brooklyn Park police. The police who brought residents a sense of security were usually patient and caring and showed up fast for issues. Many residents shared that they did not trust the Brooklyn Park police because they had encountered negative policing practices—that spoke to inactivity and in some cases racism. Some residents were hesitant to call upon the police because they feared the interaction would penalize their housing.


Table 2. A comparison between residents’ positive and negative encounters with Brooklyn Park police.

The positive experience led to trust in police

The negative experience led to distrust in police

The police took it [a filed police report] and they’re really nice, and they talked to me, and gave me some advice like, “Okay, try this, or try that.” (BP03)

If anything happens, the police are really prompt, they come right away. We haven’t had an issue where we were not attended. (BP11)

They do listen. (BP12)

Certain police, ones that really care, like police come in here and see that the door is prompted open. That they can just walk in. They’ll say, “Uh-uh (negatively), that ain’t safe.” They smell the weed, and there are certain ones that’ll write down and report that. (BP17)

The police do more work than the security that they hired. Police sometimes walk our buildings. (BP34)

I don’t think that all police are racist, but I’ll be damn sure the ones in Brooklyn Park are. I sit and I watch out of my window all the time. I watch them pull people over. I watch them harass black and white couples. If it’s a black man with a white girl, they get him out the car, sit them on the curb. They don’t have anything. They’ll be in handcuffs and everything, and they end up letting them go. I remember a cop flashed his lights at me because I’m standing in the window. I’m looking out and he sees me using my cell phone.

I was looking out my brother’s window. Police had pulled up on this guy, a big guy, and they said, “Hey, you fit our description.” So they searched for him. They found a crack and a crack pipe. The officer told him, “You’re not the guy we’re looking for,” and they gave him his crack pipe back! They said, “He doesn’t have enough.” You’re not the guy we’re looking for because you don’t have a lot. You’re not going to make a good arrest for us. (BP14)


The police, they come when they want to, or they come too slow. When my place got broken into, my boyfriend said one of the police came out here, and just looked around and left. “Well, here’s my card. Get in touch with me.” My boyfriend told me they didn’t take any pictures. There was no picture taken. The officer said nothing. He didn’t knock on any neighbor’s doors, nothing.

I called the police. I was like, “My house got broken into last week and one of the robbers is still here.” They said, “Okay, can I get a license plate?” I’m gonna transfer you over to the detective that’s working on that.” I said, “I don’t want a detective. I want a police officer out here to arrest him. So I gave them my license plate number. I said, “Are you sending somebody?” They said: “We got to see. There’s no one in the area right now.” I was furious. Are you freaking for real? Police officers never showed up. (BP33)


[Participant was attacked by a former partner. Called police during the attack] “They [the police] took forever to get here. It took at least 30 minutes. I was really so upset. It took at least 30 minutes, I know that. That was horrible. I could have been dead. I didn’t like that. While I was on the call with 911, when I was even on the call, the person was hitting me in my face and stuff, and they still wanted me to answer questions, and I’m like, “Just get here, just get here!” (BP37)


As a black female, I don’t feel comfortable with the police. I only have two police officers that I trust that I built a relationship with when I was at my old complex. I don’t feel comfortable with the police after stuff that’s happening. I don’t feel comfortable with them coming through the apartment because they like to take a particular course of action—I don’t feel comfortable with the police. (BP02)

Is there a penalty, in your opinion, for calling the police or having the police called to your residence?
Is there a penalty, in your opinion, for calling the police or having the police called to your residence?

For BP02, the two police officers that they built a solid relationship with are from her previous neighborhood in Brooklyn Park. She kept in touch with them because she trusted them more than the officers in her current neighborhood. According to BP02, the two police officers had a community-oriented working style and maintained a good relationship with residents. They would deliver gifts to residents during the holidays, such as Christmas; they connected residents with needed community resources; she felt they made people feel taken care of.

I have their (the officers) cell phone numbers and they usually text me like, “How are you doing?” “How is school going?” “Is your family okay?” “Do you need anything?” “If you ever need anything just keep in contact with us.”… So, I have constant communication with them. But the officers around here (current apartment community) just go in, fix the situation. Their approach is more so “Let’s just get the people out, and we don’t even want to meet the residents to ask them what they think or feel.” (BP02)

Responses to the survey question “Is there a penalty, in your opinion, for calling the police or having the police called to your residence?” showed participating residents’ concern involving the police in safety issues. In total, only 41% (11) of residents answered “no” to this question. Among 27 respondents, 33% (9) of respondents explicitly answered “yes,” believing that there would be a penalty; 15% (4) of respondents felt “uncomfortable calling police;” another three tenants said it depended on the situation, such as the lease contract, indicating the possibility of a penalty. From their perspective:

“Management office keeps tabs on how many times the police are called to your apartment.”


“[Tenant] received a warning and was told the next time you would get a penalty.”


“If you call multiple times it’s recorded and you will be evicted.”


Residents’ lack of information regarding helpful resources

Apart from negative experiences, another problem with external resources is that many residents lack knowledge of the existence of these resources, in particular with rental rights and legal issues. When encountering such problems, residents who had connections with housing workers (25% [7] of residents had connections with housing programs) turned to them for help. Housing workers could not solve all problems posed to them by their clients, and residents shared that the most severe problems often remained unresolved. According to a property manager, the management team members should provide information regarding external resources for residents upon their arrival:

They [management] provide all the information as far as a maintenance emergency after office hours. We let them know who to contact If for some reason there is a non-emergency, we tell them this is the other number that you can contact or email. We provide other resources as well, whether it’s with the community center, whether it’s ACER, whether its Food Shelves, the grocery store, the bank... We provide information that residents need, and what is available for them in the community that they live in. (BP30)

Three residents living in the apartment complex managed by BP30 showed their lack of knowledge of ACER and HOME Line in their interviews. BP08 was driven crazy by severe mold and water damage in her unit and BP09 was plagued by poor maintenance and assessed a substantial bill for water damage believed to be caused by a burst pipe. The maintenance issues dragged on for months. When the researcher asked them whether they reached out to ACER or HOME Line for help, neither of them recognized these organizations nor were familiar with the services they provided. The same situation happened to residents from two other apartment complexes. After the researcher introduced these resources to them, they all expressed their willingness to contact them for help, as shown in the conversation between the researcher and one of these tenants:

Interviewer: HOME Line provides free legal housing support in the Metro area. I can give you their number, if you want to give them a call and explain the situation to them, to just say, ‘It’s an emergency family situation, I have my grandchildren off and on, I have new leasing management. I just want to make sure I know what my rights are. I don’t want to get put out because I’m providing emergency housing for my grandchildren.’ And just to see what they say so that you know what your rights are in case management does try to come at you.

BP37: Oh, my God! I would love that. Is there any way—because I’m holding our baby right now—is there any way you can text me the number?

Interviewer: Yep. I’ll text you the number. I’m also going to text you the number for a woman who works with ACER. So ACER is a housing advocacy group in Brooklyn Park. They’re amazing. So, I’m also going to text her and ask her if she knows the answer to your question, and have her get in touch with you as well.

BP37: Oh, wonderful!

There is no doubt that residents should be more aware of external resources, especially when the majority of these resources exist in their surrounding community. Residents do not need to be experts in housing and rental issues, but they need to know how to contact experts to deal with different problems. The question becomes: how can they learn about these community resources, if the management teams fail to deliver the information? Many residents did not have the time to engage in independent research, they did not know where to begin such searches, and such information was not commonly shared in their personal networks.

Discrepancy in Educational Training between Residents and Management Teams

In this study, HOME Line co-designed a questionnaire to measure participants’ baseline knowledge about the rights and responsibilities of renters and property managers. The results showed that management team members had a much higher level of knowledge about the roles, responsibilities, and rights of both parties in housing issues than participating residents. Management team members obtained an average correct rate of 67% for all the individuals; 70% of respondents had a correct rate of over 70%; five of the eight questions had a correct rate of 90% and above. Comparatively, the average correct rate for residents was 56%, and 26% of respondents had a correct rate lower than 50%. To some questions regarding the landlord’s behaviors, only a few residents gave correct answers. For example, only 30% of residents knew the amount of rent a landlord could raise the rent by at the end of a lease; 26% knew the amount of the fine for a landlord who unlawfully entered the apartment room; 15% knew whether or not a landlord should deliver an advance notice before filing an eviction. Overall, the gap in participants’ level of knowledge was consistent with the gap in access to educational training.

Residents received insufficient educational training on rental issues

Tenant Rights Training
Tenant Rights Training

Just as they lacked knowledge of community resources, the majority of participating residents were unaware of the existence of educational training programs. Only two out of 27 resident survey respondents received training about tenant rights and relevant resources in the larger community.

One of them occurred at the Zanewood Recreation Center, where the resident participated in a session provided by ACER. This resident learned about tenant rights and who to contact in different housing situations. Topics included the application process, avoiding evictions, security deposits, repairs, privacy, discrimination, ending a lease, breaking a lease early, screening landlords, and rent increase issues. The other resident shared that their training focused more on eviction expungements and was provided by HOME Line, ACER, and Legal Aid. Residents received the information for these training opportunities from ACER flyers. For these two residents, avoiding eviction and breaking a lease early were the most helpful topics.

Among the residents who never participated in any educational training, 68% (17 out of 25) had never heard about these programs; 16% (four) felt that there might not be a need to have such training because they had not encountered any serious housing issues, but one of them indicated the awareness of United Way 211 and Project for Pride in Living (PPL) that supported residents through casework and advocacy; two respondents had received training information, one from a booklet provided by a previous apartment and the other one from a Section 8 briefing session but there was no follow-up information after the tenant moved into the apartment.

Management teams had access to richer educational training resources

Compared with residents, a much higher percentage (80% vs. 7%) of management team members had received internal and external landlord’s educational training regarding management rights/responsibilities and housing issues. The two respondents who did not receive any landlord’s educational training from external resources participated in property management courses delivered by Grace Hill, a widely used system for real estate employee performance improvement.

For management team members who received landlord educational training opportunities, the most helpful topic they found was about discrimination, followed by the application process, avoiding evictions, and privacy issues. Sixty-three percent (63%) (five out of eight) of them participated in at least one session provided by the city or the police department, where in the latter case (if not the former as well) safety and security issues should have been covered. However, in terms of the safety and security issues identified through project interviews, there is still a need for information sharing, particularly around creative solutions. Only one property manager explicitly stated that they received training in positive communication skills. The training was obtained through the University of Minnesota Rent-wise training program, indicating that management teams at large might lack competency in communication and engagement with tenants.

Survey results also showed that the city should consider playing a greater role in providing educational training opportunities for management teams. More than half (60%) of respondents claimed that they never obtained information regarding educational training resources from the city.


This report includes ten recommendations. They were developed in response to the housing experiences shared by the project participants—featured in the report’s findings section. The ten recommendations are being proposed as a comprehensive package. They are interrelated and build upon each other. They respond to the complex needs and desires of residents and staff in the city’s larger apartment communities.[154] We suggest that the recommendations be phased in over a five-year period. There is preliminary work that must be completed by the city (i.e., an assessment) to support implementation, specifically discerning? current engagement strategies and the capacity of “community-facing” departments, divisions and units. We conclude this section with an exemplary five-year Implementation Plan that can be built upon by city staff.

Preliminary Phase:

Begin by assessing the current capacity of “community-facing” departments and teams within Brooklyn Park city government. These units include: the Community Development Department, the Communications Department, the Parks and Recreation Department, the Economic Development and Housing Division, and the Community Engagement Team. Such units will be called upon to support the execution of many of the recommendations included in this report.The assessment should be completed by an experienced third-party consulting firm such as Minneapolis-based Strategic Diversity Initiatives or Culture Brokers. Both firms have strong experience working with city governments, undertaking diversity assessments and creating comprehensive engagement plans. There is no value in overwhelming current departments, divisions, or teams through additional community programming initiatives. Where necessary, additional staff should be hired to support the execution of new community programming.

Recommendation #1: Increase Residents’ Awareness and Access to Community Organizations/Local Housing Advocacy Groups

We recommend that the city partner with apartment communities and non-profit organizations to enact this recommendation. We suggest that this recommendation should be overseen by the city’s Community Engagement Team. Also bring in community engagement practitioner(s) to provide logistical assistance, supporting an increase in “on-the-ground” engagement efforts in the city’s larger apartment communities.

If the assessment performed during the “preliminary phase” proves prudent—hire additional staff within the unit to bolster new programming. Provide continued education and professional development training for all Community Engagement Team staff.

Some of the resources/education residents are looking for include:

  • City hosted civic/social service-related workshops and resource fairs within apartment communities, hosted on a routine basis in the complex’s community rooms.
  • Tenants rights’ training so tenants can better advocate for themselves with management, neighbors, and the city. Training opportunities should be offered in diverse formats—in-person training within apartment communities and virtual training. The training should also be offered in different languages, notably Spanish and English.

Recommendation #2: Develop a Communication Plan to Engage Residents, Housing-related Organizations, and Property Managers

Reimagine communication strategies so they are inclusive of city renters’ needs and perspectives. Begin this process by consulting with a community engagement expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Co-develop a communication plan with the community. Convene a community council to oversee this process. We suggest it be spearheaded collectively by staff in the Community Development Department and the Communications Department. The council should consist of individuals from the aforementioned departments as well as the Community Engagement Team and residents and property management team members from the city’s larger apartment communities. Residents and property management team members should receive stipends for their participation on the community council. To support session facilitation, engagement, and power-sharing amongst council members, the community engagement expert should be utilized during planning council meetings. The community council should:

1) Determine a series of events or programming that will be enacted to support city renters. As the events are enacted throughout the year, council members can debrief following each event—reflecting upon happenings and determining ways to enhance upcoming programming. Some of the events/resources renters and Advisory Council members would like to see include:

  • The city collaborates with the Apartment Management Coalition to host routine events where tenants and management can gather/get to know each other and discuss community happenings. For example, Town Hall events or social activities that encourage participants to engage in dialogue (i.e., art of hosting events). At events, the city provides timely information regarding community issues. Through project interviews, participants shared that current apartment-sponsored engagement events (pre-COVID) included: bingo, raffles, and drive-through holiday festivities. They are not events that encourage opportunities for meaningful exchange between residents and management. Early on include drawings or raffles to entice residents’ participation.
  • Create informational products for residents regarding city happenings, accessing local amenities, and community resources (e.g., brochures, pamphlets, videos). Deliver them to tenants at move-in and periodically throughout the year. Share the products with community advocates, housing agencies/support staff, who can help to disseminate information when connecting with residents.

2) Facilitate stakeholder meetings that engage residents, property management, housing-related organizations, and city staff to discuss housing issues and policies.

  • City works with housing-related community organizations and residents to construct tenant associations or a citywide renters’ coalition. As the city currently hosts an Apartment Management Coalition, the same space should be created for renters. Creating a space for them to connect, debrief on happenings in their apartment communities, engage in consistent communication with city personnel, and receive educational information via workshops or speakers.
  • City hosts stakeholder meetings on a regular basis, which should engage representatives from housing-related associations, coalitions, and organizations to discuss housing issues, policy recommendations, and policy changes. Topics may include but not limited to income nondiscrimination ordinances (prohibiting landlords from denying renter applications based on how they pay their rent, whether it be a Section 8 voucher, disability waiver subsidy, etc.), tenant screening protections, pre-eviction notices, rent stabilization, and additional choices and options for families (with different locations, unit sizes, and conditions).

Recommendation #3: Citywide Security Council

Assemble a Security Council of diverse stakeholders to collectively monitor safety and security needs amongst the city’s larger apartment communities.

During interviews, property managers and residents, the majority of them along the Zane Avenue corridor, experienced repeated vandalism, harassment, and violence—particularly from large groups of youth. Dispersed from one apartment community, the young people are reported to migrate down the large apartment communities on/near Zane Avenue, wreaking havoc. Currently, the apartment communities, specifically their security teams and management, operate in silos—missing an opportunity to share strategies, communicate, and coordinate security efforts. This is a disconnect that aids the young people moving through the disparate apartment communities.

The Security Coalition is a non-law enforcement coalition, which should consist of city staff, property management team members and residents (individuals w/personal or professional backgrounds in areas such as social work, community organizing, or racial justice) from the city’s large apartment communities, representative police liaisons assigned to these apartment communities, and representatives from the apartment security companies. Participating residents should include either youth or representatives from youth organizations. One interviewee, a security guard in one of the larger apartment communities, suggested utilizing a small handful of security companies amongst the participating apartment communities on the Security Council to further support coordination and communication. Operating as an oversight committee, the coalition would meet regularly establishing a united front—rooted in communication, best practices, and power-sharing. The Security Council would not be a “neighborhood watch group.” They would not patrol the apartment communities on the ground but operate as a proactive advisory board—greatly increasing communication and engagement across apartment communities.

We recommend that the Security Council be overseen by a shared leadership structure: composed of a Community Development staff member, a representative from the city of Brooklyn Park Police Department, and a community member.

Recommendation #4: City Sponsored Management Workshops

Create an incentive program where property managers can come together, debrief, and learn from each other’s successes and missteps managing their apartment communities. Workshop coordination could be overseen by the Community Development Department or the Housing Development and Economics Division. The Apartment Management Coalition, which met quarterly prior to the pandemic, was hosted by Community Development Department staff. During interviews, property managers shared that the current Apartment Management Coalition could be a more dynamic and helpful space if it was centered upon giving managers a space to learn with and from each other, rather than a lecture format with less engagement as managers are receiving information from city personnel.

The process should begin by a city staff member assessing similar types of incentive programs from across the country. This will give the leadership organizing the workshop series instances of best practices and potential allies they can connect with to discuss logistics or to troubleshoot. The program should be built around five or six topic areas, with participants coming together on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Example topics could include: maintenance and repairs, safety/security, community/relationship building with tenants, housing quality (renter-centered perspective), and the pros to senior management members living on site. Units should be co-hosted by a manager successful in the given area, a city resident who has witnessed the given area successfully executed in an apartment community they live (or lived) in, and a relevant city staff member. To encourage participation, property managers and residents should receive a stipend for attending (or facilitating) the workshops.

Recommendation #5: Create a Youth Fellowship Program Directed at Safety and Security Concerns in the City’s Large Apartment Communities

Create a fellowship program where youth are empowered and charged with collectively creating community programming responding to the violence and safety issues they see or experience in the city’s apartment communities. Safety and security in this context are not meant to focus on punitive measures or law enforcement but on people feeling safe in their housing. The fellowship program should be nine to ten months, directed at five to ten young people who would come from different wards in the city and receive a stipend for their program participation.

The fellowship should include educational opportunities for the fellows—activities, events, and/or speakers that will help them produce their engagement strategies. The fellowship should also include a mentoring component, supporting the fellows’ ability to grow as young civic-minded leaders. In terms of developing the fellowship (program design), YouthPrise is a community engagement organization that the city could contract with to construct the fellowship opportunity. Their process features the voices of community members, specifically youth. Their “Design Think” and “Disrupt” programs could be utilized to construct the fellowship program. Organizations such as the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth, the Brooklyn Park Parks and Recreation Department’s Youth Outreach Team (“Blue Shirts Crew”), A Mother’s Love and We Push for Peace’s “Boots on the Ground” programs could be brought in to help assist with the development of program content and/or to support operations. These organizations have various types of community-engagement experience (particularly with youth). These experiences include: tactical strategies regarding safety and security rooted in de-escalation techniques, trauma care, communication, and social-service oriented problem-solving, youth mentoring, and leadership development training. One (or a small collection) of the fellows could participate in the City Security Council–recommendation #3.

We recommend that the fellowship program be overseen by the Parks and Recreation Department’s Youth Service Team.

Recommendation #6: Expand Collaborations to Engage At-Risk Youth/Young Adults

We recommend an expanded collaboration with state-wide strategies and community organizations to solve safety issues generated by the large congregations of youth in the apartment communities; thereby strengthening safety and security.

During the interviews, project participants frequently described collections of young people as terrorizing residents and property management team members and that there was a lack of resources/insufficient support to effectively respond to the situation. The past experiences of one participating property management team member showed that if youth are engaged in training programs and community services, it can reduce the likelihood of their involvement in crime and violent activities.

By collaborating with existing state-wide initiatives, such as the Minnesota Partnership for Adolescent and Young Adult Health[155] and Invest in MN Programs for At-Risk Youth,[156] the city will obtain a stronger connection with stakeholders working for and with youth and young adults. The former, led by the Minnesota Department of Health, supports community-based efforts and connects youth engagement resources; the latter, initiated by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, helps locate and financially support youth employment, training, and education program service providers through a state-wide network. On the city level, it could be beneficial to expand the Rec on the Go program, covering youth of a wider age range and expand the period of programming. Increasing opportunities and spaces for young people to gather in healthy activities is also valuable (i.e., installing new basketball courts and/or soccer fields). Expanding Rec on the Go and increasing access to amenities would also help to create connections amongst young people within the city.

It is also important to increase funding to partner with experienced community organizations operating youth programs or providing solutions for at-risk youth/young adults. For example, We Push for Peace,[157] has been assisting local communities, businesses, and municipalities to reduce and deter illicit activities operated by youth between the ages of 16-24 in the Twin Cities area. It has developed successful partnerships with Cub Foods and Whole Foods to solve shoplifting issues by improving community engagement, identifying the needs of the person who shoplifts, and providing appropriate resources for them. We Push for Peace believes that the community should be actively involved in responding to community needs, lowering tension and reducing police calls. They also provide after-school tutoring, job training, and moms’ programs. Contracting with such organizations can help surround at-risk youth with community resources.

Recommendation #7: Enhance Support for NOAH via Monitoring and A Tax Incentive Program

To provide additional housing options for low-income residents, we recommend the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority enhance effective cross-sector collaborations with local for-profit and nonprofit organizations and create a tax incentive program to address Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) preservation with more diversified property owners.

Given the safety and security concerns raised in this report within local apartment communities, the city may consider encouraging partners to use the NOAH preservation fund for additional safety measures (i.e., cameras, lights, security guards), prioritize remedies for safety hazards, and support routine maintenance practices as a part of rehabilitation costs. It has been a critical step for the City of Brooklyn Park to pair community investments with the NOAH preservation fund to support larger NOAH acquisitions and rehabilitations. However, the current funds paired by local governments are usually limited to acquisition costs, holding costs for taxes and insurances, architectural and engineering expenses, and rehabilitation-related hard construction costs. The fund could be more effectively used by addressing the safety and security issues and housing quality issues after rehabilitation.

Also, the city may consider adding monitoring, evaluation, and engagement to the fund’s eligibility terms. The city’s role should not be limited to being a fund provider. When the NOAH housing is ready for occupants, there should be continuous monitoring efforts from stakeholder groups to guarantee dignified housing and quality maintenance in these housing options.

In addition, we recommend working with state legislators and making it a legislative priority to allocate additional funding for NOAH preservation; and implementing a tax incentive program to engage smaller property owners (who are also usually members of underrepresented groups) into NOAH preservation. The 4(d) Affordable Housing Incentive Programs initiated in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Golden Valley, Saint Louis Park, and Edina is a model to learn from. These incentive programs help Class 4(d) property owners reduce property taxes by keeping 20% or more of their rental units affordable to households making less than 60% AMI. By enrolling apartments in these programs, the owners of NOAH housing receive a 40% reduction in property taxes in exchange for agreeing to a ten-year contract that guarantees an annual rent increase of less than 6% for the enrolled housing units. This policy particularly encourages energy efficiency improvements and solar installations through cost-sharing. Property owners also receive various grants and assistance with administrative costs on enrolled units based on AMI levels. The tax incentive programs allow smaller property owners to participate in NOAH preservation, providing additional housing options for low-income residents.

Recommendation #8: Invest in a Housing-First Program and Create a Social Service Resource Team to Address the Homelessness Issue

Interviewees indicated that people experiencing homelessness frequently accessed local apartment communities, occupied public resources in the buildings, and created health and physical safety concerns for tenants. Driving the homeless people out from the apartment buildings or locking the doors to prevent them from entering will not fundamentally solve the problem. Instead, there should be a more comprehensive plan to reduce and end homelessness in the City of Brooklyn Park.

We recommend the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority invest in the housing-first approach and/or incentivize local single-family property owners to rent rooms at a below market rate. The goal of the housing-first approach is to provide people experiencing homelessness with food and a place to stay before addressing developmental demands. The Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program provides long-term rental assistance and supportive services for individuals and families who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness due to chronic illnesses, disabilities, mental health issues, or substance use disorders. The rapid re-housing program, with a time limitation, provides short-term rental assistance and services for a wider variety of individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness due to temporary personal and financial crises. Both PSH and rapid rehousing programs have been proven to be cost-efficient and effective in long-term housing retention.[158]

The Brooklyn Park Police Department should also establish a social service resource team to support people experiencing homelessness. The Brooklyn Park Police Department may refer to the practice of the Community Outreach & Stabilization Unit (COAST Unit)[159] initiated by the Saint Paul Police Department. The COAST Unit is composed of the Mental Health Research Team, Recovery Access program, and Police Homeless Outreach Program. It leverages a collaborative effort with community-based resources (e.g., hospitals, clinical social workers, mental health resources), which allows the Saint Paul Police Department to connect individuals in need with resources, track cases, collect data, prepare for and respond to risks. Together with a housing-first program, the city could better serve individuals experiencing homelessness, thus reducing safety and security pressure on property management teams in the larger apartment communities.

Recommendation #9: Hold Property Management Teams Accountable through a Collaborative Monitoring Effort

This recommendation responds to the unsafe and dehumanizing living situations that residents shared during interviews. We recommend the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority oversee property management teams and hold them accountable through a collaborative monitoring strategy with community-based organizations, paid resident liaisons, and management companies.

First, partner with entities such as ACER, HOME Line, and the Section 8 Program to create an escrow team.This escrow team would regularly check in with residents through surveys and/or interviews and conduct management competency assessment. The team will provide residents with timely consultation and resources when management teams fail to make repairs and eliminate conditions threatening residents’ housing quality, instruct residents regarding the process of filing a rent escrow action, support residents going through legal processes, and inform the city regarding direct action that needs to be taken. The city may also consider increasing the fines against management teams’ failure to comply with housing regulations.

Second, fund and recruit paid resident liaisons from the larger apartment communities. The resident liaisons would act as a bridge between the city, the escrow team, and the apartment communities. They can assist with monitoring and evaluation activities, connect residents with the escrow team, and/or directly report housing issues to the city. They should co-lead surprise inspections, target inspections, and code enforcement activities, without the management being present. Representing residents’ interests, this on-site advocate will serve as a knowledgeable resource for the rest of the community members.

Third, the city subsidizes management companies so they can employ technical tools for rental property management (e.g., software such as AppFolio) that connect property management companies, management teams, and residents regarding daily management activities. This is a good tool that will help all parties involved document and track management performance, manage maintenance requests, and communicate with residents. If the contracting agent were the city of Brooklyn Park, and appropriate city staff were able to access the different apartment communities’ accounts, that could create another level of accountability as the city would be able to monitor/follow-up on interactions if necessary.

Recommendation #10: Refine/Implement an Incentive Plan to Encourage Property Managers to live on site (becoming “resident property managers”)

We recommend the Brooklyn Park Economic Development Authority refine current strategies and expand implementation across apartment communities.

The city may consider increasing the willingness and the value of property owners to recruit “resident property managers” through tax incentives or by subsidizing the rent of the resident property manager (based on the size of the property and the number of resident managers). In addition, it is important to 1) clarify the qualifications and responsibilities of resident property managers (including but not limited to payment collection, overseeing maintenance and repairs requests, safety and security issues, after-hour emergencies, and communication with residents); 2) develop an assessment procedure to monitor and ensure the competence and effectiveness of this position.

It is beneficial to have management team members live on site in order to better serve residents and deal with emergencies after hours. However, across all interviewed property management team members, only two voluntarily chose to live on site at their apartment communities. In the State of California, apartment buildings that have 16 or more units are required by law to have either the owner, a manager, or a responsible person such as a custodian live on site. Such a management presence probably would not deter an apartment community from needing to hire a security team. The law requires landlords to charge a capped amount of rent from the resident management team members, which is usually under $600/month per person.[160] The landlord will have a written employment agreement with the resident management staff to demonstrate the rights and responsibilities of overtime.

Implementation–Five-Year Phase-in

An exemplary approach has been constructed that presents the implementations of five out of the ten recommendations. The recommendations are phased in over five years, within four proposed windows of time. This is a suggested approach that could be built upon by the city staff charged to advance the report’s recommendations. The logic behind the suggested approach is noted below.

The first year would be a preliminary phase, in which the city will measure its capacity and prepare for the implementation of the recommended policies and practices. Surely, some recommended items contain complex procedures and heavy requirements for physical and financial resources, as well as personnel. The preparation in year one allows the city to ensure successful implementation in the following years. Year two is proper for developing the communication plan among community members and property management teams (recommendation #2) and expanding collaboration to engage at-risk youth and young adults (recommendation #6). These actions will inform and set a foundation for the activities of the rest of the recommendations. Based on the relationships strengthened from the communication plan, the city could initiate the incentive program and co-host workshops for property management teams (recommendation #4). Then, informed by recommendation #2, recommendation #5 presents a more structured program—a youth fellowship program—to engage at-risk youth and young adults as a part of the program. The citywide security council (recommendation #3), consisting of community stakeholders including youth representatives, will address and monitor safety and security issues in the community year to year. Therefore, these two recommendations are suggested to be implemented in year three through year five.

Preliminary Phase

Phase 1

Phase II

Phase III


Comprehensive Assessment


Hire/Onboard any New Staff















Implementation: Yr. 1

Implementation: Yr 2

Implementation: Yr 2.5

Implementation: Yr 3

The remaining Recommendations are: #1, 7, 8, 9, and 10.


After surveying, interviewing, and discussing in focus groups with 28 residents and 12 property management team members, we obtained a comprehensive understanding of residents’ and property management’s experience in regard to housing issues related to affordability, quality of living conditions, relationship-building challenges, safety, security, and accessibility to resources. A mixed-method community-based action research design allowed us to better engage voices from diverse stakeholders, contextualize the issue in the local environment, and construct experiential knowledge from community members’ perspectives. While the unexpected pandemic interfered with the progress of this research project, it brought us the opportunity to learn about the different experiences before and during the pandemic.

By focusing on the Zane Avenue Corridor and nearby rental apartment communities in Brooklyn Park, the area that has had the largest number of eviction filings and the highest eviction rate in the city, we found that despite management teams’ efforts to improve the living environment, safety and security, and relationship with residents, there was tension between residents and management team members due to housing issues that could not be solved in a timely and respectful manner. The key themes generated from this research illustrated the need for strengthening collaboration and cooperation in the larger ecosystem, increasing the awareness of supportive resources and knowledge of rights and responsibilities in housing issues (especially among residents), and engaging bottom-up solutions to accomplish safe, affordable, and dignified housing.

Specifically, we identified five major themes related to local housing issues that add to previous quantitative research and lay the foundation for further community engagement:

  • Affordability and Dignified Housing: Affordability was one of the factors that prompted people with lower income to move to Brooklyn Park. However, even with management teams and the city’s help, affordability was not always sustainable and/or positively appraised by residents, challenged by rising rents and fees. Moreover, some residents felt that their apartments traded off the amenities they deserved, quality of maintenance, and sense of security for affordability, and unfortunately, these apartments were the only choices for them. Residents appreciated the close-to-nature location, the supportive attitude of some management teams, and basic safety provisions, but factors such as the mismatch between housing quality and rental price, forced financial investments, and extreme health and safety hazards prevented residents from experiencing dignified housing. Management teams worked toward providing dignified housing but few of them perceived that the city was a consistent partner.
  • Safety and Security: There was a pervasive sense of insecurity within apartment complexes, as well as from the larger community. Management teams made various efforts to improve safety and security in these properties, such as adding lighting, installing security cameras, applying fob systems, and hiring security guards. However, internal factors (i.e., violent and illicit activities such as drug use, smoking, vandalism, fights, and domestic violence) and external factors (i.e., violence and crimes that occurred on the street such as shootings, thefts, and car break-ins) impaired the effectiveness of these safety measures. There was a lack of a collaborative mechanism across residents, property management teams, and the city to make fundamental changes.
  • The Ecosystem and Relationships in the Apartment Community: At the moment when people moved into an apartment, an ecosystem was developed, with residents and management teams sitting in the core. City government, corporate management, and advocacy groups were arteries of the ecosystem. When something spilled over and was no longer an internal apartment community issue, it required intervention from these arteries. Day-to-day interactions between residents and management teams shaped relationships and defined accountability to be a central value. Though accountability was desired by all, some saw management’s unfriendly attitude, slow response, and turnover as the root cause of the breakdown; while others felt that change should begin with residents’ behavior and ownership of the site. Although efforts related to engagement, communication, and transparency contributed to positive relationship-building and trust in some apartment complexes, what could lead to a long-term change must be examined. Many residents perceived that the core of the ecosystem was broken, but knowledge about how and when to access support from the government, corporate-level management, or advocacy groups was a challenge for some and an unknown for others.
  • Dehumanization and Empowerment: Inconvenience and dissatisfaction occurred for both residents and property management teams in Brooklyn Park apartment communities. However, some of the residents (mostly women, low-income, and residents of color) described far worse experiences, like reckless disregard from apartment management, residents, and Brooklyn Park city institutions. Neglect, exploitation, and discrimination left residents overwhelmed by feelings of fear, powerlessness, and degradation. Despite this adversity, the resilient self-empowerment of some residents showed that these community members only lacked external support, not internal capability.
  • Access to External Resources: There was an obvious discrepancy in awareness of rights and responsibilities on rental issues between residents and property management teams. They received different levels and types of community resources to support their needs in living and working. A lack of educational training and training information caused residents to be unaware of their rights, appropriate solutions, and available resources when encountering rental problems. Comparatively, property management teams had access to much richer educational training resources (either from management companies or from community organizations). However, both sides shared the same needs in terms of enhanced communication, engagement, and support from the city in addressing safety and security problems, especially those caused by the crowds of youth in the community.

Based on these findings and responding to the living and working experiences and needs shared by residents and property management team members, the research team proposed a comprehensive package of ten recommendations that are built upon each other. We recommend that the city partner with apartment communities and community organizations to enact the following recommendations over a five-year span, after a preliminary phase of capacity assessment:

  1. Increase residents’ awareness of and access to community organizations and/or local housing advocacy groups;
  2. Develop a communication plan to engage residents, housing-related organizations, and property management teams;
  3. Assemble a citywide security council of diverse stakeholders to collectively monitor safety and security needs amongst the city’s larger apartment communities;
  4. Sponsor management workshops through an incentive program;
  5. Create a youth fellowship program directed at safety and security concerns in the city’s large apartment communities;
  6. Expand collaborations to engage at-risk youth/young adults by collaborating with existing statewide initiatives and partnering with experienced community organizations;
  7. Enhance support for naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) via monitoring and a tax incentive program;
  8. Invest in a Housing-First program and create a social service resource team to address the homelessness issue;
  9. Hold property management teams accountable through a collaborative monitoring effort;
  10. Refine and/or implement an incentive plan to encourage property management team members to live on site (becoming “resident property managers”).

In recent years, the City of Brooklyn Park has initiated policies and programs in planning, development, and redevelopment of affordable housing, and some cross-sector collaborations have benefited thousands of households. Many efforts have addressed community engagement to some extent but still lacked engagement with citizens/residents as a valued group. Community engagement should be used as a primary tool for promoting stability, affordability, safety, and quality of life for residents in Brooklyn Park. Along with other entities in the community, residents’ knowledge, experiences, opinions, needs, and passion should be utilized through a high-level community engagement plan, especially when it comes to issues related to their basic housing and living demands. These ten recommendations, based on this belief, call for a continuous collaborative effort across the city government, community organizations, property management teams, and residents to create accountable, equitable, and sustainable solutions.


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[2] The Minnesota State Demographic Center defines “people of color” as “those who identify as a race other than White alone, and/or those who are Hispanic or Latin(x).” Using this definition, 20% of Minnesotans in 2018 were people of color.

[3] United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts: Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. 2019-07-01

[4] Id.

[5] The Minnesota State Demographic Center. Data by topic: Immigration & language. 2018.

[6] Minnesota Department of Health. People in poverty in Minnesota. 2017.

[7] Data USA. Brooklyn Park, MN. 2020.

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[11] id. at 5.

[12] id.

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[33] Arnstein SR. A ladder of citizen participation. J Am Institute Planners, 1969;35(4):216-224, DOI: 10.1080/01944366908977225

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Bradford A. Community engagement and local government. Masters by Research thesis, School of Management, Operations and Marketing, University of Wollongong, 2016. Figure 2-2, p44. 

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[42] International Association for Public Participation. Public participation pillars.

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[47] Tyler TR. From harm reduction to community engagement: Redefining the goals of American policing in the twenty-first century. Nw. U. L. Rev. 2017;111:1537.

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[49] Attree P, French B, Milton B, Povall S, Whitehead M, and Popay J. The experience of community engagement for individuals: A rapid review of evidence. Health & Social Care in the Community, 2011;19(3):250-260.

[50] Id.

[51] Arnstein SR. A ladder of citizen participation. J Am Institute Planners, 1969;35(4):216-224, DOI: 10.1080/01944366908977225

[52] International Association for Public Participation. IAP2 spectrum of public participation. 2018.

[53] Bracht N, Tsouros A. Principles and strategies of effective community participation, Health Promotion International, 1990;3:199–208,

[54] Id; adapted from Figure 2.

[55] Minnesota Department of Health, Men As Peacemakers. Community-identified strategies: Injury and violence prevention during times of compounding crises. Minnesota Department of Health; 2021.

[56] Lewis B. The black freedom struggle further north: How black civic activists and grassroots organizers in north Minneapolis, Minnesota used a local governmental instrument to pursue racial reform from within a white liberal urban regime. National Political Science Review, 2019;20(3).

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[59] Robert Aleshire, “Power to the People: An Assessment of the Community Action and Model Cities Experience,” Public Administration Review, 1972;32: 442.

[60] Homan P. Structural Sexism and Health in the United States: A New Perspective on Health Inequality and the Gender System. Am Social Rev. 2019;84(3):486-516. doi:10.1177/0003122419848723

[61] Charlton JI. Nothing about us without us. In: Nothing about us without us. 1st ed. Disability oppression and empowerment. University of California Press; 1998:3-18 .

[62] Melish T. Maximum feasible participation of the poor: New governance, New accountability, and a 21st century war on the sources of poverty. Yale Human Rights and Development Journal, 2010;13.

[63] Lewis B. The black freedom struggle further north: How black civic activists and grassroots organizers in north Minneapolis, Minnesota used a local governmental instrument to pursue racial reform from within a white liberal urban regime. National Political Science Review, 2019;20(3).

[64] Melish T. Maximum feasible participation of the poor: New governance, New accountability, and a 21st century war on the sources of poverty. Yale Human Rights and Development Journal, 2010;13.

[65] 80 F.R. 42352 (repealed 2020).

[66] Id.

[67] Michael A. Speaking truth to power: Enhancing community engagement in the assessment of fair housing process. 2017.

[68] Roper E. Federal rule on housing integration never got off the ground, Star Tribune, Oct. 3, 2020.

[69] Biden Administration. Memorandum on redressing our nation’s and the federal government’s history of discriminatory housing practices and policies. Jan. 26, 2021.

[70] Williams R. Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: California’s response to a changing federal landscape. J Affordable Housing & Community Dev L. 2019;28(387).

[71] Department of Housing and Urban Development, Resident Advisory Board,

[72] Id.

[73] Id.

[74] Id.

[75] Id.

[76] Id.

[77] Lor M. Effectiveness of citizens advisory boards in addressing fairness in environmental public disputes. Pepp Disp Resol L J, 2006;6(177).

[78] Id.

[79] Id.

[81] De Barbieri EW. Do Community Benefits Agreements benefit communities? Zoning and Planning Law Reports NL, 2017; 40(6).

[82] Id.

[83] Been V. Community Benefits Agreements: A new local government tool or another variation on the exactions theme? University of Chicago L Rev, 2010;77(5).

[84] De Barbieri EW. Do Community Benefits Agreements benefit communities? Zoning and Planning Law Reports NL, 2017; 40(6).

[85] Id.

[86] Id.

[87] Id.

[88] Been V. Community Benefits Agreements: A new local government tool or another variation on the exactions theme? University of Chicago L Rev, 2010;77(5).

[89] Id.

[90] Id.

[91] Id.

[92] Eppes C. Legislatively mandating a CBA is not the way: A case study of Detroit’s proposed Community Benefits Ordinance and its constitutionality under the taking clause of the Fifth Amendment. J.L. & Pol’y, 2018;26(225).

[93] Id.

[94] Id.

[95] Yichuan C, California’s rising rents, severe housing shortage fuel homelessness. NBC News. Feb. 2, 2020.

[96] City of Los Angeles, ZI No. 2385, Greater Downtown Incentive Area. Sept. 23, 2007.

[97]California Department of Housing and Community Development. California’s Jobs-Housing Balance Incentive Grant Program.

[98] Id.

[99] California Tax Credit Allocation Committee. Low-income housing tax credit program.

[100] Gorman S. Los Angeles homelessness rises sharply as housing crisis deepens. U.S. News, June 4, 2019.

[101] Acs G, Pendall R, Treskon M, and Khare A (2017). The cost of segregation: National trends and the case of Chicago, 1990-2010. Urban Institute

[103]Metropolitan Planning Council. Our Equitable Future: A roadmap for the Chicago Region,

[107] Id.

[108] Id.

[109] Id.

[110] Id.

[111] Id.

[112] Id.

[114]United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts Irving City, Texas,

[115] Irving, TX Code § 63-2.

[116] Id.

[117] Id.

[118] Irving, TX Code § 63-3.

[119] Id.

[120] Irving, TX Code § 63-5

[121] Id.

[123] Detroit, MI Code § 12-8-2.

[125] Eppes C. Legislatively mandating a CBA is not the way: A case study of Detroit’s proposed Community Benefits Ordinance and its constitutionality under the taking clause of the Fifth Amendment. J.L. & Pol’y, 2018;26(225).

[126] Id.

[127] Id.

[128] Id.

[129] .Shrimmer, D. (December, 2015). Case Study of 21st-Century Civic Engagement. Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School.

[130] Id.

[131] Id.

[132] Pearl, B. (October, 2019). NeighborhoodStat: Strengthening Public Safety Through Community Empowerment. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from:

[134] Id.

[135] Id.

[136] Pearl, B. (October, 2019). NeighborhoodStat: Strengthening Public Safety Through Community Empowerment. Center for American Progress

[137] Id.

[138] NeighborhoodStat. (n.d.). MAP.

[139] Id.

[140] Brooklyn Bridge Alliance For Youth. Elevating youth voice report: Priorities for city development. Brooklyn Center, MN. Dec. 4 2019. Report.

[141] Wilder Foundation. (December, 2016). Getting the Big Picture Right: Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) Preservation. Meeting notes.

[142] Id.

[143] Initial solicitation to property management team members consisted of: 1. City staff priming property managers, via email communication, that they’d receive communication from the CURA research team regarding participation and that the city hoped they’d consider participating; 2. Follow-up email communication and mailed letter were disseminated by CURA research team members. The research team was informed by city staff of the complexities of the load commonly carried by property managers in large apartment communities. The pandemic definitely added another layer of stress. We attempted to work within these confines, holding their project engagement on weeks of the month commonly understood to be a lighter load.

[144] Of the 12 property management team members who participated 9 were property managers, 1 was a security guard, 1 was a regional manager, and 1 a leasing manager.

[146] Calculated from interviewed residents, such as BP03, BP06, BP07, BP12, BP13, and BP33.

[147] 10 Trends in Housing 2020. (October, 2020). Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

[150] Falk, G. (2020). COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Household Employment and Income. Congressional Research Service (IN11457). Retrieved from

[151] CDC (2020-08-06). Mold.

[152] Reponen et al (2012). Infant origins of childhood asthma associated with specific molds. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 130(3).

[153] Thacher et al. (2016). Mold and dampness exposure and allergic outcomes from birth to adolescence: Data from the BAMSE cohort. Allergy, 72(6): 967-974.

[154]Some U.S. localities have begun to consider and adopt city-level tenant protection policies including, but not limited to, non-discrimination ordnances and screening protections in the application process, further tenant protections around lease non-renewals and eviction notices, rent stabilization, and tenant opportunity to purchase policies. CURA supports policies along these lines, while also recognizing that the scope of this report is focused on community engagement processes, and also that even well constructed policies require functional relationships between tenants, building owners/managers, and city staff.