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Landlords must learn about social disease

an analyses of national rental housing news

A special school session was held October 14th in the citadel of American socialism, Bloomington, Minnesota. A glance at the agenda might suggest the training was for police officers, social workers, community planners and child protection workers. But in fact, the students were Twin Cities area landlords. The seminar, titled Communities in Crisis, was sponsored by the local landlord Association.

According to the rental housing association president. "Property management used to be knowing how to lease properties and unplug a toilet; now rental property managers must deal with much larger social issues."

About 200 landlords - large and small, from all over the metro area - heard hopeful words from sometime adversaries: political leaders, police officials and social workers. Landlords were told that property management has become totally different in the last few years. Rental housing owners and managers are now expected to provide security, police drug and crime problems in their units, report suspected prostitution and gambling, and learn to recognize child and spouse abuse.

A longtime tenant advocate in north Minneapolis, now City Council President, Jackie Cherryhomes, said: "Public officials and landlords must get past their traditional animosities." Adding that her perception of the City's rental housing problem has changed. "We are not focusing as much on what used to be called bad landlords, we are now focusing on bad tenants. Landlords don't want bad tenants and we don't want bad neighborhoods." If we're going to save our city, we can't afford to be adversaries. Where we've had the most success in my ward is where landlords have become involved ...."

Landlords finally see a friendlier attitude from local officials. "There's a deepening understanding that ... we need quality (private) rental housing if we want good neighborhoods," the City Council President said. "And if we want quality rental housing, we have to make it work for owners too."

Most owners of large apartment complexes in the Twin Cities, are now of necessity providing various social services for their tenants; from summer camp ... to and including tutoring. "They may find themselves cast as social service brokers for tenants," officials said. Landlords must also toughen their screening, and some have. One manager of a 20-30 unit property who 10 years ago would reject one in four applicants, now rejects two or three out of every four. In one subsidized Minneapolis complex, where they now do criminal checks on tenants, 50% of applicants have criminal records.

During one period of the landlord school, Bloomington Police Chief Robert Lutz talked about crime prevention in one room, a Minneapolis Park Police gang expert offered tips on intervention in another. In a third, property managers listened as social workers describe the signs of child abuse and neglect.

"Government in Minnesota has finally had to face the fact that our vast social programs have led to a social disaster that communities are unable to cope with" one official confessed. Those problems, combined with tough conditions in the city's rental housing market, are contributing to a sense of crises among city officials concerned with disinvestment in poorer neighborhoods, as well as landlords who see all of society's social ills dropping into their laps.

"My fear is that more private investment money for affordable housing is going to go into other areas," said Steve Cramer, a former City Council Member.

The problems are not confined to the Twin Cities or inter-cities. Frank Lick, who owns and operates a 99 unit senior complex in Santa Maria, California, and a 40 tenant half way house, has seen his government become his biggest business problem.

"California is at least as bad as Minnesota, in fact, I believe most social disease must have first mutated here," he said. "Government has the tools and ability to require behavior that Landlords don't have. Officials won't use them and of course, we can't. Government may soon just threaten perpetuators of social disaster with; "Just wait till your landlord gets home."

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