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Indigenous and Somali elders rally for better living conditions at south Minneapolis apartment complex

by Katelyn Vue
Thursday May 2, 2024

Tenants rally on May 1, 2024, to demand better living conditions at the Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi affordable housing apartment complex in south Minneapolis. Credit: Katelyn Vue | Sahan Journal

About a dozen people rallied Wednesday morning, urging a property management company to improve living conditions for largely Indigenous and Somali senior residents living in a south Minneapolis apartment complex.

Residents of the Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi complex are demanding that their property management company come up with a plan to address several long-standing issues at the complex’s two buildings, including on-site staff that are unresponsive and delays in repairs. They also want the company to extend its security guards’ hours to provide service 24/7.

“No Elder Abuse,” one protest sign said in red ink.

“YEARS of Neglect,” said another.

Mary Levi, 79, has lived at Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi complex for the past seven years. Sitting outside in a walker at the protest, Levi said she hasn’t felt safe walking in her apartment building because of violent incidents nearby and uninvited guests who wander the halls. Someone recently broke the complex’s garage door and left behind a hole, she said.

“I would like to feel safe walking around my building, inside,” said Levi, who is tribally-affiliated with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

CommonBond Communities manages and co-owns the property with the American Indian Community Development Corporation (AICDC). Michael Goze, AICDC’s chief executive officer, said his organization received a letter from CommonBond stating that they will no longer manage the apartment after their contract ends in June.

Goze said AICDC will take over as the apartment’s sole owner adding that it’s unclear when the transfer of ownership will be completed. AICDC and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will also approve a new property management company to handle maintenance repairs.

“The safety, security and the health of residents are always the top priorities at our housing communities, and we are confident that AICDC will operate and manage the property well into the future,” said a written statement from CommonBond’s spokesperson Katie Selph.

Selph also said that CommonBond’s “intention has always been to eventually transfer” ownership and legal control to AICDC.

Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi is located on E. 24th Street near East Phillips Park. It features 47 single units for seniors who are 62 years old or older at a rate of 30% area median income. Many of the residents are Native or Somali.

Many residents say they face challenges because staff only communicate in English. One of their demands is to employ staff who can speak Somali. Ubah Shire, a tenant advocate for the housing nonprofit, HOME Line, helped translate Sahan Journal’s interviews Wednesday with Somali tenants.  

Tenant Asha Yusuf, 70, said her apartment has had leaky sinks and clogged pipes for the past few years. Yusuf doesn’t speak English, so she can’t call the management company to request repairs. She said she has attempted to communicate with staff at the management office, but that the office is often vacant.

Tenant Asha Kalmyo, 71, said most of the electrical outlets in her building stopped working after a fire broke out last year. Residents are demanding that the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are cleaned to prevent future fires.

Some residents said they don’t want to leave the apartment complex because of the friendships they’ve built with neighbors. Every November, Levi said, residents hold a memorial dinner for residents who have died. Kalmyo said there’s another reason it’s so difficult to leave—a lack of affordable housing.


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