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Travails of a Housing-Management Entrepreneur





 

In economic hard times, it’s not uncommon for individuals who were let go by large corporate bureaucracies to start businesses in their field of expertise. Ed Eubanks has developed an unusual business: helping small rental-property owners deal with problems of urban crime.

Ed is a middle-aged African-American man who lives in the Harrison neighborhood of Minneapolis. In the early 1990s, he managed the Park Plaza apartment complex on Olson Highway, turning a crime-infested property into one which the owners sold for a handsome profit. He was then hired as a property consultant by Shelter Corporation to oversee management of Findley Place at 31st and Blaisdel. After leaving that assignment, he was hired as an asset manager by Central Community Housing Trust (CCHT) to oversee management of all its residential properties, totaling 800 units. He later worked at Project for Pride in Living. Finally, he started his own firm, Eubanks Property Management.

I can testify to Ed’s effectiveness in cleaning up a 28-units apartment complex across the street from my own building. It had become a haven for drug dealers relocated from a town house just down the street. Ed quickly identified the apartment units where the drug dealing was concentrated. he arranged with the owner for eviction notices to be sent. He also took care of maintenance problems in these units. He planted a flower bed in front of the building. However, this story does not have to do with Ed’s successes but with the frustrating experiences he has had with police bureaucracies and with neighborhood activists while attempting to help crime-stricken neighborhoods.

About ten years ago, Ed helped Mike - launch a highly successful building renovation firm when he placed an order with Mike’s firm for one of the apartment buildings he managed. Mike and his partner later branched out into owning and managing rental properties in the inner city. Like so many other “absentee owners”, they became ensnared in the crime problem. Mike’s partner owned what came to be a “crack house” in the 1000 block of 21st Avenue North on Colfax Avenue. After the city’s SAFE police unit delivered its second warning letter to the owner - three are required before a building can be shut down - this owner came to Ed for help. They signed a contract in August 2002 calling for Ed to assume managerial duties relating to this building, including a responsibility for handling its crime problem.

Ed went to work with his customary zeal. After investigating the situation, he reported to the building owner that he believed a new tenant was dealing drugs out of one of the units. In August, the police conducted a raid on a basement unit. They said they did a “controlled buy” though some residents denied it. Ed meanwhile gathered information about tenants for the police. He worked with other property owners to try to keep their block free of crime. He also contacted the area’s SAFE officer, Hillary Freeman, to request a meeting with community police to see what might be done about crime.

Freeman was in the process of leaving that position to take a job with a faith-based community as a crime specialist. Two officers, manhood and moss, would be the new SAFE representatives. Eubanks twice arranged for meetings with the SAFE team. Twice officer Manhood called to cancel.

Finally in September Ed did have his meeting with the SAFE officers. He began by asking the officers what they call could do to turn his managed property around. Officer Freeman responded that there was nothing that could be done at that point. A recommendation was going out to the City Council that the building be closed down. The only sop offered to Ed was the suggestion that he might discuss the matter with the local neighborhood association, the Hawthorne Neighborhood. Ed did meet with the group’s crime and safety committee - two people in all - in October. They said he should meet with the block club.

Next week, Ed ran into what he calls a “buzz saw”. About fifteen angry block club members, whose venom may have been primed by the SAFE team - insisted that the building be demolished - not only that belonging to Ed’s employer but two others on the block as well. This group of “neighbors” hated renters and landlords, especially the “absentee kind”. They wanted to see crime go away from their neighborhood by tearing down structures where the criminals or their associates lived.

The block-club members attacked Ed’s integrity, calling him a "liar". When Ed pointed out the yard work which he had done behind the house, a committee member complained that some of the branches had been left on the lawn. Ed tried to explain that these pieces would be picked up as fire wood. When Ed mentioned his previous experience in cleaning up Park Plaza apartment complex, another committee member remarked that “Park Plaza was always a slum.” In other words, none of Ed’s efforts had made any difference. Dan Kilty, a librarian at Sumner library, said that he would write a letter recommending to the Minneapolis City Council that Ed’s managed property should be torn down. The block club voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend that it be condemned.

Despite this disheartening turn of events, Ed went to work to satisfy other terms of his contract. He cleaned up the litter not only in front of his employer’s building but along the entire block. He swept the streets along the entire crime-infested corridor. he personally patrolled the block between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. nearly every evening. He cracked down on his own troublemaking tenants and concluded an agreement for the resident of a basement apartment to move out.

Ed also asked each immediate neighbor to sign a petition stating that he or she did not favor tearing down the building. Six people did sign - four landlords, one homeowner, and a minister - while only one person declined the suggestion. This was a second minister who told Ed that he would ‘like to help” but did not wish to be caught in the political crossfire. Ed had the impression in talking with this man that the SAFE team had done some heavy lobbying.

This phase of decision-making came to a head when the city’s civilian license-review board considered the proposal to revoke the rental license for the building that Ed managed. Ed and the building owner came to the meeting armed with petitions of support signed by the six neighbors. Ed also had letters of personal recommendation from such persons as Alan Arthur, president of Central Community Housing Trust, and from a SAFE officer in another neighborhood who commended him for his work at Park Plaza. The “prosecution”, represented by the SAFE team consisting of Hillary Freeman and officers Manhood and Moss and by two city attorneys, presented the Hawthorne block club’s recommendation that the building be demolished.

Hillary Freeman claimed that the building owner had “blown her off” (in Ed’s words) by failing to attend meetings with SAFE and by failing to submit a management plan that she was demanding. In fact, the SAFE officers had twice canceled meetings which Ed had arranged. The accusation that the building owner had done nothing to correct the crime problem was patently false since he had hired Ed. The failure to present a management plan was also a red herring since Ed had proposed a meeting with SAFE to discuss steps that might be taken to rid the building of crime. In reality, the building owner could not present a management plan because SAFE had refused to meet for that purpose.

In the end, the license-review board voted four to zero to revoke the rental license because the owner had not submitted a management plan to SAFE. It did not matter that SAFE had canceled meetings initiated by Ed. The ducks were in a row to revoke the rental license.

After this meeting, Ed Eubanks terminated his contract with the building owner. The Minneapolis City Council did, in fact, vote to revoke the rental license. The owner meanwhile sold the building to another person. For some strange reason, the order to vacate the building was not put into effect until July 2003. Evidently, Ed had raised such a ruckus within the city bureaucracy that the bureaucrats treaded cautiously in infringing upon the new owner’s property rights.

However, there were repercussions. In February 2003, Ed went back to the same Hawthorne block club which had attacked him in the previous year to inform this group that he was not managing the property any more. Ed also presented the petitions of support from the six neighbors. Officer Manhood denounced Ed for having presented “an unauthorized document” to the rental-license review board. He demanded that Ed give him that document on the spot. Ed, he said, had received this document “under false pretenses”. Ed, however, refused to surrender the document.

The document in question was a letter which a SAFE officer from another neighborhood had written commending Ed’s work at Park Plaza. This letter had stirred up a hornet’s nest within the police bureaucracy. Manhood could not quite prove that the letter was a forgery, because it wasn’t, so he was reduced to arguing that the other SAFE officer had been tricked into writing it. At least, this other officer might not have realized how it would be used. SAFE, said Manhood, would write another letter demanding that the first letter be returned. As of this writing, Ed still has it.

Ed told the group that he, Ed Eubanks, was interested in purchasing the property himself which he had managed. Officer Manhood said that SAFE would oppose that move. Evidently, there is a state law that prevents someone whose name is linked to a rental-license revocation from making such a purchase. Technically, Ed’s name was not on the property but that interpretation was “close enough for government work” (my words). In a change of heart, the block club did not vote to support officer Manhood’s proposal. Instead, it voted to scrutinize all of Ed Eubank’s documents for authenticity. As of this writing, no forgeries have surfaced.

Postscript:

When this narrative was published in the Watchdog newspaper, it had at least one positive effect. The police inspector in the 4th precinct, Tim Dolan, agreed to meet Ed Eubanks and yours truly, the writer, over breakfast at Milda’s restaurant on Glenwood Avenue. The inspector was a straight-forward person who listened to Ed’s concerns about neighborhood crime and agreed to help. Officer Dolan went on to staff assignments downtown and, today, he is Minneapolis’ acting police chief. This signals a possible trend away from block-club games to real police work.

 




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