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Somali residents in ‘unsafe’ Phillips apartment say they face racism and mistreatment by management


Thursday April 27, 2023

By Ava Kian
 
“I feel like as a minority, nobody cares about us. We don’t have a voice that will talk for us.”

Since March 2020, inspectors logged 20 violations at Greenway Heights in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood. MinnPost photo by Ava Kian
 
Urine on the stairwell, broken elevators and broken windows. That’s how Abdullahi Haji described the Greenway Heights apartments.

“It’s been a nightmare,” he said, referring to his time there.

Since March 2020, inspectors logged 20 violations at Greenway Heights – 14 of which were citations for “life safety” issues, according to city data. The vast majority of those citations occurred in August of 2022.

Haji has lived at Greenway Heights in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood for around a year and a half.

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Fardowsa Haji, his sister, said she started noticing issues once the new management company, Granite City Real Estate, took over. The previous management had cashed a money order, which Fardowsa Haji had given for the deposit. She said the new management promised to put that amount towards the next month’s rent instead.

That still hasn’t happened, according to Fardowsa Haji.

“They’re like, ‘I don’t care about the previous management. You have to deal with it.’ But they told me they’re going to reimburse it. That’s the money I already paid, and I have the receipt,” she said.

Tenant concerns 

Residents also raised concerns about cleanliness in the building and the maintenance of shared services, like laundry – so Fardowsa Haji called 311.

“It (the laundry area) was overloaded with trash, and no janitor was coming,” Fardowsa Haji said.

In the winter, she said many of the laundry machines stopped working.

“I don’t even want to remember; it was winter, I was a new mom, my daughter was vomiting, and there was no washer. Every single floor that I went to, it was broken,” Fardowsa Haji said.

She and others living in the building are concerned that the building is not secure.

“If you pull on the door hard enough, which the homeless people have figured out, you could just get inside of the building through the side entrance,” Abdullahi Haji said. “They just pull on the door, they get in, they sleep in the stairs, they smoke in the stairs, and the stairs are just full of trash. There’s vomit on the floor; they urinate on the stairs; there’s graffiti on the walls; there are needles that they use to inject drugs.”

Abdullahi Haji said management has not been responsive to maintenance requests or conversations about safety.

The Hajis’ unit has several maintenance issues, Fardowsa Haji said. For example, the refrigerator doesn’t work unless it’s on the highest temperature.

“I have to unplug my fridge when I’m going to sleep at night so that I don’t have to put my daughter and myself at risk,” she said.

One tenant, Koos Isse, is visually impaired. She has had issues with her key fob for the building and was once stuck outside in the wintertime for one hour because she couldn’t enter, a friend translated.

Isse also has had issues with her door knob for around two months, according to the friend. The door doesn’t close easily, and she feels unsafe sleeping at night in her apartment due to fears that people might break in.


An image of a stairwell at Greenway Heights. Photo by Ava Kian
 
Another tenant has a child in a wheelchair. Ferdowsa Haji said that sometimes the elevators don’t work, and then they must go down the stairs.
 
“We only have one elevator in the whole apartment building. If this one is down, then everybody has to use the stairs, which makes it really difficult for people who live on the third floor and the fourth floor. Especially the lady who’s visually impaired. She’s gonna need assistance to go down the stairs. There’s another family that has a disabled child that’s physically disabled, so they have to literally carry her downstairs, her wheelchair and everything,” Abdullahi Haji said.

Abdullahi Haji said that instead of accommodating the various safety concerns of residents, management has ignored many messages from residents.

“They show a lot of retaliation for people who decide to speak up, and they threaten them with verbal threats, and they tell them they’re going to revoke their parking privileges and they’re gonna file evictions,” he said.

His sister, Fardowsa Haji has written several emails to the direct managers of the building and the developers, PRG and Phoenix Development. None of the issues she reached out about have been solved, she said.

The tenants reached out to their councilmember, Jason Chavez (Ward 9), who also tried reaching out to management.

“I’ve been trying different people. And it’s been a lack of response,” Chavez said. “I think having missing management and hands off management is leading to a lot of these problems and we need accountability to help address it.”

He’s hoping to set up an on-site meeting between the city’s regulatory services and the residents.

“The reason I want inspections on site is because I want them to hear directly from the residents of what’s going on,” Chavez said. “So it can be an immediate response. Like what is going on right now, instead of waiting a couple weeks for someone to show up to your building and then you maybe not even noticing the person’s there and you’re not able to communicate with them with what issue you have.”

As the primary point of contact on the resident side, the Haji siblings feel burnt out.

“I think my mental health has definitely been deteriorating,” Abdullahi Haji said. “It’s definitely starting to take a big toll on me.”

Last month, Fardowsa Haji and her brother received a 60-day notice to vacate. They think management is retaliating against them because they’ve been outspoken about resident concerns.

“We were like the only two people that were advocating,” Fardowsa Haji said. “They know if they kick us out, they will be in charge, and they will handle it the way they want.”

Abdullahi Haji then hired an attorney who sent the company a cease and desist letter, to which management responded that they would take him to court, he said.


A washing machine at Greenway Heights appears to be filled with an unknown liquid which residents fear has begun to mold. Photo By Ava Kian

“It’s been pretty scary,” Abdullahi Haji said. “It’s been a ton of misconduct and mistreatment going along with some of the predatory behaviors that they’ve been showcasing to us.”

Granite City Real Estate, the onsite management, did not respond to our request to comment on the resident claims.

Ethnic slurs, unfair treatment

Fardowsa Haji said that the onsite property manager, who is Black, has acted rudely and hatefully towards many of the residents.

Several residents in the building are Somali elders, some of whom don’t speak English. They’ve been off-put by the on-site manager’s responses when they attempt to explain the problems they’re facing, Fardowsa Haji said.

“I witness a lot of her screaming at people, slapping (slamming) the door at their faces, making comments of our religion and our culture, saying, ‘I’m not gonna let anybody in the building that’s Somali anymore,’ which is really discriminatory,” Fardowsa Haji said.

Fardowsa Haji alleges the manager called the Somali residents “dirty” and swore she would never allow more Somali residents.

“I think just because we’re Somali and we’re first-generation immigrants, and we’re a vulnerable community, that’s what they decided to take advantage of us. Because of the communication barrier, and a lot of the tenants in the building that don’t really speak English and they need a translator present for them to kind of understand each other, and she takes advantage of that,” Abdullahi Haji said.

“She’s been swearing at them, attacking their ethnicity, their heritage, their culture, and also using religious hate speech,” he said. “We brought that to the upper management, and they still don’t seem to care.”

Accountability

Abdullahi Haji feels none of the people involved want to take accountability.

When Fardowsa Haji sent a complaint about the manager’s alleged behavior, a few days later, she confronted her about it, Fardowsa Haji said.

“She said to me, ‘Well, you sent out those emails, and they told me to handle it, so I’m handling it.’ Which pretty much is insinuating that, ‘It doesn’t really matter who you sent an email to. You’re still gonna be stuck with me.’”

When the siblings reached out to the building developers, Abdullahi Haji said they hit a dead-end.

“I told them what’s been going on, and they told me that right now they don’t have the budget to get new property management for the buildings. Pretty much what they were saying is, ‘We can’t change the property management group right now because the building is not making enough money right now to hire a new management group. So you guys are pretty much stuck right where you guys are at,’” he said. “It was a big slap to the face; it was a rude awakening (because) it kind of showed that they don’t really care as well.”

Fardowsa Haji is upset with the whole situation.

“It’s really stressful. It’s really frustrating. I feel like as a minority, nobody cares about us. We don’t have a voice that will talk for us. They just walk all over us, and they’re doing that on purpose because they know we’re a minority,” she said.



 





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