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Heritage Park development approaches milestone
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Builders expect to complete the construction of all the rental housing this fall. The construction of homes, town homes and condominiums going up for sale is scheduled to begin this winter. (Brandt Williams)
Planners and builders of the Heritage Park housing development in north Minneapolis are nearing a milestone toward the completion of what many call a historic endeavor. Heritage Park replaces two former public housing projects that were the object of a federal lawsuit alledging the segregation of poor people. The new community will be home to a racially and economically diverse population.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Under the shadow of the Minneapolis skyline, bulldozers and backhoes chew up and spit out tons and tons of dirt at a massive construction site. In all, 145 acres of land, nearly twice the acreage of the Mall of America footprint, are being shaped to make room for hundreds of new buildings, a new park and other greenspaces. So far, 85 units of housing have been completed and 60 families are living there.

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Image Kim Havey and Darlene Walser

"There's a mix of duplexes, townhouses; the largest building that we have is designed to look like a large house from the outside. The largest building we have has nine units in it," said Darlene Walser, spokeswoman for McCormack Baron, the St. Louis, Missouri-based developer heading the project.

The company, in partnership with Minneapolis-based Legacy management, is responsible for building more than 400 rental units. Walser says each building will contain apartments priced for public housing residents and for people renting at market rate. Walser says McCormack Baron is not new to mixed income housing construction, however this is one of it's larger and more complex projects.

"The combination of the site redesign that needed to be done in terms of the new streets going in and those sorts of things made it very complicated," Walser said.

The nearly quarter of a billion dollar project is the result of the Hollman housing segregation lawsuit which was filed more than 10 years ago. The suit charged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and other entities with concentrating and isolating poor people of color in the area. The settlement in 1995 led to the Hollman consent decree. The decree called for the deconcentration of poverty in Minneapolis and more housing choices for public housing residents.

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Image Gloria Jackson

"We want to provide a community in which everyone can be successful," Kim Havey said.

Havey is the director of the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone initiative and is the city's point person on Heritage Park. Havey says the development will fulfill the spirit of the decree in many ways, especially by connecting its streets to the rest of the city. The new development will also be connected to one of the more affluent parts of south Minneapolis, through a parkway named after the city's first black city councilmember, Van White.

"No more are we going to contain poverty in one area as a strategy to benefit the rest of the citizens but really fully integrate everyone, whether they be residents of public housing or residents of Kenwood parkway, into the Minneapolis community," Havey said.

"This is like living in a mansion to me, compared to the other place," Gloria Jackson says.

Jackson and her son are among 30 families living in public housing who have moved back to the area after their relocation. Jackson's multilevel townhome has two bathrooms, two bedrooms, central air and a security system. Jackson says the old apartments were plain and the basements would fill with water after a rain. And the waters brought unwelcome guests.

"Oh, my goodness. The bugs and the rodents and the bugs; it was ridiculous," Jackson said. "It was terrible."

Only a quarter of Heritage Park will contain public housing. Critics of the decree say the dispersal of poor people isn't in itself a way to combat poverty. And some of the families who were dispersed to public housing in suburban areas reported feeling isolated and experienced discrimination. Jackson was relocated to a different part of north Minneapolis for six years, but says she didn't like it because the area had too much crime. Jackson, a co-plaintiff in the Hollman lawsuit, says she waited patiently for her chance to come back to the place where she's lived for much of her life.

"When Deanna {rental manager} said they had a place ready for me, my heart just started beating," exclaims Jackson. "Oh! I'm coming back home and I'm here and I ain't planning on leaving."

Builders expect to complete the construction of all the rental housing this fall. The construction of for sale homes, town homes and condominiums is scheduled to begin this winter.

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