A condemnation note on the front door of the Bell Lofts apartments in North Minneapolis. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

The city of Minneapolis handed envelopes with checks covering three months’ rent to tenants of the Historic Bell Lofts Friday morning as many faced the possibility of becoming homeless. 

In addition, money raised in the last two days by two organizations, It Takes a Village and Documenting MN, will help tenants cover two more nights at area hotels. About 50 tenants of the lofts in north Minneapolis were flooded out when a pipe in the building burst on December 28. Many moved into hotels, and faced being kicked out by noon Friday until It Takes a Village, Documenting MN, and the city stepped in.

Dyonyca Conley-Rush, founder of It Takes a Village, said two families at the hotels were able to find a new place to live while 19 families are still searching for long-term housing. 

Bell Lofts tenant Sai Yang, her husband, and the couple’s five children are staying in a single hotel room and haven’t found a new apartment. The Bell Lofts building, 816 21st Avenue N., was condemned after the flooding and is uninhabitable. Many tenants, including Yang’s family, lost all of their belongings to water damage.

“Because my household size is a high number—seven—I have to get a three-bedroom apartment. And right now, there’s really none vacant,” said Yang. “Because I’m the only one working, my husband’s a stay-at-home dad, so it’s difficult in that financial way, too.” 

According to Minnesota law, the checks provided to tenants are Renter Relocation Assistance due to the “condemnation of the building” forcing tenants to leave. The building’s landlord is required to pay the rental assistance, but when they can’t, the city of Minneapolis steps in. 

“The City is negotiating terms with the property owner. We accessed these funds so that residents are not left waiting for final resolution before receiving any relief. Funds recovered from the property owner will go toward replenishing the City’s revolving fund,” said a written statement from a Minneapolis city spokesperson. 

State law also requires landlords to return tenants’ security deposits within five days of a building’s condemnation. But Bell Lofts tenants said only one tenant has received their full security deposit while others received a partial payment of their deposit. 

Many tenants said they received a letter from Bell Lofts stating that they didn’t receive the full amount of their security deposit because they still owed rent to the landlord. However, the tenants who received that letter said their rent was not paid because the building did not pass Section 8 Housing inspections, so their government-issued Section 8 vouchers stopped covering rent.

Bell Lofts landlord and developer Chris Webley did not return messages Sahan Journal left Friday on two phone numbers listed to him, an email address listed to the lofts and his real estate development company, and a Facebook account under his name that posted a public plea for help after the flooding.

“Can he hold our security deposits?” Yang said of Webley. “Is he legally able to keep our security deposits, knowing he had to fix [damage] but he didn’t do it?” 

Can he hold our security deposits? Is he legally able to keep our security deposits, knowing he had to fix [damage] but he didn’t do it?

Sai yang, tenant of bell lofts and mother of five

Yang said she did not receive any payment for her security deposit, which is $1,200. 

Theresa Kress, 55, has been on a Section 8 housing voucher for the past 26 years. She lived on the first floor of the Bell Lofts for five years. She said that with the city’s check Friday, “I’m probably not ahead, but we’re gonna get out of this hotel and have a roof over us…” 

Conley-Rush said she donated $500 of her own money to help cover two more hotel nights for tenants. She continues to raise money with others to help cover more hotel stays and to financially support tenants. 

“When [Conley-Rush] says, ‘I got you,’ we believe her,” Yang said. “Is it stressful? Yes. I know she’s more stressed than we are. But I think that eventually something will happen. There will be help coming, I think we just gotta stay positive, stay hopeful, and just believe.” 

you can help tenants:

Donations of clothing and shoes to tenants of Bell Loft apartments in La Quinta community room in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal
  • Donations can be dropped off between 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Sonder Point Apartments, 5803 Xerxes Avenue N., Minneapolis, Minnesota. Items needed include clothing for babies, children, and adults. Toys, food, diapers, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, menstrual products, shoes, cold medicine, and other goods are also accepted. 
  • Call Dyonyca Conley-Rush, founder of It Takes A Village, at 414-519-1090 to ask questions or offer other help.
  • To help pay for hot meals for tenants, donate to @ittakesavillagemn2020 on Venmo, or to @$ittakesavillagemn on Cash App. 

Katelyn Vue is the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. She graduated in May 2022 from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Prior to joining Sahan Journal, she was a metro reporting intern at the Star...