William Walker sleeps with an ax in his one-bedroom apartment at the East Village apartments in Minneapolis’ Elliot Park neighborhood. There’s a hole in his bathroom ceiling, and his kitchen and bathroom floors are sticky because several tiles have been removed.
Walker, 51, stopped paying his approximately $1,340* monthly rent in February because of the condition of his apartment. He sleeps with an ax because the drywall in the hallway outside his apartment was removed, making him fearful it’d be easy for someone to break into his unit through the thinner wall.
“You can’t cook if you have a hole in your ceiling where the frame is exposed. You don’t want to take a shower because if you step on the floor, it’s all adhesive,” said Walker. “It’s just been terrible. I’ve never been late on a rent payment. I’ve never had a noise complaint, or anything, and there’s no relief in sight.”
Several tenants told Sahan Journal that a pipe in the East Village apartments’ north building burst around noon on December 27, resulting in water damage to 20 apartments on all three floors of the building. Walker’s apartment was among the units damaged.
Many residents said the apartment’s management company, Aeon, failed to communicate about the progress of repairs and make accommodations to help affected residents months after the incident. Many are Somali, and have created a group chat on WhatsApp to share videos, photos, and updates because of what they describe as a lack of communication from Aeon.
The building’s sole elevator went unrepaired for a month, which prevented some older tenants on the second and third floors from leaving their units because they were unable to use the stairs due to health issues. “Multiple” renters missed their doctor’s appointments, according to tenants and HOME Line, a housing advocacy nonprofit working with tenants to address issues with Aeon.
Abdullahi Hassan said his 80-year-old father couldn’t leave his third-floor apartment because of the broken elevator.
“He stayed in his apartment, kind of like a jail,” said Hassan, who also lives on the same floor in the same building, but in a different unit. Hassan lives with his wife and two daughters.
Hassan said his father has heart problems and swollen legs, and had to be carried down the stairs from his apartment to attend an important doctor’s appointment.
In an email statement to Sahan Journal, Aeon said two households told them they had elders who couldn’t take the stairs, and that the company was unable to temporarily relocate them to other, more accessible units in the building because none were available.
“We told them any updates we had on the arrival of the elevator parts and apologized for the inconvenience,” said the Aeon statement. “This was such a tough situation; unfortunately, there is only one elevator in the building.”
The elevator in the 70-unit building stopped working on January 9, and was repaired February 10 due to delays in obtaining the correct parts for repairs, according to Aeon. The company told Sahan Journal Thursday that other repairs to flood damage would begin Monday, March 13.
It’s the latest problem tenants said they’ve faced at the apartments; they raised concerns in 2021 to Aeon about security, lack of communication, and slow response times.
In a written statement to Sahan Journal, Aeon officials said that the pipe burst because a tenant kept their apartment windows open and turned off the heat in cold weather, and that repairs were delayed for over two months largely because Aeon was waiting for approval from its insurance company.
“We have informed the insurance company’s representative of the impact of this lengthy process,” said the Aeon statement. “This is a frustrating situation and we are eager to get the repair work started.”
The estimated cost to repair water damage is about half a million dollars, said Virginia Brown, Aeon’s chief transformation officer.
Residents’ mounting frustrations prompted them to reach out to legislators for help in February. Several tenants met with two* state representatives—Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis and Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis—on February 19 to air their concerns. Working alongside Noor and Hornstein are state representatives Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis and Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis.
On March 3, the lawmakers, Hassan, and Aeon president and CEO Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson met to discuss residents’ concerns. Johnson agreed to meet with more East Village residents in the near future.
The ultimate goal is to have Aeon leaders meet with East Village residents and resolve the “systemic problem,” said Hornstein. “It’s not just simply one building… there are a number of other properties that appear to have some similar kinds of issues.”
Several residents from other Aeon properties have filed rent escrows against Aeon in court. A rent escrow starts a legal process that attempts to compel a landlord to honor a lease agreement or address repairs.
Aeon is a housing nonprofit based out of Minneapolis that builds, purchases, and renovates apartments and townhomes across the Twin Cities. The company aims to create and sustain affordable housing. It owns 60 properties and manages 50, including East Village Apartments. Ten of its properties are managed by another company.
Repairs being scheduled, company says
In an email statement to Sahan Journal, Aeon confirmed that the company’s insurance company approved a contractor bid, and that the contractor and insurance adjuster are scheduling repairs.
Damages from the pipe burst filled hundreds of claim documents, Brown said.
Aeon said other factors delaying repairs are supply chain and shipping issues.
The vendor fixing the elevator ordered a new motor and didn’t receive it until January 25, Aeon said. After removing the motor, the vendor realized that the elevator also needed a pump replaced, causing another delay.
Santiago De Angulo, Aeon’s Executive Vice President of Property Operations, said in a statement to Sahan Journal that the company is exploring changing vendors for elevator maintenance and repairs. Vendors are also short-staffed, so there are delays in repairs of all kinds across properties, he added.
On the same day the pipe burst, Walker said, a clean-up crew came into his apartment to remove water from the carpet, pull tiles off the bathroom and kitchen floors, cut a hole in his ceiling due to water damage, and temporarily install large fans to dry the water.
Walker said no one has told him when to expect repairs to his apartment. The clean-up crew also told Walker not to turn off the drying equipment, he added, so his electricity bill increased.
Other residents dealt with the same issue; they said they were also told to keep the drying equipment turned on throughout their apartments, hallways, and storage rooms. Some residents said the fans kicked up dust that made them feel sick. They said the equipment was left on 24 hours a day for about two weeks.
Aeon said residents whose electricity bills increased can get reimbursed if they provide a copy of their electricity bill before the fans were installed, and bills from after the equipment was installed.
Large sections of drywall in the hallways that share walls with apartment units were removed due to water damage, and haven’t been replaced. Some residents, including Walker, are fearful strangers could easily break into their apartments by kicking through the thin hallway walls.
Hassan said his apartment suffered extensive water damage because it’s next door to the apartment where the pipe burst. Hassan and his family are temporarily living in the East Village apartments’ south building across the courtyard.*
“We don’t want a problem. We want to live in a place safe, clean, good maintenance,” said Hassan. “But if the people don’t have a good place—not safe, bad maintenance—that’s not good, because we pay the rent.”
According to Aeon, all residents whose apartments were damaged were immediately offered a temporary unit to stay in; five households, including Hassan, accepted the offer and moved into available apartments.
However, Walker said he refused an offer Aeon made him on February 28 to permanently relocate from his one-bedroom apartment to a smaller studio apartment.
“I don’t want to do that, you know?” he said. “If it was temporary, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But they said it’s gonna be permanent. Like: why are you punishing me for the pipes bursting?”
Residents in the East Village’s north and south buildings, which are connected through an underground parking garage, have shared similar concerns to Aeon about poor maintenance and security, and the company’s lack of communication.
Many flyers and handwritten notes from Aeon are taped onto hallway walls and doors in the north building, telling residents to keep fans on to dry the water damage, among other announcements. But residents say they rarely hear back from management about their concerns, or receive information on the progress of repairs to the building or individual apartment units.
Brown said Aeon uses email blasts to send residents information, but acknowledged that with the pipe burst, “I do feel like there’s some responsibility Aeon has to be better and more frequent in its communication.”
Residents have endured more in the past
Many residents said their biggest concern at the apartment complex is a lack of security. They said the doors throughout both buildings are often propped open by random objects, allowing strangers to enter the building. Residents say there aren’t enough preventative measures to stop crime.
Several residents who live in both buildings said that on a nearly daily basis, they witness someone who doesn’t appear to be a tenant sleeping, smoking, or using the bathroom in a stairwell near the parking lot. On one occasion, someone left a knife in the stairwell.
Residents say they avoid the stairwell, but that nearby apartments house young children and residents sensitive to smoke inhalation.
Halimo Abdi, 39, works as a mental health practitioner and is a mother of three children ages 3, 6, and 9. The family’s unit in the north building is near the stairwell on the third floor. Halimo’s 60-year-old mother lives across the hall with three other relatives. When the elevator was broken, Halimo’s mother couldn’t use the stairs so she stayed inside her apartment.
Halimo said her mother fainted on one occasion because of people smoking nearby. Residents said they have raised security issues to management, but were oftentimes ignored or told to call the police.
“This is their property, right? This is not a public street, right? So, they can’t tell us to call the police when they can simply do certain things to provide us safety,” Halimo said. “So monitor the exits. Or have cameras that actually work or do something about it. For the apartment complex to literally provide us security and safety here.”
Several residents of both buildings shared stories of getting robbed or having their cars broken into. Walker said he was robbed and assaulted outside near his apartment.
Syrita Benson, 45, has lived in the East Village’s south building with her two children for about three years. She said she was attacked by a stranger in the building’s garage last year. Now, Benson avoids parking in the garage.
“I am still afraid, my children are still afraid to live there, and I’m pretty sure there’s other tenants—I’m pretty sure they’re afraid,” Benson said.
Aeon said the company has added more safety measures, including increased security patrols, new keypads for the entry panel and more security cameras. Security patrols both the north and south building properties for eight hours every night on weekends, and patrol them twice a night during the week.
“East Village is right on the edge of Elliot Park, where crime has actually increased quite a bit since the pandemic, and it’s been a problem in that neighborhood quite a bit, and we have several properties in that area, and we and others… We’ve all experienced this issue and have been struggling to fight it,” said Brown.
However, many residents said they haven’t seen the security patrols Aeon referred to.
“I’ve been there for three and a half years,” Benson said. “I’ve never seen security.”
Status of improving living conditions
In June 2021, Aeon told Sahan Journal the company would invest $3 million on updates to 45 apartments in the north and south buildings for residents who have lived there for more than a decade. But no updates have been made yet.
“We paused the start of this project to work through some logistical challenges to make sure the process would be as smooth as possible for residents,” said a statement from Aeon. “Each apartment has a unique scope of work depending on its needs, and that made it more complicated to coordinate the construction, materials, and timelines than we initially anticipated.”
Dahabo Salad, 66, has lived with her two children in the East Village’s north building since 2001. Her apartment is near the stairwell with the reported security problems.
“I don’t even care about the renovation anymore, because the safety issue is the worry now, and all of this happened with the water damage—they showed they didn’t care,” she said of Aeon. “They didn’t come out or say anything. And I feel like this is not caring about the tenant. They want us to be out, they don’t care about us.”
A Minneapolis city inspector visited the north building and provided Aeon with an order on January 17 requiring the company to rectify violations found at the building. Since then, the elevator was fixed, but other violations, including plumbing fixtures and cleanliness in stairwells throughout the building, have not been corrected, according to the Minneapolis Regulatory Services Violations public dashboard.
Aeon said in a written statement that they cleaned the stairwells and they will soon make repairs to address all the violations.
“These are our homes, and we’d just wish that they would care,” said Walker, the tenant who sleeps with an ax to protect himself. “They do not care.”
*CORRECTIONS: Only two state representatives were present at the February 19 resident meeting, instead of four. A previous version of this story misstated the amount of rent, as it was reported by William Walker. In addition, Abdullahi Hassan’s unit is across the street, not courtyard, of his temporary unit.