Homeowners in north Minneapolis have made great progress toward recovery from last spring's tornado.
Most of the 3,700 properties affected by the storm have been repaired. But city officials say hundreds of properties remain damaged, more than a month after they had hoped most repairs would be finished.
The north Minneapolis streets near Theodore Wirth Park were hit hard by the tornado. More than eight months after the storm, evidence of its force remain. Many homes are still being repaired.
But others are boarded with no sign of activity, like the damaged home two doors down from where Ruby Cruz lives on Sheridan Avenue North.
The small white house has a large open gash in its roof, which looks as if it is caving in.
"There is nobody there and there wasn't anybody there when the storm happened," Cruz said.
She worries the empty houses in her neighborhood will further depress home values for her and the other stable homeowners on her block. But she's not sure what the city can do.
"You know they are doing what they can," Cruz said. "I'm satisfied that they are fixing the streets and stuff.
"I don't know if there is anything they can do about the houses, you know, because knowing that the bank owns them — that is why they don't do much to it."
NO CLEAR OWNERSHIP
This vacant house is typical of heavily damaged properties where owners haven't responded to months of notices ordering them to make repairs.
"As you can see from that end the roof is gone," said city housing inspector Farrokh Azmoudeh. He said some people were uninsured or underinsured. Some just walked away from their properties. And others, he says, are foreclosures or owned by banks.
"There is no ownership that we can identify to correspond and say "What are you going to do,' "Azmoudeh said. "Those are out of our control. Out of the city's control."
Azmoudeh and other inspectors have canvassed north Minneapolis trying to find unresponsive owners. It is now up to the city to decide which of the worst holdouts, including this home on Sheridan, should be torn down.
"And the last group are the ones that they haven't done anything," Azmoudeh said. "We've given them all of the notices and the city is about to demolish them."
The most recent city inspections — since the beginning of the year — found 330 properties with outstanding repairs in the tornado zone. The city has identified about 150 of them as vacant.
About 60 vacant homes are possible demolition candidates, Director of Housing Inspections Tom Deegan said. Many are likely bank owned, and Deegan said it may take months to sort out ownership.
"The problem that we are looking at here with the tornado area ... is that we really don't know of anybody's intent, and we won't know probably until we get closer to spring," said Deegan.
So far, the city has torn down 10 homes and plans to demolish another eight. Owners have the right to appeal before their property is knocked down, and that adds months to an already drawn-out process.
That leaves vacant and damaged properties to further deteriorate, Deegan said.
"We are actively pursuing all of these cases and everybody is working very diligently to that end. It just takes time," he said.
Demolishing a home costs the city an average of about $17,000. The city recoups some of that through fees charged to delinquent property owners.
But the city would rather save homes than tear them down.
Officials are working with community groups and the state to preserve every property that can be saved, and to assist homeowners who need help paying for repairs.
The goal, Deegan said, is to have a plan in place for every damaged property by spring. But even with plans in place, he said it could take until next fall before every home damaged in last May's tornado is either fixed or demolished.