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Some Minneapolis tornado victims struggle to repair homes ahead of winter

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Prince Jeter's damaged roof
Prince Jeter, 37, his wife and two children have lived in their north Minneapolis home for seven years. They suffered major damage in the May tornado and are this month beginning exterior repairs, with the help of Habitat for Humanity.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

As winter approaches, hundreds of north Minneapolis residents are still living with damage from the tornado that swept through their neighborhood nearly six months ago. City officials are working to help property owners who need assistance to fix their roofs and chimneys before the snow flies.

The May 22 tornado damaged about 3600 properties in north Minneapolis. City inspectors say about 500 of those properties still have damaged roofs, chimneys or electrical masts. Nearly half of these properties -- 232 out of 500 -- are still covered with blue tarps, including Prince Jeter's house. 

"But that is like the fourth tarp," he said.

The home Jeter lives in with his wife and two children sustained heavy damage to the roof and chimney and the gutters were ripped off. To help catch the rain, Jeters filled his attic with industrial sized buckets. But still, the water gets in. There's a spot in the kitchen where six months of leaks have destroyed the ceiling after the roof shingle above were ripped clean off the home. 

Jeter estimated it will cost more than $20,000 just to repair the roof and chimney. That's far beyond what he and his wife can afford on their modest incomes: Jeter works in manufacturing and his wife runs a small beauty business. To make matters worse, their homeowner's insurance isn't enough to cover the damage.

"That is major. There is no way I could pay that on my salary, no way, no way," he said. "And then I have the city coming out and giving me inspections and ordinance notices."

City officials said the citations are intended to push property owners to make repairs. But the stick comes with a carrot. The city has about $1.2 million in state and local funds available to assist property owners. People are eligible to apply even if they have bad credit or are behind on property taxes. 

There are income and other requirements, however, and not everyone will meet the criteria. So the city is referring property owners such as Jeter -- who don't qualify for federal, state or city assistance -- to Habitat for Humanity, which has its own funds for construction and repairs.

Meanwhile, volunteers and inspectors continue to go door to door in the tornado zone to find out who needs assistance. So far, the Northside Community Response Team, a coalition coordinating tornado recovery, reports contacting about 1,500 tornado-affected families. 

Damaged kitchen
North Minneapolis resident Prince Jeter's house is one of an estimated 500 the city says still need repairs after the May 22 tornado that ripped through the area. A leaking roof caused this damage to the ceiling in his kitchen.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

Housing director Tom Streitz said the goal is to find out what kind of help people need to fix their homes.

"Each and every house that was damaged, what are the next moves, how can we make sure we get these tarps taken off and get shingles back up?" Streitz said, adding that the city is hoping to get every home with exterior damage fixed by the end of the year. 

"Our goal is to save these properties and make sure that everyone has a roof on their house before winter comes," he said.

Habitat for Humanity is expected to begin fixing Jeter's roof and chimney this week, and he says he is grateful for the help. It's also part of helping the whole north side get back on its feet. 

"It's definitely going to help the economy," he said. "If my house is sellable we can get some decent people into the neighborhood. If you make the neighborhood marketable I think you can change some things. It'll affect crime, it'll affect getting businesses around, so it's a good thing."

Without the repair assistance, Jeter said he's not sure how he and his family would make it through the winter.