Despite calls for sprinklers, Mpls. officials give no timetable for upgrades

Fire truck outside high-rise building on snow-covered street
Five people were killed in an early morning fire on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis on Nov. 27, 2019.
Tim Nelson | MPR News file

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is considering more sprinklers in its buildings after last month's fatal fire in an apartment high-rise, but the agency isn't committing to any timetable.

The Cedar-Riverside building where a fire killed five people on Nov. 27 had limited sprinkler protection and 16 of the authority's 42 high-rises have in-unit sprinklers.

In the wake of the incident, local politicians and members of the community have called for mandating sprinklers in housing, especially in those high-rise buildings that were constructed before building codes required sprinklers. Almost 40 years ago, the state of Minnesota started requiring sprinklers in buildings of three stories or more, or containing more than 15 units.

Tracey Scott, Housing Authority’s interim executive director, said the buildings need many safety upgrades in addition to sprinklers.

The authority has been installing sprinklers as it renovates buildings constructed before the sprinkler mandate, Scott said, but its properties require more than $150 million in upgrades and repairs, with sprinkler costs factored in. The federal government provides little money to fund those repairs and renovations, Scott said.

“It's too soon to tell what decisions we'd have to make in the future, but we clearly are concerned about out residents and we continue on that path,” Scott told MPR News’ Tom Crann.

Earlier this month, Minnesota U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson asking what steps the agency will take to help upgrade older public housing properties.

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