An old hotel on the University of Minnesota's Fraternity Row was about to be turned into that rarest of resources in Minneapolis: affordable housing.
Oh no, said Fraternity Row. There goes the neighborhood.
"I think we're going to get rapes. I think we're going to have problems," said Parnell Mahoney, pastor of nearby Maranatha Christian Church, tucked northwest of campus between rows of sorority houses in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Mahoney was one of a half-dozen people at City Hall on Monday who rose to complain about Hennepin County's plan to convert the former University Inn into dozens of snug efficiency apartments.
But if you say affordable housing, all some people hear is: "We're going to get rapes."
One by one, representatives of nearby fraternities and sororities — not the students, but paid staff — rose to protest the plan. This neighborhood, they said, should be a protected space just for students. The city should be looking out for their interests — and their property values.
Planning Commissioner Chloe McGuire had heard enough.
"I heard that you're really worried about rapes in the neighborhood," McGuire said. "Well, I was raped by a fraternity brother."
In video of the hearing, you can hear voices shouting out from the audience, trying to talk over her, trying to cut her off. McGuire — who said most of the shouting was coming from Mahoney — continued, her voice calm and clear.
"Maybe you guys need to look at yourselves," she said, "before you look at the affordable housing."
The project is geared toward renters with incomes 30% below the neighborhood median. In Marcy-Holmes, that could mean anyone from firefighters and teachers to recovering addicts and veterans and grandmas.
Rent for the 300-square-foot units would be priced within reach for people earning minimum wage or just starting out in their careers. It would mean affordable housing within walking distance for some of the 1,500 service workers who keep the campus fed, clean and landscaped.
The Minneapolis Planning Commission met this week to sign off on the hotel conversion plan. No one in the neighborhood had weighed in during the project's lengthy public comment period. Not until Monday.
"Are you aware of all the crime that's plaguing that area?" said City Council Member Michael Rainville, who sits on the Planning Commission.
Rainville asked the commission to delay its vote a few weeks until he could talk to the neighborhood about what affordable housing might mean for Fraternity Row. A narrow majority agreed to his request.
"I'm trying to be sensitive to all these young people who are, in the most case, pretty naïve about urban living, especially in crime-plagued areas," Rainville said. "Once the county implements this, it's never going away."
For the past two years, the now-vacant hotel had served as a pandemic homeless shelter. Even Mahoney, who estimates his church sits 350 feet away, said he had not noticed any rise in crime during that time — at least no crimes tied to residents of the shelter.
But everyone Monday had stories about crime. Carjackings. Package thieves. Break-ins. Neighbors want somebody to do something. And some of them want the Planning Commission to do nothing.
The project's nearest neighbor is Sigma Alpha Mu, a multimillion-dollar property like the nine or so other fraternities and sororities within a one-block radius, said Paul Bernstein, who serves on the fraternity nonprofit that maintains the property.
"This proposed plan," Bernstein said of the affordable apartments next door, "does not enhance these properties. It diminishes them."
As the audience weighed in about who deserves a home in Marcy-Holmes, few seemed clear about what this project would actually be. Some called it a group home, or a shelter. All they knew was that they didn't want it in their backyard.
As of Thursday, Mahoney had not responded to calls and emails for comment. So McGuire gets the last word.
"There's no correlation between crime and affordable housing," said McGuire, who posted an account of the evening on Medium. "All people deserve affordable housing."