Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame is poised to leave office to head the city’s public housing agency.
After a five-month search, a committee has recommended that Warsame become executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
If he gets the job, Warsame will take over at a time when the agency is still dealing with the aftermath of a November fire that left five people dead at the Cedar High Apartments. The building did not have sprinklers in the apartments where the blaze began, and some people have since called on the agency to add more of them to its aging buildings.
The housing complex is in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, part of Warsame’s council ward. He toured the building hours after the fire and met with residents, many of whom are senior citizens or have disabilities.
Warsame, the city’s first Somali-American council member, did not return calls for comment Friday.
In his six years on the council, Warsame has largely been supportive of MPHA, pushing to boost city funding for the agency, including money to cover security at the Cedar-Riverside complex.
At times, he has also called for change. During city budget hearings in December, he supported giving $2.3 million for upgrades at the Elliot Twins high-rise towers. He added a clause requiring the Housing Authority to install sprinklers there. Given the scope of the renovations, the agency likely would have been required to install them anyway.
Within days of those budget hearings, Warsame wrote his application to become MPHA’s executive director, according to documents released Friday.
Warsame wrote in his application that he grew up in public housing in London.
“Affordable housing played a fundamental role in my family’s ability to forge a path out of poverty,” he wrote. “It provided us with financial freedom, independence, stability and security that far too many families simply cannot achieve without assistance. Simply stated, our public housing was our refuge.”
He wrote that he previously served as executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association and pushed for expanding tenants’ rights in the city.
“I believe my background makes me uniquely qualified to work with all levels of governments and nonprofits to bring renewed energy to the MPHA,” he wrote.
The authority’s board will discuss Warsame’s application at a special public meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at MPHA headquarters, 1001 N. Washington Av. To secure the job, Warsame would need to be approved by both the MPHA board and the Minneapolis City Council.
If Warsame gets the housing agency job, the city would hold an election to find a new council member for his district, the Sixth Ward, which includes Cedar-Riverside, Elliot Park and other adjacent neighborhoods.
Warsame would take the position last held by Greg Russ, who’s now leading the New York City Housing Authority. Tracey Scott is serving as the interim director.
Staff writer Marissa Evans contributed to this report.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994