See more of the story

A Minneapolis public housing resident is suing the city and public housing authority, complaining of sewage backing up into her basement, loose asbestos floor tile and peeling paint.

Kimberly Lowry, who lives in a house on 26th Avenue S. managed by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), alleges in a lawsuit filed Sept. 7 that the agency hasn't addressed those problems, despite her reports. She contends public housing tenants have fewer protections than those who live in privately owned rentals because the city doesn't license their dwellings, resulting in discriminatory treatment in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

"Public housing tenants deserve decent, sanitary housing. They deserve housing that complies with the law," said Anna Prakash, one of Lowry's attorneys. "The fundamental health and safety protections the law provides should not be dependent on whether someone receives public assistance."

While Minneapolis does not license public housing, all renters can report housing code violations by calling 311, said city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. A city inspector will follow up by visiting the property and, if issues are found, will send the property owner a list of repairs to complete.

"The city's current practice is to respond to all 311 complaints that come in from MPHA residents or community members," McKenzie said. "Our response to 311 complaints [is] the same for all property owners. There is no differentiation in our response."

The Public Housing Authority is primarily funded by federal tax dollars, and federal law limits how that money can be spent. The agency doesn't believe it is allowed to pay rental licensing fees to the city, said the agency's executive director, Abdi Warsame, in a statement.

"We also strongly dispute the implication that our properties are somehow unlicensed or unregulated. To the contrary, our properties are subject to extensive regulations and property inspections that do not apply to most private landlords," he said. "Lastly and importantly, lawsuits like this one rob our residents and community of housing opportunities: they take money away from housing and force it to be used defending the organization from legal actions and can have other adverse impacts on our ability to fulfill our mission."

Susan Du • 612-673-4028