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A little more than three years after a fire killed five people in a Minneapolis public housing high-rise with scant fire suppression, the city can say there's funding to fix that.

This year's city budget, approved last month, allocated the final $1.2 million needed to install sprinklers in all 42 high-rises owned and operated by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.

That money will fund the installation of sprinklers throughout four buildings, encompassing 128 housing units, that remained without sprinkler systems or the money to install them.

To be clear, the sprinklers haven't been installed yet — on those buildings or more than a dozen others. According to the housing agency's annual report, 18 high-rises remain where work has not yet been completed or mostly completed. Of those, five are under construction.

But the housing authority is on pace to reach its goal of having every residential unit protected with sprinklers by 2025 — an ambition costing tens of millions of dollars in what it calls a "remarkable achievement" in five years.

The cost of having so many living without fire suppression was tragically calculated Nov. 27, 2019, when five people died after an accidental early-morning fire tore through the 14th floor in the 25-story high-rise at the Cedar High Apartments complex in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

The building, like many in the Public Housing Authority's inventory, was constructed in the 1960s, when building codes didn't require the sprinkler systems. The high-rise had sprinklers in a ground-floor area and some maintenance areas, but nothing above, where everyone lived.

A number of experts said that, had the building had fire sprinklers, it's possible no one would have died.

The housing authority's effort to install sprinklers in all the buildings has included a combination of federal, state and city funds, as well as $16 million of the agency's own money.

That spending comes amid a burgeoning backlog of other repairs to its existing housing stock. At year's end, the agency estimated that backlog at $210 million.

The money will come from the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Andrea Brennan, the city's director of community planning and economic development, told City Council members that the $1.2 million otherwise could have been spent to create about 30 affordable housing units for people experiencing homelessness.

Brennan said that while Mayor Jacob Frey prioritized fire suppression, the Housing Authority needed money for scattered-site affordable housing. They hoped to get the $1.2 million for the sprinklers through the Legislature.

City Council Member Robin Wonsley led an effort to amend Frey's budget to include the sprinkler money this year — an idea that initially met with resistance from most of her colleagues.

She argued the issue was one of morality and social and racial justice because the residents of those four buildings are among the city's most marginalized and vulnerable. Sixty-one percent are Black, 63% are elderly, and 52% are disabled, according to housing authority data.

In the words of Council Member Elliott Payne, who was initially skeptical, Wonsley persuaded him that "you can't math your way into having your most marginalized community at risk of dying by fire."

During a Dec. 1 meeting of the Council's Budget Committee — a meeting that saw several public officials unable to hold back tears — Wonsley read the names of those who perished in the 2019 fire before making her final pitch to her colleagues: Tyler Baron, 32; Jerome "Jay" Stuart, 59; Nadifa Mohamud, 67; Maryan Mohamud, 69; and Amatalah Adam, 78.

"The city council has the opportunity today to put the final piece in the puzzle and to make sure that no public housing resident needs to suffer that loss of life or the trauma that a fire can trigger," she said.

The funding change passed by a 12-1 vote.

The four buildings are: 809 Spring St. NE, 1900 3rd St. NE, 3205 E. 37th St., and 3755 Snelling Ave. S.

Correction: Previous versions of this story misstated some of the names and ages of those killed in the Cedar High fire.