Displaced Bell Lofts families on verge of homelessness

Almost two months after a flood related to the sprinkler system at a north Minneapolis apartment building displaced approximately 21 tenants, only about half have found permanent housing, and now the remaining group of nine families is facing the possibility of homelessness. 

Steve Yang, his wife and their five children, who range in age from newborn through 12 years old, are among the group of former Bell Lofts tenants currently staying at the TownePlace Suites hotel in Minneapolis while they look for new housing. 

"It’s horrible," said Vang. "It’s stressful, and it’s causing us to go crazy. You know, if I had long hair, longer than this, I would be pulling it out right now."

The flooded floors at Historic Bell Lofts sent families scrambling for new homes in late December, and the city condemned the building days later. 

Like other residents, Vang was under the impression that the cost of their hotel stay has been taken care of by a group of nonprofits that have been involved in helping residents, including The Minneapolis Foundation, Pillsbury United Communities, and It Takes a Village, a small local nonprofit. 

But this week, he learned from hotel staff that there is a large unpaid bill, and the residents, including five other families with children, will have to leave by Saturday.  

Related stories: Bell Lofts: Ex-residents of condemned Minneapolis building plead for landlord accountability

Vang says he’s applied for rentals and for governmental help but has gotten nowhere. He’s heard the shelters are full and doesn’t know where to turn. 

"It tells me I better just pack up and get my family into my vehicle," he said. "Wherever it takes us, we go there."

Pillsbury United Communities Interim President and CEO Brenna Brelie sent an urgent letter Wednesday asking city and county officials to intervene and cover the cost of the resident’s hotel stay. 

"Prevent them from becoming homeless and eliminate the stress that comes from the constant threat of being kicked out so they can focus on finding permanent housing, getting to work and taking care of their families," she wrote. 

The residents have received help for relocation costs, including three months' rent for the city, as well as gift cards distributed by Pillsbury United, but there has not been consistent dedicated funding for the hotel stay.

Residents say their former landlord covered the first few days, from Dec. 28 through Jan.3 Then, the Minneapolis Foundation stepped in, but only for two weeks, covering Jan 4-18, according to a statement from the foundation. 

At that point, the foundation made a grant of $50,000 to Pillsbury United Communities to "provide further support to families as they make the transition to stable housing." PUC received another $10,000 came from a Gofundme organized by the former landlord.

However, this meant there was no dedicated source of funding for the hotel costs. The north Minneapolis based nonprofit It Takes a Village paid at least some of that expense -- founder Dyonyca Conley-Rush told FOX 9 that her organization paid the hotel $10,000 on Wednesday, but emails shared with FOX 9 show that there is still an outstanding balance of at least $10,000.

The letter from Pillsbury United also asked the city to help the tenants who lost their homes and to develop protocols for when emergencies like this pop up, as they also did after the Drake Hotel fire in 2019.

But it might not be soon enough for the Vangs.

"My kids, they start crying because they see other kids talk about how they’re going to go home with their family and spend time with their family, and they don’t have a home to go to," Steven Vang said.

Mayor Jacob Frey’s office tells us the city is open to conversations about improving protocols after emergencies.

The landlords say they’re working with everyone who’s trying to help the former residents. They also hope to get Bell Lofts back open for tenants, but they don’t have a timeline.