Darkness and light

They call it “senseless violence” for a reason. There is no way to come up with any words that make any sense of a quiet workday at Accent Printing that suddenly erupted with unspeakable violence.

There is no way to put things back to what used to pass as normal, or even pretend.

But in this past week — with sirens, SWAT teams and gunshots gone, and after five funerals and uncountable tears — there were glimmers of light to hold.

The five funerals over the past week were clearly wrenching for those involved, and even for those who only learned about the people who died after they were gone. But throughout the week, I heard story after story of the humanity and warmth of the people we lost. I want to briefly share what I heard from their friends and coworkers in conversations this week, because we should not let any of these people be forgotten.

Start with Accent founder Reuven Rahamim. He had an infectious enthusiasm and a huge personality. You always knew when he was in the room, and he loved what he did. The tour that Rep. Keith Ellison and I took of Accent a few months back was supposed to last about 15 minutes. An hour and a half later, I had missed at least one meeting, and U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce Francisco Sánchez almost missed his flight. But Reuven had to show off one more innovation and brag about one more employee, and you really couldn’t help but cheer him on.

We put Reuven on Minneapolis’ Workforce Council and on our green business task force, and sent him to the White House as a great example of small-businesses exporting. At every step he made a huge impact and was impossible to ignore. Our City economic-development staff who were lucky enough to work with him are simply crushed.

Reuven’s close friend and coworker was Rami Cooks. Rami’s children, through their grief, found a way to share wonderful stories of their father, and reminded us that he died a hero fighting to save others. They said the horrible way he died should not be allowed to outshine who he was and what he gave them, and those around him.

Ronald Edberg was a quiet man whose children remember him for being a “superman” who could fix anything. He left behind “Team Walleye,” a group of friends who went on an annual fishing trip together for 40 straight years. Every year it was Ron who quietly took care of the details to make it all work, and the day after each trip, he started planning next year.

“Remember my father for the good times, or not at all,” his daughter said. “He would want it that way.”

Jacob Beneke was a young artist whose work during the day at Accent included mastering the company’s increasing technical machines. Reuven let him use those machines after work, which increasingly gave new dimensions to his art work. He used that skill as an artist to help other artists at the Maple Grove Art Center.

Keith Basinski didn’t work at Accent. He happened to be there that day, and many days, because it was on his UPS route. They knew him well there, and throughout the Bryn Mawr neighborhood and nearby businesses, especially in International Market Square.

“In the middle of an ordinary workday this burst of sunshine would walk through the door,” one of the people from International Market Square said. “Keith never seemed to have a bad day, and he kept a lot of us from having them, too.”

A deeply religious person, Keith spent large parts of his life at his church, and especially with the church’s youth group.

Stepping back to consider all these lives lost makes a horrible tragedy even harder to accept. But it would be far worse to let that tragedy overwhelm who they were.

Part of our job is to remember. Part of our job is also to be there for those who have lost so much — not just in these days but weeks and years from now when a birthday or anniversary or graduation or just random Tuesday reminds a loved one who isn’t there.

In the coming weeks, I will be thinking a lot about our police officers, and those from partner agencies, who responded to this incident. They are highly trained professionals who acted with bravery, but they are also human beings who saw horrible things. Remember them, too, and if you have a chance, thank them for the willingness to put their own lives on the line to save others, and for being there to comfort those at the moment of great loss.

I believe it is also important to not let this horror destroy a dream of Accent’s founders, and the many people who work there. It was deeply touching to company employees to get such overwhelming support from vendors and customers this week. Part of what we can do is to help the company through a very difficult transition. Those of us at the City will make it a mission to help Accent however we can because, on some level, everyone in our community has a stake in Accent now.

Violence may be senseless, but it is our responsibility to ask deeper questions. That will happen in coming weeks, and should. Of special concern to me is how we together see and respond to the early-warning signs of mental illness, so that greater challenges do not arise. This dialogue needs to be sensitive to those close to the company and the families who did all they could.

A few hours after this horrible, horrible tragedy, I walked down Laurel Avenue to the front yard of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church where neighbors had quickly and quietly gathered. With the sky darkening behind them, they lit candles, passed them from person to person and reflected on what had just happened and the people they just had lost. That image has stayed with me — a really simple, but powerful reminder of what we have to do now.

We can’t ever make this right or go back to how things were before. But we can keep the flames lit, turn to our neighbors and know that senseless violence doesn’t rob us of our humanity.

Investing in housing and stabilization

Strong infrastructure and public safety are the pillars of a strong city, and you can’t have either without a growing economy and fiscal responsibility. My 2013 budget invests in all of them — as it does in building and preserving housing and stabilizing our neighborhoods, which also help grow our economy.

Middle-class homeownership

Minneapolis is defined by miles and miles of strong middle-class neighborhoods, which are the bedrock of one of the strongest middle classes of any city in the America.

But that bedrock is weaker than it was. For many years, 93 percent of single-family homes in Minneapolis were homesteaded.  Last year that fell to 80 percent, and in some neighborhoods it was much lower.

This is why the budget I proposed invests in stabilizing neighborhoods and helping people stay in their homes. With the help of the Obama Administration, we continue to fund successful programs that grow a new generation of single-family homeowners, including Minneapolis Advantage, City Living and Home Ownership Works, among others. HUD Secretary Shawn Donovan has praised Minneapolis’ approach as a national model.

Another new effort we have begun in the last year is called the Rehab Support Program: it targets middle- and lower-middle-income homeowners who find that unexpected home repairs put them in danger of foreclosure or walking away, and offers them a forgivable loan. We have applied for State funding to double this program.

Foreclosure prevention

The foreclosure crisis hit Minneapolis hard: from 2007 to 2011, more than 12,000 properties were foreclosed on. Even though the rate has slowed dramatically — in 2012, we are on track for less than half the foreclosures of 2009 — the number is still far too high. My budget also continues to fund our foreclosure-prevention efforts.

For the last five years, we have funded a partnership with the Homeownership Center, which worked with homeowners and lenders to help prevent 1,473 foreclosures. Their success rate is high: counselors are typically able to help two-thirds of homeowners who seek their help to avoid foreclosure.

And we are beginning a new effort called Project Homeowner Connect. The Homeownership Center will pull together under one roof a wide variety of service providers, including lenders, who will help homeowners stay in their homes, including those who have fallen behind. We aim to hold Project Homeowner Connect at least three times a year, because it doesn’t take long for a homeowner with the best of intentions to start falling behind on a mortgage.

Green Homes North

Foreclosures hurt not only a homeowner, but also can destabilize a neighborhood and hurt the home values of everyone who lives nearby. We have seen this have dramatic consequences in some neighborhoods, especially North Minneapolis.

We realized we needed a “big bang” to restore confidence and excitement to the Northside housing market, so at my State of the City speech this year we announced a bold new effort.

Green Homes North will build 100 green, sustainable, affordable homes on City-owned vacant lots in North Minneapolis over the next five years, and in the process will provide sustainable, affordable housing; create good, green construction jobs for local residents; and support local green businesses by sourcing materials through them.

And these homes won’t just benefit the people who will live in them: they will also restore value to neighbors’ homes and vitality to their blocks and the entire neighborhood. Everyone will benefit.

Getting lenders to do more

Banks, lenders and financial institutions also need to do everything they can to prevent foreclosure. Far too often, however, homeowners in trouble can’t master the complex home-mortgage system. Banks and lenders need to step up voluntarily and do more to help, including negotiating with homeowners to reduce interest rates, clearing the way for more refinancing and short sales, and reducing principal.

We are also working with advocates on requiring the City’s depository institutions to report more data about what they are doing to work with homeowners to prevent foreclosure.

And at the federal level, the City Council and I are working to get Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who own or insure up to 60% of all home mortgages in the country and have been far too inflexible with homeowners and communities, to establish a principal-reduction program.

Affordable housing

Finally, my 2013 budget also continues our long-term investment in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which has gotten great results. From 2003 to 2012, it invested $82 million to create 6,500 units of affordable housing for low-income residents. That investment also added $600 million to the tax rolls, which helps everyone.

Please let me know what you think about my budget and our investments in jobs and economic growth. Contact me here or me at rt@minneapolis.org, with “Growth” in the subject line. I will keep these updates about the 2013 budget coming.