Public housing

New federal funds to install sprinklers in Mpls social housing buildings.

Nearly three years after a fire killed five residents, Minneapolis will receive $2 million in federal funding to add sprinklers to the last of its aging high-rise buildings.

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) has rushed in recent years to add sprinklers to all of its buildings, most of them built before government fire codes required the equipment. The emergency was the result of a November 2019 fire on the 14th floor of Cedar High Apartments that killed five people.

A recent investigation by the state fire marshal’s office found that an improper door seal, outdated stairwell design and lack of sprinklers contributed to resident deaths. A sixth person died months later from COVID-19, with smoke inhalation from the fire listed as a significant factor in the medical examiner’s report.

“We have set ourselves an ambitious goal” to add sprinklers to all 42 high-rise buildings in the public housing agency within three to five years, Abdi Warsame, who took over MPHA shortly after the fatal fire, said on Monday. .

The agency remains set to do just that, said Jennifer Keogh, deputy executive director of the Housing Authority.

To date, the agency has installed sprinklers in 18 of its 42 high-rise buildings, retrofitting all units with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire boxes on the stove.

15 other high-rise buildings, including the Cedar High Apartments in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood where the 2019 fire occurred, are being upgraded with sprinklers. Most of that work is expected to be completed within the next two years, officials said. Installing these new sprinkler systems cost at least $18 million.

The federal funding announced Monday — part of a massive federal spending package passed last week — will help the housing authority’s nearly $3 million project complete installation in the remaining nine buildings over the next few weeks. next three to five years.

Warsame said the federal money “will allow us to complete this critical work at an accelerated rate.” He announced the funding Monday alongside U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and other North Minneapolis community members. Omar and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith helped secure the sprinkler money.

Some would like the improvements to happen more quickly.

Residents and family members of fire victims who sued the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority have criticized progress in installing the improvements, saying the process is moving too slowly.

Pressure to add sprinklers and other fire-suppression equipment means the public housing agency has been unable to make other ‘critical and necessary improvements’ to its buildings, officials say. housing managers.

The agency has a backlog of over $160 million in projects. Agency leaders lobbied at the city and state level for additional resources to reduce that amount. They are also looking for additional sources to support his projects, Keogh said, noting that federal funds are helping with sprinkler installations.

Writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.