Hiawatha Commons, an Alliance Housing property at 2740 Minnehaha has been in operation since 2006. Louella Williams has been living there since the beginning.
Louella is a quiet person who tends to keep to herself, but she always smiles and greets her neighbors in the hall. Hiawatha Commons is a place that suits her quietness, but Louella also enjoys the busyness around her, with easy access to two bus lines, the light rail, and stores like Target and Cub within walking distance. For her, it’s a “well-centered location”.
Louella says that Hiawatha Commons is a “wonderful place to live in” and that “Erika and Jaclynn are excellent landlords who take pride in the building and make sure things are well-taken care of.” Louella also takes pride in living in the building, and takes building security very seriously. She makes sure that she doesn’t let strangers in, reinforcing building rules to always use a key when entering.
Louella says she has lived in other apartments, but that she experiences a stability at Hiawatha Commons that she hasn’t found in previous apartment buildings. She especially enjoys her cozy one bedroom and patio, and has no interest in moving anywhere else.
“We don’t do taxes, but we do pretty much everything else”
All jobs come with the phrase “other duties as assigned”. But site manager Erika Oberpriller, and her assistant property manager Jaclynn Melina put their heads, hands, and hearts into their work, and go beyond expectations in helping the Hiawatha Commons residents survive and thrive.
Erika Oberpriller has been the site manager for Hiawatha Commons since 2008, almost since the beginning. In those nine years, she has seen many things, but is especially gratified by the success stories, and by the way she and her staff have been able find unconventional ways to help their residents.
As a hard-working mother herself, Erika feels she has a special understanding of the struggles low-income people have, especially when it comes to raising a family. Residents see her as a mom, a keeper of the property, and as a person they can go to for advice.
Erika and Jaclynn have helped residents with confusing paperwork and in working through bureaucratic systems, such as immigration paperwork, and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. They have also dealt with residents’ previous landlords in getting back deposits and resolving landlord-tenant issues. Erika says, “We don’t do taxes, but we do pretty much everything else!”
Jaclynn said that they keep flexible hours so that they can help residents at odd hours. They let residents use their computers when they need to look something up, or print something out.
Staff has checked on apartments when people are out of town, and knocked on doors to alert residents that their cars are in danger of being towed. They have helped residents sign up for cable tv, or with cable tv problems.
Erika says, “someone is watching”, keeping an eye on residents, and stepping in when needed. She has found help for people with mental health issues, and often advocates for residents with unique needs and situations.
Keeping Hiawatha Commons clean and safe are top priorities. Erika and Jaclynn have provided cleaning supplies, and shown residents how to keep their apartments clean and organized. Jaclynn started working as a cleaner at Hiawatha Commons in 2010, and takes special pride in keeping the common areas spic and span. She continues to mop floors and keep an eye on things, even though she’s the assistant property manager and has increased duties far beyond cleaning.
Jaclynn and Erika ensure that resident children have a safe and friendly place to live. Occasionally a parent will call to say they are running late, and ask if their child can wait with staff after exiting the school bus. It may be a matter of just a few minutes, but knowing that staff is ready and willing to watch over the children is a great relief to parents. Some of the younger children in the building go to the day care on site, and some residents work at the daycare. These children are growing up in a building where there are other caring adults, besides their parents – a real bonus.
Because of all these amenities, Hiawatha Commons has a very low turnover rate, with at least 25% being original occupants. Former residents come back to visit, and want to move back in. People often start out in a studio, and as they become more stable and can afford it, move into a one bedroom. Then if their family grows, they often move into a two-bedroom. As an extra benefit, the two-bedroom apartments are set up for a roommate situation, so there are two bathrooms, and air conditioning units in each bedroom, which is very unusual in the low-income rental market.
Hiawatha Commons is a well-managed, sturdy, secure building. But for Erika, Jaclynn, and the staff, it’s more than a simple building. Hiawatha Commons is all about trying to help, and moving forward. It is a safe and welcoming place for over 200 residents. It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.
Moving forward, and up, and out
Renisha Minus has lived at Hiawatha Commons for nine years. She moved in when she was 18 and pregnant with her first child. She had been living with her parents. Since this was her first move she had “no rental history, no record of responsibility.” But, she says, despite her lack of history, Alliance Housing “took a chance on me.”
She moved into a studio apartment, but has continued to expand her living space as her family has grown. She now shares a two-bedroom with her husband and three children. At one point, she moved out of Alliance Housing into a two-bedroom elsewhere, but it didn’t work out, so she returned to Hiawatha Commons and has been there ever since. She credits Erika Oberpriller, the site manager, with seeing her through lots of transitions. “Erika is the best,” says Renisha. “I can talk with Erika about anything. Her door is always open. I consider her a mentor.”” In addition to encouraging Renisha, Erika “whipped some sense into me”. Her Alliance living experience has “shaped and molded me. I have grown in the areas of responsibility, finance, and money management.”
Renisha thinks that Hiawatha Commons is a great building, close by everything, and a building where problems are handled. On her way to work, she often has friendly morning conversations with her neighbors and staff, which is a great start to her day. She says it “feels like a community, like family.” She mentioned that some of the children in the building go to the same school, which has helped build their friendships and strengthen the neighborhood feel of Hiawatha Commons.
Renisha reflected that she is older now, and “I understand now. I have seen myself come through a situation. I can be responsible. I know I can do it. I have confidence and determination. I can show my children and they can learn responsibility.”
Her hard work and experience has helped Renisha get ready for the next phase of her life. Although she doesn’t want to leave her home at Hiawatha Commons, she knows that someday she will be ready to buy her own home. But as Renisha says of her Hiawatha Commons experience, “I don’t think I’ll find that anywhere else.”