When no equity trumps sweat equity

Neighborhood board president David Motzenbecker has tried to make Kingfield housing more affordable — but might have to leave because his apartment has become too costly

The irony is so strong that it strains the smile on David Motzenbecker’s face. As president of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, he’s worked to bring affordable housing to Southwest; as a renter facing a rent increase he can’t meet, he’s discovering he might not be able to afford to stay in the neighborhood he loves.

"There’s just a little bit of irony in the situation," he said as he sat on one of the old couches in Kingfield’s cozy Anodyne Caf, 4301 Nicollet Ave.

Motzenbecker recently received notice from his landlord that his tenure as property manager — and the $350 reduction in rent that came with the job — ends Oct. 1. Saddled with student loan payments as he completes the final year of his three-year apprenticeship as a landscape architect, Motzenbecker said he needs this admittedly "sweet deal" with his landlord to make ends meet and be able to live in Kingfield. The $450 he paid was nearly half of the $800 a month in rent his apartment normally fetches. He’s worked part-time at nights as a bartender, in addition to his jobs as property manager and landscape architect.

A search of the Star Tribune rental classifieds showed one-bedroom apartments in Kingfield renting for $650 and $660 a month — $200 or more beyond what Motzenbecker now pays — with two-bedroom apartments from $900 to $1,040 a month.

"I love this neighborhood," he said. "I don’t want to move out of it, but I might be forced to. Affordable housing here is gone — shot."

Kingfield is between 36th and 46th streets and Lyndale Avenue to I-35W. Motzenbecker has served on the neighborhood association’s board for three years and as its president since April.

"He’s been a real advocate of affordable housing in the neighborhood, especially as we’ve all watched housing values go up [in Kingfield]," said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, longtime Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) staffer.

Rosemary Dolata, who serves on the Kingfield board with Motzenbecker, said, "We’ve made some pretty conscious efforts to try to encourage affordable housing and bring it into the neighborhood."

She, too, noted the irony in Motzenbecker’s personal housing dilemma and said if he’s forced to move out of Kingfield, "it wouldn’t show that we’ve failed, but it would show that the scope of the housing problem is larger than a neighborhood can readily deal with."

Linnes-Robinson said Motzenbecker and the KFNA board are currently working on two affordable housing developments in the neighborhood, a single-family home with Habitat for Humanity and a duplex with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. A third single-family project with Pride in Living is pending, she said. "Helping bring affordable housing to this neighborhood is a strong interest of this board," she said. "It’s sort of ironic that he would be faced with this situation."

The irony of a neighborhood leader and affordable-housing booster unable to afford his neighborhood is perhaps lost on Motzenbecker’s landlords.

Teresa and Charles Bockes, a wife-and-husband team who live in Seattle, Wash., own the small four-unit complex in which Motzenbecker currently lives. Both said they’d be happy to have Motzenbecker stay as a tenant, but they simply can’t afford his services as a property manager any longer.

"It’s nothing personal," said Charles Bockes of their decision to let Motzenbecker go, but rather one made for typical business reasons: "it’s a whole lot less money [to hire a professional management company] and a whole lot more stuff gets done on the property."

Motzenbecker said he won’t be able to afford to live on their property without his part-time job managing it. "They were great landlords to have," he said of the Bockes. "They set it up to be more like a home than a rental."

Even so, when he was given his 60-day notice by the Bockes recently, he said he was "pissed off at first. I felt almost betrayed. After I calmed down, I thought maybe this was supposed to happen and that something better will come along."

He said he’s put out a call to friends in an effort to find a new place he can afford. "I’ve gotten a pretty positive response," he said.

Friends have offered to let him move in as a roommate, but Motzenbecker said he’d rather not go back to having one, even if it were a friend. "I’ve had enough of them," the 33-year-old said with a laugh. "I’m old enough not to have one."

Other friends have offered to let him stay at their home for free. Unfortunately, those friends live outside of his beloved Kingfield.

If he leaves the neighborhood, he said he would try to remain on the neighborhood board. "I couldn’t just drop it cold-turkey," he said. "It would be rude and insensitive to the people and projects I’m involved with."

He acknowledged, however, that as a nonresident of Kingfield, he might be forced to leave his presidency behind.

"I’d be really, really bummed out to do that," he said. "I’m looking for a way to stay involved, not just a place to live."