The podcast this week is a conversation with Jillia Pessenda, a community organizer who is running for city council representing Minneapolis’ Ward 1 in the northeast corner of the city. We sat down a few weeks ago at Maya Cuisine on Central Avenue to chat about her background and her campaign, affordable housing in Minneapolis, street design challenges in northeast, economic development and her position on the the city’s living wage ordinance. We had a great chat and I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Before we begin, the podcast this week is sponsored by Bang Brewing.
Bang Brewing Company is Minnesota’s only dedicated organic brewery. Established in 2013 by a husband and wife owner/brewer team, Bang brews a range of high-quality ales and lagers. The award-winning pre-fab grain bin brewery/taproom and beer garden tout their focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility. Goodness is brewing.
Thanks to Bang Brewing for sponsoring the podcast, and if you would like to sponsor future episodes of the streets.mn podcast, please reach out to me, Bill Lindeke, for more details. The podcast intro music was written and produced by Dan Choma. Thank you so much for listening
[rough transcript follows]
Q: Who are you and why are you running for City Council?
I’m running for Minneapolis City Council in Ward 1 which borders the north eastern edge of the city and down into Como. I’m running for Minneapolis City Council because in our ward we have a progressive ward and we deserve a proactive progressive champion that will really put our shared values into action. And i also think we need a progressive majority on the city council.
Q: Where are you from anyway and how’d you get into politics?
I grew up in Duluth in the 80s and 90s. it was a pretty economically depressed time in the Duluth economy. My old neighborhood, hillside, were predominantly low income and working class neighborhoods, economically diverse but also racially diverse. I’ve always been involved in politics even at the U. I had the opportunity to hear Nader speak when he came to the U in 2000, and Winona LaDuke was his running mate. That moment was important for me because it illuminated what politicians could be and outside of the box of the democrat and republican on the national level. And from there I was able to do some on campus organizing and that led to later canvassing for the DNC. I’ve always had a toe in political stuff, but it wasn’t until the occupy movement that I dived into community organizing and getting involved on the local level with politics.
Q: How do you view Minneapolis’ role in the current political climate?
I think Minneapolis is on the precipice of progressive change. There’s a real opportunity in this moment, with what is happening nationally and on the state level, we now need to have powerful progressive municipalities that are driving progressive issues forward and working in collaboration with other cities who are also working to push forward our progressive values. Housing for all, divesting from fossil fuels, aggressively tackling climate change and climate chaos. Looking at food security and food access. Transit.
Q: OK tell me about the housing piece.
Housing is still very important to me. During the foreclosure crisis there was a lot of uprising around the world but also in the US we had the occupy movement. Monique white was a homeowner on the North Side who actually came to the occupy headquarters and said, hey I’m facing this unjust foreclosure, can you help me? She was really the woman in my mind who launched the occupy homes movement. Occupy then moved to the north side to occupy Monique’s house to push back against the bank that was trying to force her out in an unjust way. And we fought back and we won. It led to a larger and broader movement about an unjust economic system and pushing back against the one percent and led to passing the Minnesota a homeowner bill of rights. This was a coalition of a lot of different groups. I had an opportunity to sit on that coalition table as a member of NOC, and we worked to pass the policy at the state level. It protects homeowners against foreclosures from banks whoa re trying to push homeowners out. We weren’t able to successfully include mandatory mediation, which was one of the concessions.
Q: What can the city do about the affordable housing problem anyway?
We can be more proactive. There’s not one solution but it’s a multi-faceted approach one thing that i will definitely be an advocate for is community land trusts. Looking in to how the city can be a partner and collaborator with them to make sure that some of these units are put into a land trust to ensure long-term affordability. A community land trust is where a buyer is able to purchase a home at an affordable price because the land is part of a community land trust. When you go to sell that you get a percentage of appreciation but a large percentage of it is going back into the land trust to keep that house affordable for the next buyer. You own the property but you don’t own the land.
Q: What is your view of Mayor Hodges’ push to increase density and population in the city, overall?
We have a lack of housing right now we need to increase our housing stock. I think urban density is a good thing but it’s intentional development sustainable development looking at things like inclusionary zoning. In any new market-rate development where it makes sense, including affordable units as part of that development. It’s a way to include affordable housing stock as part of development. There’s a staff directive to look at where in the city it makes sense to do inclusionary zoning. New York’s done it, Chicago has done it other municipalities have done it, in conjunction with something like a community land trust model as well.
Q: What are your thoughts on transportation, transit, and walkability… stuff like that?
My part of Northeast, ward 1, is disconnected from a lot of the city when we look at our transit options. I would like to see incased attention to how our community can access other parts of the city more easily that to me is an investment in transit an investment in walkability, bikeability, liveability. I think that I how are we being visionary and proactive around these issues and that to me looks like a Pedestrian Safety plan potentially. The city doesn’t have one. We have a protected bikeway plan now but we don’t have a plan for pedestrian safety especially around dangerous intersections that’s one thing the city could actively work on and I would be supportive of. As part of that, looking at traffic calming measures what works. How can we increase more of those efforts in northeast specifically.
Q: Tell me about your neighborhood here? Central Avenue seems like it’s thriving, but still the street design annoys me.
What I love about Central Avenue is that is a lot of small locally owned businesses we have I’ve been going to Durango Bakery for 15 years for my dulce de leche cake. We’re seeing increased traffic on Central which is kind of exciting. We’ve always had a lot of businesses on central like Holy Land, Sun Yat Sen Lek, Fair State Brewing, the East Side food coop. These are locally owned businesses many of them are community members they live in northeast we’re keeping wealth in our community which is really important for sustainable economic development in these neighborhoods like Northeast encourage that.
Q: What about other streets in the area?
For Lowry, there is a redesign plan in the works that was a collaboration between the county and the city and neighborhood groups. I think it’s important to redesign that street so it’s safe to walk down.
Q: What is your position on the $15/hour minimum wage issue?
We need to make sure that we protect that we pass a minimum wage that is for all works and doesn’t penalize tipped works. That said there’s a way that we do this intentionally that works for small businesses and that we have a solid phase-in plan so that we don’t push businesses out close their doors. The city has also done an economic study on this on the city’s website where it essentially proves that this is a good thing for our city a good thing for workers, it disproportionally impacts women and people of color. We have the information we need to pass a $15 hour living wage ordinance and do it in a way that works for everyone.