Who We Are
Town Oaks is a residential community in Minneapolis, Minnesota; founded in 1970 with the concept of building an affordable community that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Located a few minutes south of downtown Minneapolis and a short distance from the Rose Garden, historical sites and several recreational parks and lakes. With its ideal location and close proximity to bus lines, bike trails and freeways, it is easy to get to almost anywhere in the Twin Cities from Town Oaks.
Town Oaks: An Award-Winning Model for Moderate Priced Housing
By Deborah Jahn, President, Town Oaks Association
The Field Regina Northrop residential neighborhood contains mostly small single-family houses built before 1940. However, in the center of Regina is the Town Oaks townhome complex, located in a two-square-block area bounded by 43rd and 44th Streets and 3rd and 4th Avenues South. This is the largest housing complex in the neighborhood, with 112 townhomes. Built in the 1970s, it is also Minneapolis’ first moderate-price townhouse development. Each Town Oaks unit has 1,178 square feet of space on the first and second floors, in addition to a full basement. About 10% of the units have two bedrooms while the rest have three bedrooms. Each unit also has a private patio, two-story foyer, and an open stairway between levels. A special feature of the property is the large green space with mature trees in the middle of the complex. All owners are members of the Town Oaks Association and pay a monthly assessment to receive services such as maintenance of the buildings’ exterior and parking lots, lawn care, snow removal, etc. Nearly all Town Oaks units are owner occupied; since 2011, new owners who purchase a unit are not allowed to rent it.
A controversial beginning
The site of Town Oaks had remained undeveloped through the 1960s and had become an eyesore, having been used for informal neighborhood dumping and concrete dumping associated with city paving projects. Yet when the townhouses were first proposed in 1970, rather than rejoicing at the property’s improvement, there was much opposition to the plan. The development was relatively dense in terms of land use: the 112 units would occupy property that could have contained a maximum of 44 houses if developed in a conventional manner. After many complaints, the density was somewhat reduced by adding garages for 28 of the units, breaking up the space and adding interest to the roof lines. Yet some worried that the high number of units would bring a flood of children to the neighborhood’s Field School. But the larger concern was about racial balance. Newspaper articles from the early 70s stated that both blacks and whites expressed concern about maintaining the essential character of the neighborhood, which was rare in being both racially mixed and middle class. Many feared that Town Oaks would disrupt that balance. A depressed economy slowed the original plan to complete construction in 1971 and the final units were not sold until 1975. Yet by completion, the project was deemed a great success by both the builder and the neighborhood. The high density had minimized the land and construction costs so that units were able to be moderately priced. The townhomes attracted predominately younger, middle-income couples without children who were comfortable living in a racially mixed neighborhood. In summer 1975, Town Oaks received a national award from Design and Environment magazine for its “attractive, single-family, moderately-priced housing” that helped to “stabilize the racial and financial balance of the community.” The memories of an early resident Wayne Marsh is an original resident of Town Oaks, still living in the unit he purchased for $29,000 in 1972. According to Wayne, the units were barely livable when owners started to move in. The parking lots and sidewalks were just dirt – or mud when it rained. The residents lived in their basements for weeks while the workers finished their first and second floors. Because the Town Oaks site had been used as an informal dump for years, the excavation of basements turned up lots of trash and, occasionally, some treasures, including many antique bottles. Some early residents became treasure hunters, digging through the dirt to find unbroken bottles. Wayne was one of them. He collected many bottles. His most prized find was an intact “Golden Wedding” carnival glass whiskey flask, dating from the early twentieth century.
Broken pipes and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program loan
When Town Oaks was built, rigid two-inch cast iron pipe was used for water distribution which, at the time, was an acceptable material for water lines. Some of these pipes were laid over – and even under – concrete and other hard materials used as backfill, and were prone to breakage as the fill material above pressed down on them. Adding to the problem, a flaw in the initial design of the complex had all 112 individually-owned units connected to one water meter. When a water line broke, water to the entire complex needed to be shut off for repairs. Additionally, the Town Oaks homeowners’ association was responsible for billing the individual owners for water usage. With only one water meter, the association had no recourse when an owner did not pay his/her water bill. In order to rebuild the water system with individual metering, the association requested and received approval from the City of Minneapolis in 1997 for two loans. The first, for $68,000, was fully paid off by the association in 2004. The second loan, given through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), was for $380,000 to be paid over 15 years beginning in 2005. This loan had a clause that the payments could be forgiven or deferred if the association was unable to pay. For many years, Town Oaks struggled financially to make necessary repairs to the property and to collect assessments from homeowners who, themselves, might be having financial problems. This was especially true during the years following the 2008 recession when many of the townhouses were foreclosed. The City granted Town Oaks deferments on its payments of the NRP loan during these years. As the economy improved, Town Oaks was able to build up its reserves. In fall 2015, Town Oaks board members sat down with representatives of the City and the FRN Neighborhood Group to review and renegotiate the NRP loan. It was agreed that the repayment period would be lengthened and, with each semi-annual payment of $12,700, $6,350 would be forgiven. Town Oaks began making payments in January 2016 and will continue to do so until 2025.
Town Oaks and FRNNG today
Town Oaks’ earlier years of rotting wood siding, crumbling concrete, and overgrown landscaping are behind it now. With a thoughtful and fiscally careful board and management company, the association is using its reserves to fund much needed long range improvements, including regular siding replacement, planting new trees and bushes, newly paved sidewalks and parking lots, etc. Town Oaks continues to pursue the vision of a desirable living community where moderate income families of many backgrounds can grow and thrive. In addition, Town Oaks’ annual loan payments of over $25,000 will go to FRN and will be reinvested back into the
area to help ensure the continued vitality of our neighborhood.
This is a general safety announcement to remind all residents and guests to keep your cars locked and valuables out of sight in your vehicles when parked at Town Oaks. Suspicious activity should also be called into 311 as 311 gathers information and looks for safety trends that can be helpful.
Any criminal behavior observed should be reported to 911 with as much detailed information as possible.
It is also suggested that you consider joining www.nextdoor.com as a way to be connected with the neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods.
Town Oaks Association
c/o Omega Property Management