MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minneapolis is the coldest large city in the country. Joanna Riser lives in Nicollet Towers in downtown Minneapolis. She says it’s been cold outside and inside her apartment building.

Riser is a mother of three.  Two of her girls have sickle cell anemia.

“With it being so cold ice was in my house, ice was in the balcony, I could just break the ice,” she said.

She says the top floor of her townhouse at Nicollet Towers is consistently warm, but the bottom floor, where the living room and kitchen are, are consistently cold and her girls are consistently sick.

“Have you reported it?” WCCO’s Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield asked.

“Yup, they know that it doesn’t get hot in here. They even gave me a space heater before,” Riser replied.

“So you officially let them know, you complained about it,” Littlefield asked.

“Yup, more than once,” Riser replied. “It’s like you complain so much, you get tired of complaining.”

The building is owned by Volunteers of America, an affordable housing nonprofit. Residents get help paying their rent from HUD, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Riser is not the only tenant who says she’s complained.

“I’ve raised concern. They’ve come in with the heat thermometers, they put on the poles of the heater and they said it was fine,” tenant Victoria Lucas said.

WCCO investigated just how low temperatures would go. On Feb. 12, we handed out thermometers to three families.

Outdoor temperatures dipped to 11 below. Temperatures inside one home registered 58 degrees indoors, another 45 degrees, and a third read 32 degrees indoors. All temperatures are well below the standard the health department uses of at least 68 degrees in the winter. WCCO reported the numbers to HUD in Chicago.

“We found it consistently cold and wanted to see if HUD had a response,” Littlefield said.

“OK, let me see what I can find out,” a spokesperson for HUD said.

A few days later HUD provided WCCO with a statement saying: “Based on our inquiry, there is one affected townhouse and we are managing it for resolution.”

Victoria Lucas also showed WCCO her apartment, noting, “It’s just a drastic breeze coming through, like the arctic air where I’m shivering just trying to turn on the oven.”

Riser uses her oven for heat, too.

Building owner of Volunteers of America responded to WCCO immediately.  They told WCCO the boiler at Nicollet Towers is working properly and they have no open work orders.

They say safety is their top priority and they are responding to residents: “We’ve been reaching out to residents and monitoring our heating system diligently for the last several days. We’re trying to be responsive and hope that we can work with all our residents, including those who contacted you, to address their concerns.”

After seeing our numbers, they sent a notice to homeowners saying they want to address their heating concerns.

In the meantime, Riser and her girls decided to move to another home. Lucas says she too feels frozen out.

“I can’t afford to live somewhere else now. I shouldn’t be forced out of my home because of weather, it should be warm,” Lucas said.

After WCCO called, HUD looked into the residents’ complaints. The housing agency says it found one impacted townhouse and is working to fix the problem.

Volunteers of America did not want to sit down for an interview, but sent a full response via email saying they are working on the issue:

Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin’s top priority is always with the safety and well-being of those we serve, so we were concerned when we learned from WCCO that some of our residents at the Nicollet Towers community at 1350 Nicollet Avenue were experiencing heating issues.

Upon learning of the complaints, we immediately contacted management and facilities staff at Nicollet Towers. Per our records, there have not been any recent reports of heating concerns from tenants and we have no open work orders regarding heating issues. The 306-unit community is heated by a high-efficiency boiler system that is less than 10 years old.

While we hadn’t heard directly from our residents, our current understanding is that last week’s concerns are centered within our set of 19 town homes at Nicollet Towers.

In response to what we’re learning, we have inspected the heating system repeatedly over the last several days and found the system to be working properly. We have continually monitored the heating system and no issues have been identified. On-site management has been reaching out to each resident of the town homes to ask them to contact us if they have any heating issues. We have contacted all 19 town homes both via flyer and, when possible,  in person or via phone call. Of those we have been contact with, none have identified heating issues. With residents’ permission, we were able to take temperature readings in some of the town homes and the lowest reading was at 68 degrees F. 

All residents have access to an on-call Maintenance Tech 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Management is onsite from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday-Friday.

Each tenant goes through an extensive orientation at move-in which includes instruction on how to report any concerns, including maintenance.

We will continue to monitor our heating system and respond promptly to those who report concerns. We care deeply about what our residents are experiencing and we look forward to working with each individual to address their concerns.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield