As a member of the Sky Without Limits Cooperative, José enjoys a new sense of community
“We’re making changes, and we’re still fighting,” says José, a current member of the Sky Without Limits housing cooperative. Just as the name suggests, the Sky without Limits Cooperative–– spearheaded by tenants who organized with Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (IX)–– has proven that when communities dream big, we can secure affordable and dignified housing for all.
José left Mexico over 16 years ago and has called Minneapolis his home ever since. Despite calling this city home, he detailed how the buildings he lived in lacked a sense of community; no one knew each other despite living near each other for years and years. However, since being a member of Sky Without Limits since its inception, José enjoys a new sense of community. “We’re all a family because we all know each other…If I need tomatoes while I’m cooking, I can go upstairs and ask, ‘Hey, do you have tomatoes?’ and they’ll say, ‘Yes, of course!’ Before Sky Without Limits, I didn’t really know the people I lived by,” says José.
The Sky Without Limits Cooperative was born to bring agency back to the renters of the Corcoran Five. The Corcoran Five was a group of apartment buildings in Minneapolis’ Corcoran neighborhood that were owned by Stephen Frenz–– a landlord in the Twin Cities who, sources allege, mistreated tenants and allowed homes to fall into disrepair. After Frenz’s rental license was revoked by the Minneapolis City Council, José alleges that Frenz planned on evicting the tenants of the Corcoran Five, so he could sell the buildings.
José, one of the Corcoran Five’s former tenants, had experienced this looming threat of eviction over his head. “We were scared. We didn’t have any of the necessary information. We wanted to stay in the apartments, but we didn’t know how,” he says. The fear of eviction loomed over José and his neighbors.
Finding similarly priced units in the Corcoran neighborhood was difficult because of its proximity to Downtown Minneapolis; moving anywhere nearby would result in an extreme increase in rent payments. However, many of the tenants access services near the Corcoran Five, and moving farther away could put them at risk of losing these services. José recalls his frustration rising about the situation, unsure of why they had to leave the homes they had created for themselves. “If I’m paying my rent, and I’m living here with my family, why do you want to kick me out? If I’m doing my part, why do you want to kick me out?”
Frustration morphed into motivation. The Corcoran Five renters decided to fight for their homes. Partnering with IX, they offered to buy the buildings from Frenz. José recalls that despite initially offering Frenz the price he wanted for the buildings, the tenants and IX still faced many difficulties when it came to finalizing the purchase. “At the beginning, he wanted a certain amount. We got the amount that he asked for, with the help of people who were supporting us, and he said ‘No, I want more money.’ We would get the new amount he wanted, and he would say, ‘No, I don’t want that, I want more money,’” says José.
Despite the back-and-forth with Frenz, IX and the residents of the Corcoran Five bought out the building from him. IX and the residents have since turned these buildings into a housing cooperative, called Sky Without Limits. By nature of the co-op, all the residents own the building that they live in. For many of these families, this is the first time in their lives they do not have to answer to a landlord, but have power to make decisions about their own living situations.
José has been a member of Sky Without Limits since its inception, and having lived in the Corcoran Five before its metamorphosis into a housing cooperative, he elaborates about how life in the co-op had brought forth a new sense of agency and community for the residents. “If we want to make a decision about something, we all come together and have a meeting about it, where everyone can say what they want to say. If we want to fix something in our unit, we can do it on our own. We can ask each other for help. We all have more autonomy now,” says José.
Dignified, stable housing has brought all the residents of Sky Without Limits a new sense of peace. No longer forced to fight for their living conditions, they can focus on developing their relationships with one another. “Sky Without Limits showed me that people who don’t speak the same language, who all come from different cultures, can all live together and make decisions together,” says José.
Sky Without Limits has brought the former residents of the Corcoran Five a dignified place to live, where they have true autonomy and control over their living space. However, José emphasizes that establishing this one housing cooperative cannot fix all of Minneapolis’ housing issues; there are still many people in the Twin Cities who do not live in quality and dignified homes.
According to José, housing co-ops are one way to give people the homes they deserve. “There’s a lot of people in Minneapolis who live in fear of their landlords because they don’t know what to do. If the landlords says, ‘you have to go’, then they go. They don’t know that they have rights. They don’t know that they can fight. They don’t know that they can stay if they want to.” Because of the organizing they did years ago, José and the other members of Sky Without Limits have ownership and power in their housing. He encourages other people in a situation similar to him to do the same; dignified homes can, and should, be accessible to everyone.