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Sprinkler funding now secured for all public housing high-rises in Minneapolis

Minneapolis City Councilmember Robin Wonsley announced an additional $1.2 million will fund the last four buildings.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's been a little more than three years since the fatal fire at Hiawatha Towers in Minneapolis' Cedar Riverside neighborhood. 

Five people died in that public housing building the day before Thanksgiving, 2019, and state authorities later determined that their lives could have been saved had sprinklers been installed.

According to a Department of Public Safety report, the 25-story building only had sprinklers on the entry-level and in the basement because it predated today's mandatory sprinkler laws.

Now though, there is funding to equip not just all Hiawatha Towers units with "fire suppression systems," but a total of 42 public high-rise buildings citywide.

Thursday, elected officials visited Hiawatha Towers to see some of the installed sprinklers, and Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley said she reflected on the fire during the tour. The fire started on the 14th floor and authorities said the cause appeared accidental.

"Jerome Stuart, Nadifa Mohamud, Maryan Mohamed Mohamud, Amatalah Adam, Tyler Scott Baron," Wonsley said. "These were the five public housing residents who died from smoke inhalation … Their deaths could have been prevented."

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority reports that sprinkler installation is complete in 23 of the 42 high-rises, and work is underway in 10 other buildings. Of the remaining nine buildings, four were left without dedicated funding. 

However, MPHA announced that Wonsley helped secure an additional $1.2 million to fund the final four high-rises. The money is part of a total $3.35 million the city of Minneapolis has now put toward the sprinklers.

"Publicly owned and operated housing should have basic safety systems," Wonsley said.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) also presented a check for $2 million of federal funding that she and Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) secured last spring. That money has been trickling in since then.

"Just around the corner where I grew up as a refugee, five people lost their lives," Omar said. "Our community experienced pain and loss but we also know the power of unity and hope."

MPHA has invested more than $16 million of its own capital toward fire suppression installations since 2020. At the state level, Minnesota Housing provided $2.4 million.

Installation for all 42 buildings is expected to be complete by 2025. For Hiawatha Towers, work should be done in September of this year.

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