After graduating from the University of Minnesota in May, I decided I wanted to leave my Marcy-Holmes apartment, which I shared with a roommate, to rent my own studio in either Stevens Square-Loring Heights or Whittier.
These neighborhoods appealed to me because I already spend a lot of time there (check out my stories on Pimento, b. Resale and Clausen), they have excellent access to transit and downtown Minneapolis, they’re affordable and they have good vibes.
Note: I am by no means an expert in renting. This story is about personal, lived experiences.
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Stevens Square-Loring Heights and Whittier have a lot of rental units–more than anywhere else in the city, in fact. Eighty percent of the residents in these two neighborhoods rent.
The neighborhoods are sandwiched between downtown and Uptown, making Timberwolves and Lynx games just as accessible as a beach day at Bde Maka Ska. With Minneapolis College of Art and Design and several hip coffee shops, I feel very comfortable strutting down Nicollet as a young, recent college graduate.
Before its fill of apartment buildings, Stevens Square-Loring Heights was home to a collection of mansions. Most were torn down to construct the brownstone apartment buildings that make the neighborhood distinct.
Of the few mansions that remain, some of them were divided into apartments, one of which I toured on the leasing agent’s suggestion. Leasing agents are employees of the rental companies whose job it is to interact with prospective tenants and give tours. Touring with a leasing agent is completely free.
The layout inside of the mansion I toured was odd, which is to be expected for a mansion-turned-apartment complex. The studio apartment I looked at included the mansion’s grand fireplace. It took up the length of the apartment’s main wall and is ornately decorated with emerald tiles and intricate woodwork. Just hanging out, in a small apartment. The apartment itself was so small that my bed and desk likely wouldn’t have fit in the space, so the mansion didn’t work out for me.
The first Stevens Square-Loring Heights brownstone apartments were built with single people in mind. In the early 20th century, the first residents were mainly single, working women living in one or two-bedroom apartments. Therefore, families are not typically renters in these brownstones, even today.
Though much of Stevens Square-Loring Heights surrounds Stevens Square Park, the neighborhood stretches all the way to Lyndale on its western edge and Franklin to the south.
My favorite aspect of Stevens Square-Loring Heights is the energy. Neighbors are quick to help each other out, whether that means holding the door or grabbing a side of the couch you’re moving. One time while walking down Stevens Avenue wearing a backpack, a man asked me if I were graduating soon. When I said it was my last year of college, he congratulated me on making it through.
A major asset to the neighborhood is the access to public transit. The 11, 17/18 and 2 buses run alongside the neighborhood, and the Green and Blue Lines are a 20 minute walk away (or a five minute bus ride). There’s also a Nice Ride station on the northern end of Stevens Square park.
Renting in Whittier and Stevens Square-Loring Heights
Mint Properties owns several of the apartment buildings in the neighborhood, including Stevens Community, Copenhagen Enterprises, Hornig and Olympus Properties.
If you own a car, parking can be a concern with so many apartment buildings in such a small area. Most buildings have a few rear parking spots averaging around $75 per month, and street parking is largely available.
Four rental companies in Stevens Square-Loring Heights partnered with the neighborhood's community organization for their rent discount program. Through this initiative, tenants can earn $60 to $225 in monthly rebates for rent when they volunteer with the community organization. Copenhagen Enterprises, Mint Properties, Stevens Community and Olympus Properties participate in the program with varying dollar amounts for volunteer work. Volunteers can work in the community garden, clean the neighborhood, pick up a shift with the safety team and more.
Vibe guide for Stevens Square-Loring Heights
You don’t need to stray far from your apartment to go shopping in Stevens Square-Loring Heights. It’s home to a few bodegas with a surprising range of items for sale, the long-running Old School thrift shop (formally Steeple People on Franklin Ave.), and the Ace Hardware where you’ll get the most aggressively helpful customer service of your life.
For food and entertainment, walk across Franklin Avenue to Whittier. Home of Eat Street (Nicollet Avenue) and a lively art scene. A few blocks south on Nicollet, you can choose from Jamaican, German and Thai food. I love going to Eat Street for boba, pizza, pho, and my personal favorite–elote burritos from Yeah Yeah Taco.
The one major necessity that Stevens Square-Loring Heights lacks is a walkable grocery store. While there are a few markets in Whittier, the nearest comprehensive grocery stores are the Franklin Aldi and the downtown Target, which closes at 6 p.m. daily.
Whittier, like Stevens Square-Loring Heights, is a highly walkable neighborhood. The 18, 4 and 11 buses travel through the heart of Whittier, as well as the rapid bus orange line.
Executive director of the Whittier Alliance Kaley Brown said that one of her favorite parts of the Whittier neighborhood is that it contains the “full spectrum of housing options” ranging from shelters, including Agate and Simpson Housing Services, to single-family housing.
There’s street parking available in most parts of Whittier, and many buildings have their own parking lots, including some that are underground or protected.
Renting in Whittier
Mint Properties owns many buildings in Whittier as well, and a few other companies like Hornig Companies and Blaisdell Apartments have apartments too. There are also smaller, newer buildings like Blaise Apartments and Modi.
Vibe guide for Whittier
Whittier’s restaurants are unbeatable in variety and offer a range of costs, from McDonald’s to KhunNai Thai to Copper Hen, and that’s just on Eat Street. Lyndale Avenue offers Galactic Pizza, Kyoto Sushi, Iconos Gastro Cantina and more. Check out Southwest Voices’ neighborhood guide for everything you could possibly want in Whittier.
There are a few markets in Whittier, including Shuang Hur, Colonial and Good Grocer. Call me basic, but I’m a big fan of the very reasonably priced green tea mochi from Shuang Hur. The Uptown Cub and Aldi are nearby for bigger grocery trips.
Whittier is also home to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which makes for an especially hip and artsy vibe.
My Rental Process
The tips I share about looking for housing can easily apply to most Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Establishing my personal criteria
In my search for housing, I wanted a pet-friendly studio apartment for under $900 per month, including utilities. I preferred the beautiful brownstones in Stevens Square-Loring Heights, but was open to newer places as well. While I didn’t need parking, I wanted a safe place to store my bike.
Other factors like noise, apartment level (I prefer non-first floor apartments) and vibes mattered too.
Both I-94 and Interstate 35W border Stevens Square-Loring Heights. I avoided apartments directly alongside either freeway because of the noise and air pollution. I realize that living just a few blocks further isn’t much better in terms of pollution, so this was probably just for my peace of mind.
My first step to renting is looking online for apartment listings. You can also roam the neighborhoods looking for “for rent” signs. Many units with that type of signage are the mom-and-pop kind of landlords, but I avoid those due to previous experiences. I recognize that many people have better experiences with these landlords over big companies. I’m personally not ready to try out the small landlord experience again, so I focused on companies like Mint, Stevens Community, and Copenhagen.
During my search, I used Zillow and apartments.com. I also looked at Google reviews for the buildings and rental companies I was interested in. This is a step I never skip. I don’t tour any properties with reviews that mention persistent pest issues, unresponsive management or seemingly dangerous situations. I weed through the whiny reviews like “this neighborhood is so scary” because I know it’s not.
I skip any apartment listing with just a picture of the outside, or a building or company without a website.
I prefer to call the rental company directly instead of emailing or submitting a tour request through a third party rental search site. In my experience, calling a property’s office gets the quickest results.
Exploring the area
In Stevens Square-Loring Heights and Whittier, I toured about 10 units with three different companies– ZPG, Mint Properties, and Copenhagen Enterprises. Stevens Community was going to be my top pick, but all the studios available bordered the freeway. Several community members told me that Stevens Community is the best option in Stevens Square-Loring Heights because the people working for the company actually care about the neighborhood.
Before each tour, I wrote down a few questions specific to the building or company. I made sure to ask about utilities (Who pays?) and laundry (On-site? Is it free?) because of the potential added costs beyond rent.
I suggest that potential renters who aren’t familiar with the neighborhoods they are looking in, take a walk around during different times of the day and throughout the week. Parking and noise levels can be vastly different outside of working hours.
Try and talk to people who already live in the building or neighborhood. After one tour, my boyfriend and I asked a man sitting outside if he’d recommend living in the building. We had seen bug traps inside, so we asked if he had any pest problems and if it was a quiet building. He said that he’s seen one mouse, which doesn’t concern me because I have a cat, and that residents are quiet and keep to themselves. Those answers meant more than anything the leasing agent said to me.
One thing that surprised me about touring units in Stevens Square-Loring Heights was the lack of bike storage. Outdoor racks seem scarce. A couple of the Mint Properties buildings I toured had pipes or bars in the laundry rooms where people locked their bikes. Other buildings had storage units in the basement, which I quickly regretted asking about in one building because the leasing agent took me up and down endless stairs looking for the storage in all the other buildings we toured, too.
Researching the properties
Which brings me to another point: the leasing agents didn’t seem very familiar with the buildings–especially Mint Properties. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded the tours just to fact-check everything they told me. On one tour, a leasing agent assured me that the building had storage. She said she couldn’t find the storage area because she was new and didn’t know the buildings that well.
This was the building I ended up moving into. And upon moving in, I learned that there was no storage unit.
When I asked another leasing agent if Mint Properties had ever been sued, she said she was “pretty sure” it had never been sued. Reader– Mint Properties has been sued plenty of times.
My biggest beef, though, is with Copenhagen Enterprises. One of its leasing agents told me that if I applied for the apartment I saw, I would most likely get it because nobody else was interested in it. A few days later, when she still hadn’t sent me the materials she had promised, I emailed and called to see what was up. Nobody answered my calls, and the leasing agent finally responded to my email a full week after touring to say that somebody else had gotten the apartment.
Copenhagen’s rental prices are unbeatable in the neighborhood and other tenants I spoke to have had great experiences with the company, but I continued to have issues simply connecting with somebody at the office. After several more missed calls and late email replies, I decided that I could shell out some extra rent for a company that responds to messages.
I signed a lease with that Mint Properties apartment (without storage) in Stevens Square-Loring Heights. I signed the lease at the end of July. I love the place so far. The application process went smoother than expected, despite having to put down a refundable $500 security deposit in addition to the $45 application fee when I applied. That feels like a lot of money to spend before even being approved. And I wasn’t expecting it. Application fees aren’t typical around the University of Minnesota, where I’ve rented before.
I was also pleased to know Mint Properties doesn’t have a pet fee or deposit for up to three cats (way too many for a studio!). My cat has happily adjusted to his third-floor view of the pigeons that gather on top of the neighboring building’s roof.
When I moved in, I noticed a few things wrong in the apartment including a leaky shower faucet and windows that didn’t stay open. I messaged the maintenance portal to initiate a fix request, and they fixed them within a couple weeks.
I adore my real hardwood floors, the cupboard that’s only accessible when the fridge door is open and my walkable neighborhood, and I’m so excited to frequent Boiler Room Coffee when it reopens in September.