Home Is a Gateway to Dreams

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Dralandra Larkins. Photo Sarah Whiting

My passion for housing advocacy developed as a child. My family fled from a home of domestic abuse and from an abandoned neighborhood corrupted by gun violence and drugs on the west side of Chicago. We found safety and economic security when we moved to Minnesota and lived in Minneapolis shelters like Mary’s Place, the Francis Drake Hotel, and Tubman Chrysalis Center.

The extraordinary caseworkers who helped my family reach stability are the inspiration behind the work that I now do as a housing specialist at the Metropolitan Council’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (Metro HRA), which provides services to the seven-county Twin Cities region. However, those caseworkers’ faces didn’t look like mine, and their life experiences differed from my own. Today I serve individuals who have been affected by poverty to reflect back to them someone who has been in their shoes. I manage a caseload of 250 people in the Met Council’s Housing Choice Voucher program.

My role is to help tenants find resources and options, including classes in financial literacy and money management skills.

Earlier in my career, I worked at the 4th Judicial District civil housing court and observed that most evictions were filed for nonpayment of rent. Simply put, there’s a lack of affordable housing in Minnesota (defined as no more than 30 percent of gross income required for housing costs and utilities). There’s a lack of employment with the wages needed for the high- income demand of the available housing market. This is a major factor leading to homelessness.

Section 8 was created as the Housing and Community Development Act in 1974, and it enables local housing authorities to subsidize rent payments on behalf of low-income households. Families can often be on a Section 8 waiting list for one to four years before their names are drawn.

It can then be difficult to find a landlord willing to accept the voucher.

Most Metro HRA participants are renters who are low income, veterans, disabled — and many are Black or recent immigrants. Low-income families sometimes face intimidation from landlords who threaten to evict them if they ask for repairs to be made. As a result, many families live in deplorable conditions or risk becoming homeless.

The Metro HRA is offering focus groups to help mitigate the fact that some landlords are intimidated by the policies and paperwork involved in the voucher program. We are educating owners and answering their concerns.

Metro HRA is also exploring options to partner with investors nationwide in order to buy homes in Minnesota and rent them to Section 8 voucher holders.

One recent investor from Texas purchased more than 100 homes in the Twin Cities, which enabled the HRA outreach team to help families and single adults find permanent housing.

Home gives people a sense of identity, belonging, and the opportunity to think about their future. Our first home in Minnesota made my mother feel like life was possible again and that she could finally dream of a better future. Everyone deserves to be self-sufficient and to dream under the security of their own roof.

Dralandra Larkins (she/her) is a certified housing specialist at the Metropolitan Council. She has a bachelor of science in social work from Augsburg University.