This is the first in a series of discovery, reflection, and action steps for our coverage of "2021: Year of Regeneration." Please add your voice.
In the last few years, I have talked with many women in Minnesota who work to enact a vision that supports a much healthier whole than we have now.
I recently talked with Acooa Ellis, Senior Vice President — Community Impact, for Greater Twin Cities United Way, who pointed out that when peacetime emergency restrictions are lifted, the change in unemployment benefits will likely coincide with instability in housing safeguards. The population mostly deeply impacted will be Black women with children, who are losing jobs because of the pandemic and the lack of access to affordable childcare and housing.
“This is the population most impacted by evictions,” Ellis says. “It’s a red flag for me, very much top of mind — the impact of compounding societal challenges on education outcomes for kids who are already behind in access to opportunities.”
Other advocates in housing that we have been learning from:
Nelima Sitate Munene, of African Career Education & Resource, Inc. — “The greatest frustration in housing advocacy is the lack of political will to make housing more accessible to everyone. It is a shame that we can fund sports stadiums, but debate how much money we should dedicate to ensuring that everyone has a place to live.”
Damaris Hollingsworth, architect — “New developments often don’t take into consideration how low-income people live in a village system in order to provide for childcare.”
Sheila Delaney — “When there are no options for someone to stay in a hotel or shelter, they are given a tent and driven to an encampment because there is nowhere else to go.”
Caroline Hood — “Simply doing a police arrest or movement is not a sustainable solution. Sending people scattering around Minnesota is not going to help anyone maintain housing and substance recovery.”
Anne Franz — “Faith communities can uniquely act as developers because of a little known law called the Religious Land Use Act.”
From our Affordable Housing series in 2018: 1) Fatima Moore, working with Homes for All on a $150-million legislative agenda; 2) Ho Nguyen, then of Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women (now Violence Free MN), “housing stability is the one of the top reasons women stay in abusive relationships, because they have nowhere else to go;” 3) Corina Serrano, St. Paul Public Housing Agency, “In Minnesota, a homeowner can go months without making a mortgage payment, a renter can only be a few days late.”
A few weeks prior to Minnesota’s pandemic lockdown, the Thriving by Design network published its years-long research into statewide policy recommendations. Minnesota Women’s Press synthesized some of its suggestions. “The exponential loss of healthy taxpayers and trained workers needs to be reversed. A sustainable system requires a more village-oriented approach to enable all to thrive. Poverty does nothing to boost the economy.”
Policy: Duplicate the tenant protection ordinances of St. Louis Park enacted in 2018 that require landlords to pay moving expenses of low-income tenants if they decide to raise rents or not renew leases.
Funding: Increase the speed and flexibility of emergency resources to prevent people from losing their homes.
Development: Create dedicated, permanent funding sources for affordable homes.
Construction: Substantially increase support for rehabilitation of public housing, much of which is experiencing notable deterioration.
Workforce: Grow the pool of talent in Minnesota’s building trades to enable the sector to meet current and future demand.
Advocacy: Define and crack down on predatory rental practices, including excessive evictions and poor condition of rental units.
Healthcare: Improve health outcomes and reduce costs for tenants by developing better partnerships between health care and housing providers.
Financial: Promote alternative models of building wealth through homeownership, such as community land trusts and cooperatively owned housing. Expand mortgage products and provide extra support to local community banks to expand financing options.
Design: Incentivize housing design to meet future needs, including seniors aging in community.
Transformative Justice: Develop inclusive housing models and practices to create a clear and simple process for the expungement of old or resolved criminal records.
“Standing Up for Themselves,” by Rebecca Sisco, July 1992
Chalk up a victory for some low-income residents in Brooklyn Park.
Diana Walker said she was informed that no Housing and Rehabilitation Authority (HRA) leases, such as hers, would be renewed. HRAs, also known as Section 8s, are rent-subsidy certificates issued by the federal government to low-income people. Those who qualify for subsidies can take their certificate wherever building managers will accept them. Walker learned that the landlord cannot evict the residents or refuse to renew their leases without ‘just cause.’
So Walker talked to other residents and found others who were “Section 8” tenants. Most were single mothers, and a few were differently abled. They too apparently had been told their leases wouldn’t be renewed. Like her, they wanted to stay at Willow Brook.
During the next few weeks, the HRA residents got to know each other, gathered more information and contacted others who could help, including a Hennepin County Commissioner and State Senator. By early June, residents had met twice as a group and organized a meeting they invited representatives of the building management to attend. But no one came. Instead the company’s vice president sent a statement saying the company never intended to evict any HRA residents and that management makes no distinction based on who pays the rent.
“We went beyond what the management expected us to do,” Walker said.