Why I Am a Housing Advocate

“Shelters save lives, but homes end homelessness.”
Photo Sarah Whiting

What makes me most fearful on a regular basis is how many Minnesotans are suffering from insecure housing all over the state. This fear spurs me into action.

I am an advocate in the fair housing field. As a volunteer for many organizations, including Minnesota Homes for All and the National Coalition for the Homeless, I have attended perhaps a thousand meetings about providing more affordable homes for low-income Minnesotans.

During the eight years I lived in the Twin Cities suburbs of Richfield and Bloomington, I was forcibly displaced twice in 24 months. Despite having a Section 8 housing choice voucher — which was supposed to entitle me to an affordable rental unit — I was moved by development projects. The first time, in 2015, I was forced out alongside more than 2,000 neighbors in Richfield. In 2018, it was removal in Bloomington by a Chicago investor who gave only a 30-day notice to vacate.

My option was to move to southeast Minnesota, where rents are lower and vouchers are accepted. I now live in a small town near Winona. There are housing issues here too.

In August 2018, the Governor’s Task Force on Housing released its 72-page report “More Places to Call Home: Investing in Minnesota’s Future.” The report noted that we need 300,000 new affordable units built statewide by 2030 if communities are to thrive and new businesses are to open. It also noted that 25 percent of all Minnesotans and more than 45 percent of renters are burdened by housing costs. Many of these are people who have been paying more than 30 percent of their household income toward housing costs for a decade.

Here are a few other issues I have learned about:

  • The housing shortage in the Twin Cities is now the worst in the nation. Statewide, the state is expected to be 40,000 houses and apartments short of what is needed to keep pace with population and business growth over the next five years, according to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. In the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Population Center estimated that an additional 44,570 affordable housing units were needed in the decade ending in 2020; only 16,000 were built.
  • According to the State of the State Housing report for 2021, there are about 169,585 renter households in the state who are low-income renters — earning less than 30 percent of the median income in the area — yet, there are only 64,238 affordable and available units at this income level across the state.
  • Most housing supply in rural Minnesota has not improved in many decades. MinnPost recently reported that Polaris would like to expand jobs in Roseau, but had no homes for 80 new employees. Currently the city is building a $6.8 million apartment complex with taxpayer funds to meet the needs.
  • Additionally, people leaving jail, and survivors of domestic abuse, have very limited options for housing in smaller communities.
  • Thousands of “naturally occurring affordable housing” units — known as NOAH — have been lost in the Twin Cities and seven adjacent counties in the last few years. In a Civic Caucus discussion in 2019, it was noted that the Twin Cities alone is losing at least 4,000 units per year to investors and developers who buy older properties, make some improvements, and then increase the prices so they are no longer affordable. Many new properties are priced out of reach for most working people. A family of four cannot thrive in a $1,500/month one-bedroom unit.
  • Seniors are a rapidly growing group of displaced renters. Older adult homelessness increased 25 percent from 2015 to 2018, according to Wilder Foundation research. (Its survey of people experiencing homelessness has been postponed until 2022 because of the pandemic.) Wilder also found that 16,400 extremely low-income senior households cannot afford to make repairs and accessibility improvements for habitable homes.
  • Shelter investments occur, but new housing supply remains nearly nonexistent for those in greatest need. Shelters are simply not homes. One adage I hear in this work is: “Shelters save lives, but homes end homelessness.”

Changemakers Alliance: Stories, Solutions & Solidarity is a statewide network made possible by underwriters, donors, and members. Our first underwriter is Valvoline Instant Oil Change across Northern Minnesota, a woman-owned business supporting women and families across the region.

As a state with a populist past, many people are trying to help our residents thrive. Longtime Minnesota Representative Alice Hausman — who recently announced she will not run for re-election in the fall— says, “Nothing goes well without a home.” As we prepare to lose her passion in the legislature, we all need to pay closer attention to decisions being made by policymakers in the coming months. What is every elected official doing to help grow housing supply?

It takes the political will of all residents, including those who are secure in their own housing, to prioritize housing needs.

The cumulative costs of doing too little about homelessness and displaced renters in our communities are much greater than investments that solve for safe, stable, accessible housing that is affordable for all incomes. Let us spend money at the front end to prevent further harm.

Fair housing is a human right. No one in our state should have to experience the fear of not having a safe place to live. I believe Minnesota can solve this crisis. To join in advocacy efforts, attend the Homes for All Coalition legislative launch online 10am on February 2, 2022.

Details: homesforallmn.org

Q: How can people support organizations that ARE doing the right thing to create affordable housing?

Lindalee’s response: Look at the work of Micah, AEON, PPL, Beacon, Common Bond, All PARKS Alliance

  • Sue Watlov Phillips, Micah advocate
  • Aeon builds and buys for affordability
  • Project for Pride in Living (PPL) has rehab and job training, offers units for transition from homelessness
  • Beacon Interfaith is working toward universal state vouchers per the person/family in need
  • Common Bond keeps hundreds of small units for seniors and developmentally disabled, as well as family complexes with work opportunities that provide rent for one-third income
  • All PARKS Alliance offers manufactured home park owned by its residents, converts to co-ops, self-improved and operated
  • There are so many public housing authorities and tribal nations supporting new ordinances at city councils and other funding options
  • Homeline and Housing Justice Center can route you to tenant protections

Editor’s Note: Join Us

Join Changemakers Alliance conversations on February 9, 3pm (Wednesday), or February 12, 9am (Saturday), for a discussion about Minnesota legislative priorities. What can readers and advocates learn from each other about enhancing equity, restoring agriculture, healing trauma, and transforming justice? What connections can you make? Details: womenspress.com/changemakers-alliance

Our February issue about “Equity” will have several stories about the housing crisis in Minnesota, and solutions.


Resources

Wilder Research on Homelessness 2019

Homes for All Coalition 2020

Civic Caucus data (2019)

Metropolitan Council data (2019)

2018 Housing Task Force report

Older adult homelessness data (2018)

An opportunity housing ordinance in Bloomington

TPT has a set of documentaries at “Under One Roof.” Three full-length documentaries: “American Dream Under Fire” (manufactured home park closing), “Sold Out — Affordable Housing at Risk” (Crossroads), and “Jim Crow of the North — Mapping Prejudice” (academic and historic).



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