Low-income and Section 8 tenants at risk
According to a new Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) report, apartment sales across the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan region has increased “dramatically” by 54 percent over a five-year span.
Among the key findings in the MHP Sold Out report released last October: a disproportionate number of rental units were sold in moderate income, racially diverse neighborhoods; higher income households ($50,000-$100,000 and above) were driving the local rental market during the same time span. Over the past five years, the Twin Cities rental vacancy has dropped below five percent, but since 2010, the average rent has increased by 20 percent to almost $1,100 a month.
MHP’s Executive Director Chip Halbeck noted it is generally believed that no more than 30 percent of a person’s income is spent on rent; however, 46 percent of the area households are paying at least one-half of their income on rent, including low-income people.
Today’s Twin Cities rental housing market has become a landlord’s market: Essentially, apartment owners can pick and choose whom they want as renters.
The MSR asked Metropolitan Council’s Libby Sterling if “affordable housing” in the Twin Cities Metro area has become an oxymoronic term. “It’s not oxymoron yet,” she responded. “There is affordable housing; there [just] isn’t enough of it.”
Sold Out: Affordable Housing at Risk, a new documentary produced by Twin Cities PBS in partnership with MHP and others, premiered Sunday, June 11 on the TPT Minnesota Channel. It will air again at noon, Sunday, June 18, on TPT Life. Also, a Twitter chat on the topic is scheduled for 11 am on June 16.
The film, based on the MHP report, was screened June 7 at TPT’s St. Paul studios and featured the former residents of Crossroads at Penn, a 700-unit apartment complex in Richfield, built in 1968. Crossroads was once a diverse community of people and families, including immigrants, seniors and people on fixed income and receiving housing assistance. All that changed when a new owner bought the complex, raised the rents by 30 percent and imposed new standards for all tenants, including no governmental or other housing assistance. The new owner wanted “a different tenant population.”
Ultimately, over 95 percent of the Crossroads tenants were displaced from their homes with a couple of months’ notice to vacate.
Bernard Campbell and his fiancé had four jobs between them, but their credit score didn’t meet the owner’s criteria.
Jurline Bryant lived 15 years in her one-bedroom apartment; her rent increased from $730 to $1,300 a month.
Linda Soderstrom had a Section 8 subsidy. Four days after she signed a new 12-month lease, she had to leave because she used a subsidy.
The ‘stars’ of the film Sold Out participated in a post-screening panel discussion along with housing advocates and others.
Soderstrom stressed, “Nobody can afford $1,200 a month for rent,” especially persons on fixed incomes or Section 8 subsidies. “Our people have nowhere to go and nothing to go there with, and don’t know what they are going to do.”
Campbell said, “We should always be kept in the loop when decisions are being made, and be part of the conversation.” He now lives in Bloomington, but it took him until “about the last week,” before he found a new apartment.
Bryant, who also moved to Bloomington, suggested getting churches involved to provide temporary housing for displaced people. “Some of [the churches] have a lot of room.”
Maria Johnson, a former Crossroads resident who now lives in West Bloomington, added, “We have to talk about housing from a people’s perspective.”
The MHP report indicates nearly 20,000 multifamily rental units were sold in the Twin Cities region in 2014 and 2015, which was 147 percent higher than those sold in 2010-11.
“We are seeing this in Brooklyn Park,” said Sebastian Rivera, a housing advocate. He commented that displaced residents deal with trauma that is not being discussed. “People are actually hurting, not the developers or the city council, not the people on the Met Council. People really need to listen to [the residents].”
Aeon President and CEO Alan Arthur said, “We are losing a Crossroads a week. We are losing a hundred [apartments] a week.”
Greater Minnesota Housing Fund President and CEO Warren Hanson said many units are being lost: He estimated there are at least 5,000 units per year. “We need so many more public and private resources to be invested. This is a new opportunity to invest in affordable housing.”
Executive Director Nelima Sitati Munene of the African Career Education Resource, Inc. was emphatic, “What and who do you value? It’s really about people’s lives, not infrastructure.”
“This is not over,” said Richfield City Councilmember Maria Regan Gonzalez. She pointed out that after recently learning that another apartment complex might be up for sale, the Council mobilized immediately and the prospective new owners then met with residents.
“It’s not a zero-sum game. We can provide affordable housing for everyone,” she said.
Hanson announced last week that a new Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) Impact Fund has been established to preserve 2,000 unsubsidized affordable rental housing in the Twin Cities for low- and moderate-income families and individuals, and seniors. He later told the MSR, “[When] you get a combination of gentrifying neighborhoods and speculators from out of town and landlords refusing to pick up Section 8 [renters], people are being shut out of naturally affordable housing.”
Johnson said, “I wish people would think of us as people and not as a number.”
“I really hope we can get it together, so that this don’t happen to any other group of people,” said Campbell.
“Right now, we have a lot of people in the Twin Cities and the inner ring suburbs; a lot of them happen to be people of color and low-income people,” said Munene. “We have to be real honest about who we value.”
To see the full documentary online, go to: http://www.tpt.org/sold-out-affordable-housing-at-risk
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com