After years of serving as a community advocate, Danielle Swift of St. Paul is running for the city’s Ward 6 council seat. This move pivots her community organizing work—she is currently on contract as a community organizer through the Frogtown Neighborhood Association—toward a life of policymaking as an elected official.
Swift grew up in St. Paul’s East Side after arriving from Connecticut at the age of 10. Following 20 years of living in St. Paul, Swift finds herself working as a community organizer with a focus on housing rights and development work.
Swift first became interested in housing rights after working at Hiway Federal Credit Union. After eight years, she gained a thorough understanding of mortgage lending and went on to pursue a career in real estate. While selling homes as a realtor at a local nonprofit community development company, Swift found herself drawn into local activism, specifically on the issue of tenants’ rights.
She said she became committed to activism after St. Anthony police shot and killed Philando Castile. Seeing the disparity in homeownership rates between black Minnesotans and their white counterparts, Swift recognized that there could be a major change in these communities if more residents had ownership of their property.
Property justice platform
“Housing is one of those issues where it’s a basic need, and a lot of the other issues we find intersect there,” Swift said. Her run for the city council seat focuses primarily on the lack of investment she sees coming to Ward 6.
Swift believes that the way in which communities look now and the issues they face are products of the city planning and development process. If elected, Swift plans to stimulate economic development in her ward to close the gap she sees between her ward and other parts of the city.
“Our city is broken down by the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ We have a very affluent part of our city that doesn’t experience what we have in Ward 6.” She pointed to the issue of lead paint found in houses in the economically impoverished areas of St. Paul. She related the issue to the Flint water crisis.
In recent years Swift has seen her work bring change to residents across the Twin Cities. She was hired by NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center where she worked closely with InquilinsXs UnidXs por Justica (United Renters for Justice) to walk renters through housing relocation. Swift helped the group in their case against Mahmood Khan, a Minneapolis landlord who was banned from holding rental licenses earlier this year due to unfair housing practices with tenants.
Swift is looking forward to her possible transformation from community advocate to politician. “Just like organizing, political relationships are important,” she said.
However, Swift does find some issues with the perceived limitations of public life. Having worked as an advocate for years, Swift says that city hall seems “stifling” and she does not want to lose herself in there.
Although she has had some accomplishments as a housing advocate that she celebrates, she recognizes that everything cannot be accomplished solely through community organizing. Swift sees herself up against such barriers to political life as institutional racism, old money, and having activists like herself put in a box before she can pass any policy.
Another change Swift hopes to bring to the ward is the way in which businesses engage with residents in the area. Seeing large corporations open their businesses in St. Paul has made Swift want to bring business owners to the table and implore them to hire locally. She also wants to have unions give opportunities to the youth in her ward.
In recent weeks, the Minneapolis has given tenant’s rights’ groups major wins by limiting the background screening of housing applicants, giving many in the city housing options they didn’t have before. Swift hopes to replicate some of that work in St. Paul, giving residents in her ward more access to housing.