MPR forum discusses housing issues


POC still trailing in housing equity

The growing issue of access to housing—especially during a pandemic and economic downturn—along with its systemic impact on Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color, whose communities are hit harder than others, was recently discussed as part of MPR News’ In Focus series. MPR partnered with Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis for a November 19 virtual panel discussion on Racism in Housing Access.

Before COVID-19, an estimated 8 million Americans—mostly Black and youth—and at least 10,000 families and individuals experienced homelessness on any given day and night. Seniors also are finding themselves at a growing rate of homelessness. The coronavirus outbreak has only exacerbated the housing problem in unprecedented ways.

The Minnesota Housing Partnership’s (MHP) 2019 annual report found that over 25% of state families pay more than they can afford for housing, more than one in four households are “cost-burdened”—a household that spends more than 30% of its income on housing—and often don’t have enough resources to pay for other necessities like food and medicine.

Minnesota has one of the largest renter populations in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota), which has grown proportionally by nearly 30% since 2000, the MHP report said. The state also has the highest percentage (44%) of cost-burdened renters, and more than 60% of the state’s rental households reside in the Twin Cities—Hennepin (38%) and Ramsey (41%) Counties have the largest percentage of rental households. 

 Six Twin Cities counties rank among the highest in Minnesota in senior renter cost burden, paying 30% or more for housing: Washington (69%), Dakota (65%), Ramsey (62%), Anoka (62%), Scott (61%) and Hennepin (59%). Ramsey (25%), Hennepin (23%) and Anoka (22%) are among the state’s highest percentage of senior renter households paying half or more of their income for housing.

Minnesota also has a homeownership gap by race—the Upper Midwest states have the worst racial disparities in homeownership in the country: 24% of Black households are homeowners, compared to Whites 77%, Asians 57%, Native Americans 46% and Latinos 45%. 

 â€śI don’t know if Minnesota is more unique or has more racism” than other parts of the country, said MPR Impact and Community Engagement Director Ka Vang in an MSR pre-event phone interview. “We changed the narrative of People of Color and Indigenous people … end up in shelters and on the street homeless. I think there is a misconception out there that says People of Color are not good with our money, lazy … not responsible [and] that’s why we end up in shelters and on the streets.”

“Every day, our staff sees firsthand how racism impacts access to housing, which is fundamental to a person’s health and stability,” added Catholic Charities’ Wendy Underwood, vice president of social justice advocacy and engagement.  “Our clients are disproportionately People of Color (70%), even though 22% of the Twin Cities are People of Color.”

“Among basic needs, [having] a place to call home, even if it is a temporary basis” is very important, reaffirmed MayKao Hang, vice-president of strategic initiatives at the University of St. Thomas. She and Sam Strong, tribal secretary for the Red Lake Nation were the panelists and spoke on their work on housing issues.

 â€śRacism, discrimination and bias is real,” continued Hang. “There is individual behavior [on behalf of landlords and others] on how people treat [someone trying to find housing].”

“Native Americans live in many different kinds of housing situations,” stated Strong, adding that one-half of his tribe’s population resides in the Twin Cities metro area. 

The state’s housing finance agency Minnesota Housing has adopted 14 strategic objectives designed to help POC in the area of housing, to be implemented over the next three years. The objectives include: a goal of having 35% of mortgages for first-time homebuyers awarded to households of color; addressing homeownership barriers; increasing access to rental assistance and increasing more affordable housing.  

 â€śIt has been a priority in our administration,” said Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan.  “A lot of people who are living month to month, and paycheck to paycheck. There are folk who are at risk of losing their housing to a whole lot of issues.”

 Vang said MPR is committed to bringing to light “issues that are impacted by racism” such as housing. “I think what is different now for us is that we are trying to make our coverage be more community-focused. These issues of racism impact all of us, and not just the experts in the field.

  â€śThe community has solutions. We need to be in community to find solutions together,” she concluded.