Housing groups, Rybak strive for equal access, affordability in market

Joanna Dornfeld

Pledging to ensure equal access to Minneapolis dwellings, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak declared April Fair Housing Month in a kickoff celebration at City Hall on Monday.

Rybak and housing agency representatives at the event said making housing affordable and ensuring equitable access among the city’s diverse population are important.

“No matter what a house costs, we need to have equal access,” Rybak said.

Fair Housing Month is designed to educate the public about where to go to file fair housing complaints and to teach the importance of ending discriminatory practices in renting and selling property.

“The month provides an opportunity to highlight these issues, but it’s an ongoing issue that we need to practice and model,” said Sherrie Pugh, Northside Residents Redevelopment Council executive director.

Passed by Congress in 1968, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing because of race, religion, sex, familial status, criminal history or credit history.

Minnesota passed the Human Rights Act in 1973 and the Minneapolis City Council passed a civil rights ordinance in 1975.

Fair Housing Month has been celebrated for more than 20 years throughout the nation.

Speakers from the Minnesota Housing and Urban Development office said housing advocates are significant, and assist those with the least chance of being approved for housing – minorities, and those with low income or children.

HUD has partnered with Lutheran Social Services Housing Resource Center and St. Stephens Catholic Church to prevent housing discrimination.

“Housing resource center staff carefully explain how to look for an apartment,” said Tom Feeney, Minnesota HUD field office director. “They will tell you about landlords who are reluctant to rent to people who have not had stable housing, to people who have disabilities and to people who are poor.”

A representative from the West Bank Community Development Corporation also attended the event. The West Bank CDC – a nonprofit group that owns more than 500 housing units serving the Cedar-Riverside, Elliot Park, Loring Park and Eastside neighborhoods – strives to provide affordable housing through fair housing practices.

“We are motivated by a commitment to fair housing as we develop our process,” said Tim Mungavan, West Bank CDC executive director. “We are well aware that people of color have suffered disproportionately.”

In addition to rent-equity problems, rents have risen three times as fast as renters’ incomes and vacancy rates are extremely low, Mungavan said.

It is virtually impossible to enforce fair housing laws in a tight housing market because landlords’ applicant pools are so large they can discard potential tenants for any reason, Dale said.

The Fair Housing Act helps even the playing field for people looking for housing.

“Everyone has the right to choose where they want to live,” said Diana Buckanaga, a Minneapolis Housing Services advocate.

Rybak will discuss the issue in more detail in his State of the City Address on Tuesday and at an event Sunday at the Zuhrah Shrine Center.

“Let us certainly celebrate fair housing this month, but recognize this is something to look at
every day,” Rybak said.

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]