Housing issues must be solved

The lack of available housing rentals in the Twin Cities is a serious problem that has been ignored far too long. According to the 2000 census, the vacancy rates for rental developments in the Twin Cities are at an alarming 2.8 percent and believed to have sunk in recent months to 2 percent. Most of the rental housing that has been built is upscale, from $1,400 a month and up, therefore renting is no longer a viable option for many students or others with low incomes. Housing is at its lowest availability since the Great Depression, while the population has taken its biggest jump ever in the 1990s. The housing situation must be improved, or else the chasm between available housing and those seeking it will grow to an even more unreasonable distance.

A study done by the Wilder Research Center in October 2000 found the limited housing supply in the Twin Cities caused a 34 percent increase in rent between 1990 and 1999. During that same period the income of renters increased only 9 percent. This increased gap between the cost of renting and the wages of renters is a large part of the problem, and more must be done to alleviate the strain on renters.

Many people are turning from renting to buying for a variety of reasons. Aside from the “American dream” of owning your own home, many are finding that buying is a more financially sensible thing to do as opposed to renting. There are low interest rates for buyers and many tax advantages. These advantages do not exist in the rental market; in fact, quite the contrary. According to a recent report in the Pioneer Press, the state’s property tax system charges landlords two to three times the amount homeowners are charged for the same property.

Additionally, local governments impose large development fees for rental properties, ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per unit. These factors, accompanied with the
ever-growing population and the lack of land to develop, explains the stagnant growth of rental housing. State and local governments need to change the way these things are done in order to solve the housing crisis.

Minnesota lawmakers can no longer sit idly by as more and more citizens fill up homeless shelters because of housing shortages. According to the 2000 census, the number of Minnesotans living in shelters and group quarters has gone up to nearly three times the national average, surpassing rates in all other states. Because housing is so scarce and in such demand, rental units have skyrocketed in price. This increase in the cost of renting in the Twin Cities is not matched with the wages of the majority of renters. The general definition of affordable housing is that housing is to consume no more than 30 percent of one’s income; anything above this does not allow for emergencies. An adult making minimum wage in the state cannot afford housing because they would end up spending more than 30 percent of their income on a place to live. So, if the cost of living for renters has gone up considerably, so should the minimum wage in order to insure that full-time
workers can still afford a place to live.

The potential for this problem to effect students is enormous, because many students cannot have a full-time job and carry a full load of schoolwork. With already exorbitant tuition costs and the University’s threat to raise tuition up to 14 percent, coupled with a cutthroat rental market, many low-income would-be students will be driven away from attending college. This is not a huge problem for kids with parents who are able to help financially; however, many students cannot count on money from their families. Unless something is changed soon, the gap will continue to grow between those who can afford the basic right of housing and those who are left out on the street.