City faces affordable housing shortage

Max Rust

Minneapolis faces one of the most severe housing crises in the United States, due in large part to a lag in the construction of homes priced for people with low incomes.
The Twin Cities is not alone. Seattle, Boston, the San Francisco Bay area and a host of other cities are also struggling to provide affordable housing to all their residents, specifically their low-wage earners.
Several influences have harshened the situation.
Decisions by government officials have choked funding for public-housing projects, and slow-moving litigation has impeded neighborhood renewal initiatives. Urban residents hoping to escape the situation have been stymied by suburban city councils that have resisted the construction of low-income homes.
As a result, many families, left without an alternative, have moved into shelters and relatives’ homes while they continue searching for places to live.
There are about 8,000 homeless people in the Twin Cities on any given day. An estimated half are children, according to the St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation.
Weapons to fight this problem come in the form of Michael Thongsavanh and Andrea Droese, members of the University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, an organization that raises funds, builds and renovates living spaces for those unable to pay for housing at market rates.
The chapter joined more than 200 people from other university and community groups on the city’s northside Saturday to take part in “Raise the Roof,” a national event to celebrate the volunteer work local communities do to keep their neighborhoods clean and their housing livable.
The idea surfaced this summer at a mayoral conference in Atlanta. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo suggested that HUD raise awareness of the national housing crisis by working with community organizations to clean up neighborhoods and bolster volunteerism.
“In the past, we haven’t been involved in neighborhood activities unless we had an agenda,” said Patricia Mack, the public affairs coordinator for HUD’s Minnesota office and a University alumna. “Now we’re working with community councils that already exist and saying, ‘What can we do for you?'”
Terry Wilson, the community coordinator for the Hawthorne area community council, provided the groups on Saturday with plenty to do.
Wilson, also a University graduate, organizes “clean sweeps” in the Hawthorne neighborhood twice a year. Clean sweeps involve driving through alleys on the back of dump trucks and throwing discarded refuse such as old furniture and appliances into the trucks.
“With most of our clean sweeps, there are neighbors who do it, but today, we used mostly University students,” Wilson said. “It is really cool to show the people in our neighborhood that other people care about them, too.”
The volunteers cleaned up small trash in the morning and larger items in the afternoon. Many volunteers planted flower bulbs, and others lent a hand in the renovation of two local houses. After lunch, they planted a tree in Fairview Park in memory of three neighborhood men who recently died.
The Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association gave a $10,000 check to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity to provide landscaping for those homes the organization revamps.
Such donations come at a time of need for Minneapolis’ low-income residents.
According to HUD, the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis is $666 a month. Fair-market rent figures measure total housing expenses, including utilities other than phone service.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the housing wage for the Twin Cities area is $12.81 per hour. Housing wages are the amount a full-time employee must make per hour to be able to afford a two bedroom rent at the fair-market rent rate.
That’s 249 percent more than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.

Max Rust covers the community and can be reached at [email protected]