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Minnesota housing crisis in need of equitable solutions

A makeshift sign advertises an apartment for rent in St. Paul. (CBJ Photo/Jasmine McBride)

Minnesota is home to one of the widest racial gaps in home ownership in the nation. The state’s housing crisis falls heavily on the greater Twin Cities metro area, where its communities of color are concentrated. But Kirstin Burch, program director of the Family Housing Fund, says it affects everyone. 

“Housing stability is foundational. When people lack that, it impacts family, education, health…It impacts employment opportunities, stability… all areas,” said Burch. “When we work in silos and don't think about the interrelationship between those types of transitions, people end up with instability. We think their income equals stability. And actually, it's so much more than that.” 

Family Housing Fund is a non-profit that connects government efforts with community partners to increase home ownership in the seven county metro area. The current median new home price in Minnesota is $328,000; which is $100,000 more than the median price a decade ago. The increase in costs is affecting renters, too. Minneapolis’s rental eviction rate has increased 65% since 2019. As far as the entire state, Minnesota had one of the largest surges of eviction rates in the nation last year, up 44% from 2022. 

“We can't depend on the same old housing leaders to tell us what the issues are and craft a solution, because this is such an entrenched and persistent set of disparities that none of us have been able to solve,” said Burch. “A lot of what we've seen, we've all been trying to tackle for decades. And it means we're not getting something right.”

The rate of housing instability, which fuels homelessness, crime (which is seeing major spikes in the Twin Cities Metro), and general economic instability, is putting pressure on MN residents in the face of post-pandemic rising costs in 2024; especially for those within the lower and even moderate income brackets. 

Kirstin Burch

Burch says without quick and innovative solutions, our local economy will face major challenges, including an increasing reliance on government assistance. Burch says despite there being good reasons for government assistance – and targeting assistance for those who are in the lowest of the low income brackets – in the long run it is a barrier to economic growth. Especially for communities who have been historically harmed by the denial to wealth building rights.

“The realities that communities of color, and particularly black communities are experiencing, is so deeply entrenched with this history of racism and exclusion–that we have lacked opportunities to build generational wealth. So even if we make it up the income spectrum where we no longer qualify for [government] benefits, our dollar has to account for so much more. It's very true that low and moderate income households are often supporting more than just the folks that live in their home, and we don't have the same access to liquidity that others have. So making it up the income spectrum and just being a little bit even over where you could qualify for the benefits that help you sustain–puts you sometimes in a worse position,” said Burch. “I think it actually disincentivizes growth.”

And it’s clear that the demand for benefits exceeds the State’s funding for them. Nationwide, only 1 in 4 people that are eligible for a housing voucher can get one due to available funding. That means 75% of those families that qualify are without the support they need. 

While the Family Housing Fund has been advocating to expand housing and rental assistance programs with the legislature as one solution, Burch says what makes the housing crisis so significant is that, for disadvantaged communities – where housing is already difficult to secure – it is now also difficult to keep

“Housing by nature is designed to be an income generating and wealth building vehicle. And it was designed to be that when BIPOC folks were not a part of the equation. And so when laws changed and they said ‘you actually can't legally discriminate against BIPOC folks,’ they didn't change anything else,” said Burch. “It's just on paper that you can't be excluded.” 

Burch says an overlooked form of eviction fueling the housing crisis is discrimination within the rental process. 

 “Currently in Minnesota, if you are renting and your lease is up, your landlord can say, ‘do you want to renew your lease, and here are the terms of your renewed lease.’ But they can also decide they don't want to renew your lease, and they don't have to have a reason or tell you why," explained Burch. "They can just say your lease is up and I'm asking you to leave. And that has become a cause for concern, because anecdotally we're hearing that's happening most when people make complaints around the health and safety of the property. That's happening when property owners and tenants aren't getting along. That's happening for reasons that might be discriminatory or racially charged. But there's no way to capture it. And it's not illegal to just not renew it. And so that's another form of displacement and essentially eviction that we want to tackle to keep people in their homes from all different angles.”

In addition to the general question of how to keep the community housed, safe, and thriving, Burch says we also need to ask whether we can continue with the same State policies that have resulted in these issues – like mandated paid parking, contractual home building restrictions, and the rising focus on rebranding neighborhoods with luxury apartments – which all adversely impact housing affordability, and lead to gentrification.

“It’s a big concern. Especially if you think back to the foreclosure crisis in 2008, where majority of households of color were the ones losing their homes. Investors were able to scoop them up… they purchased them for dirt cheap because so many people were in foreclosure, and they turned those into rental housing,” explained Burch. “That was such an extraction of wealth from communities, and now they're renting them back to the folks in these neighborhoods, and they're not taking care of them or treating the renters right.” 

Burch recently hosted a conversation on renters’ rights.  

“Renters were saying ‘when the stadium got built, my rent went up $200 a month… I was told I have a stadium view,’” said Burch. “As long as we're propping [homeownership] up as a wealth building tool, there's going to be a lot of pressure against slowing down the rate at which rent or the value of property increases, or slowing down how much profit people can make on a property. And we're just going to keep getting further and further apart.” 

Burch says only once the State begins to invest more in policy changes that support long term housing stability for all, may we begin to see communities of color build lasting generational wealth. 


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