Systemic issues plague Northside renters
By Beret Leone | Contributor
Additional reporting by: Josh Towner, Conrad Engstrom, and Kenzie O'Keefe.
Ashaundria Prowell sat in her office with a rock in her gut. She had just gotten off the phone with an ecstatic client who just finished a walk-through for an apartment rental. All she had to do was send a money order of $3,000 to the rental owner and the place was hers. Finally, a place she could call her own. Prowell thought her client’s story sounded too good to be true, but how could she talk her out of her excitement? By the time she looked up the property owner and found it was fraudulent, it was too late. The money was sent, and he was gone.
Prowell is a housing specialist at the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) who works directly with families to get them placed into rental units in North. NAZ collaborates with nonprofits such as Urban Homeworks and schools that then partner with North Minneapolis families. Its mission is to prepare children to be equipped for college after high school graduation. Prowell often sees housing instability standing in the way of that. “I know that when you’re not housed, or properly housed, everything is put on hold,” she said.
North Minneapolis is home to 64,826 of the over 400,000 people that make up Minneapolis’ population. According to a study by the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) released in 2017, renters must earn $21-$23 an hour to afford a modest, one bedroom apartment in North Minneapolis. Today’s minimum wage is just $9.50 for small businesses and $10.00 for large. A $15 minimum wage was passed into law in Minneapolis last summer, but it won’t go into full effect until 2024.
Despite residents often needing to work overtime to pay the rent, the population in North has grown 15 percent since 2010. “It’s a community where I think there are a lot of relationships and folks that have been living there for many years being close to their families,” MHP's director of communications and partnerships, Carolyn Szcezepanski, said. “I think there’s a fallacy that folks who have lower income have the ability to move.”
Jon Lundberg, the equity and engagement program manager at Urban Homeworks has been working directly with housing issues for 10 years. Urban Homeworks manages 115 units in North Minneapolis, housing predominantly families as well as young adults, professionals and students. They strive to create a community that empowers family stability through housing. He describes housing as the center of basic human needs - without the stability of housing, everything else is unobtainable. Living in the Jordan neighborhood, Lundberg estimates 65 to 70 percent of housing is rental property. “This is an onion problem,” Lundberg said, mimicking peeling with his hands. “There are infinite layers to this.”
Although affordability may be the most obvious issue in renting in North, Lundberg sees other big issues too. Lundberg breaks down these layers into three main pillars: affordability, gentrification and control, all working in tandem.
Gentrification can’t be stopped until the control of the market is changed, which in turn affects the affordability in North. Lundberg describes this cycle as a “hot housing market.” People living outside of North see cheap property, buy it, then flip, renovate and jack up the prices, leaving Northside residents, “taking what they can get.”
Yuri Harper, a coaching family specialist at NAZ, sees gentrification and control being an issue with her clients all the time.
“There’s an overpopulation of people coming in from other states, swallowing up, buying because they can, any and all of the housing, doing minimal work to the unit and putting it out there for an extreme amount of money,” Harper said. “And people in their neighborhood just have to deal with it. It’s not fair.”
One single mother Harper works with pays $1,200 monthly for an “OK” two-bedroom apartment. Harper doesn’t pay that much for the mortgage on her house.
“If we look at what I’m getting for that same amount of money...that’s ridiculous,” Harper said. “But she’s taken what she can get. … She’s struggling to pay the rent, but she’s maneuvering it.”
A few years ago, Lundberg and his team at Urban Homeworks presented the state with a possible solution. It would cost $72 million to refurbish and fill every vacant home in Minneapolis. Although the state was happily surprised it would cost so little, the plan was turned down because it didn’t fit in the budget. A few months later, the state approved $500 million toward building U.S. Bank Stadium.
“This is not a money problem,” Lundberg said.” It’s a will problem.”
This story is made possible by a partnership between Bethel University and North High journalism programs.