— by Lael Robertson, Staff Attorney for Housing Justice Center
“Residential stability begets a kind of psychological stability, which allows people to invest in their home and social relationships. It begets school stability, which increases the chances that children will excel and graduate. And it begets community stability, which encourages neighbors to form strong bonds and take care of their block. But poor families enjoy little of that because they are evicted at such high rates. Instability is not inherent to poverty. . . Poor families move so much because they are forced to.” Evicted, pg. 296
In my time as a legal aid attorney and in my current role at Housing Justice Center, I heard the stories of struggle told in “Evicted” over and over again—people barely scraping by, longing for stability, looking for a place to call home. Natalie had a landlord decide he didn’t want someone with a domestic violence history, so her lease was terminated; Maria’s building was bought and the rent was increased by 30%; when William’s building got new management, he couldn’t qualify under the new tenant standards, even though he had been paying rent for 10 years. Because those who rent, and particularly those who rent unsubsidized apartments, are at the mercy of outside forces—the landlord, the market, a desire for financial gain—they are one business decision away from being uprooted.
In 2015, the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area had 28%, or over 320,000, cost burdened households, meaning those households were paying more than 30% of their income for rent, according to Minnesota Compass. Perhaps more startling, more than 78% of households earning less than $35,000 a year are cost burdened. Those who can least afford it are paying the most for housing.
At the same time, the vacancy rate in the metro is incredibly low and rents are increasing. The ability of low-income households to find affordable apartments is difficult; holding on to them can be close to impossible. According to a report by the Minneapolis Innovation Team, two months and less than $2,000 stands between tenants and eviction. Nonpayment cases accounted for 93% of eviction filings, most of which had no other reasons identified.¹
So what can we do?
We can advocate for our local officials to recognize the problem and take action. Several cities around the metro are considering policies like just cause eviction, protections for Section 8 voucher holders, and required notice to the city of unsubsidized apartment buildings that are going up for sale. But we can also educate our communities on who needs affordable housing—people who work, people with disabilities, people you know. They are teacher’s aides, grocery store clerks, fast food managers. They go to your church, they work at your coffee shop, and their child is your child’s best friend. And right now, they need their community to step up and help make change.
¹ Evictions in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Innovation Team 2016.
Lael Robertson is a staff attorney at Housing Justice Center. Ms. Robertson focuses her work on enforcing fair housing laws on behalf of low income and on advocating for fair housing policy throughout the region.