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Report highlights housing woes for low-income Minnesotans

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Report highlights housing woes for low-income Minnesotans
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DULUTH -- Shannon Redbrook spent a year homeless in Duluth.

Finding housing has been difficult the past eight years she’s lived here. With four children, she’s struggled to afford a rental large enough for her family. There are application fees and, worst of all, too many apartments and homes “not in good shape.”


She has fought landlords to fix a perpetually clogged toilet. She lived without a stove. A kitchen cabinet once came loose and landed on her daughter.

Today, she’s in a home she likes, even though the rent takes up more than 30 percent of her income. The percentage is the measuring line for housing affordability. Median incomes in Duluth indicate affordable two-bedroom rents should be about $547; that amount drops to $534 when factoring in Superior, Wis. The current average is $690.

Redbrook is relieved to have a roof over her head today, but she knows others share her earlier struggles.

“I am blessed; I have a house,” she said.

Many people in the region don’t, or they are in substandard housing while a dearth of livable rental properties persist five years after the height of the recession.

That was part of the findings in a report released Thursday by Minnesota 2020 and the Minnesota Housing Partnership. The report, titled “Uneven Recovery,” says that while upper- and middle-class Minnesotans are doing better since the apex of the recession, people with lower incomes are not. Duluth continues to have some of the highest rents in the state, and many of its units are in bad shape.

Redbrook told her story during a news conference at the former Lincoln Park Middle School, where there are plans to begin in the next 45 days a conversion of the space into offices and 50 housing units.

Housing advocates want more projects, like the school conversion, to ease the strain for housing in the city. The release of the state report is part of a push to get members of the state Legislature to pass $100 million in bonding that would go toward fixing the statewide housing crisis. Companies such as Sherman Associates, which is doing the Lincoln Park school conversion, would bid for that money.

“Our market is really tight,” said Sarah Priest from the Duluth Affordable Housing Coalition. “We really need more options.”

The foreclosure crisis flooded the rental market and drove up prices, Leigh Rosenberg said. She co-wrote the study and is the director of research and outreach for the Minnesota Housing Partnership. Lee Egerstrom, an economic development fellow with Minnesota 2020, was the other author.

Incomes have stagnated with prices going up, Rosenberg said.

“It’s putting the squeeze on the rental market,” she said.

Rosenberg said the bonding request would help stabilize things. That bonding bill has reached the House floor; the Senate still has it in committee. Gov. Mark Dayton has suggested half of what advocates want: $50 million.

And what would affordable, livable housing look like?

Tina Sklors, the regional property manager for Sherman Associates, said a studio apartment at the Lincoln Park school will go for $300. A three-bedroom should be $800. A variety of income and assistance levels will be accepted for living in the building. Seven of the 50 apartments will be designated for the homeless, Sklors said.

Mike Creger
(218) 723-5218