African Career, Education and Resource Inc. and Asamblea de Derechos Civiles hosted a regional housing forum to address housing discrimination, displacement, development and otherwise undignified living conditions in the northwest metro. The meeting was held Jan. 12 at Zanewood Community Center in Brooklyn Park.
The meeting attracted the attention of elected officials. District 36 Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin), Brooklyn Center Councilmember Marquita Butler, and Brooklyn Park Councilmembers Lisa Jacobson and Susan Pha were in attendance.
Pha said she attended, in part, to hear feedback on affordable rent for new developments in Brooklyn Park. Jacobson said she is regularly confronted with housing issues, as she is executive director at Hope 4 Youth, an Anoka area homeless shelter for young people age 23 and younger.
Participants testified that affordable housing with livable conditions are exceedingly difficult to find, and said landlords can exercise unethical and discriminatory policies towards people of color and the impoverished.
Alfreda Daniels, Brooklyn Park resident and community organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation said she was “terribly disappointed,” after moving into The Willows apartment complex in Brooklyn Park, and that landlords take advantage of rental residents. Rents are raised yearly without making any improvements to the apartments, she said.
Within two weeks of moving in, she said she had difficulty with mice. “I’ve called the city actually, twice. I called the city two days later, and there were people that came over for inspection, but to my surprise, they were checking out my smoke detectors,” she said.
If a resident of the complex is paying their rent on time, they must either pay in-person at the head office in Minneapolis or mail a check, but late payments with interest can be made on-site, Daniels said. “What about my neighbors who don’t have a car … and work [late]?” she said.
Carol LaFleur, a Brooklyn Park resident, has rented houses with mold issues that caused her child health issues resulting in hospitalization, she said. She said city officials did not step in to address the issue. She lived on a fixed income, and raising rents forced her to move her family to other properties in the city, she said.
Antonia Alvarez, co-founder of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (or Assembly for Civil Rights) is a resident of Lowry Grove Mobile Home Park in St. Anthony. Alvarez has been a leader in the fight to save Lowry Grove from redevelopment. The park was sold to The Village, a developer, in June 2016.
Under state law, mobile home residents have the right of first refusal in the case of a mobile home closure. That is, if 51 percent of park residents can organize and match the terms and conditions of the buyer’s offer, they can purchase the park. Lowry Grove residents worked with Aeon, a nonprofit in the housing field, to offer the same $6 million that The Village offered. Park owners sold to The Village rather than to Aeon.
The legality of the park’s sale is currently being reviewed in the courts.
Alvarez said Lowry Grove is the only affordable housing and immigrant-friendly community in St. Anthony.
“We need affordable houses; Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Burnsville, Bloomington,” she said. “Are you ready in Brooklyn Park to fight for affordable houses?” she asked, with the crowd replying “Yes.”
Application fees are used unjustly by landlords, participants said. Landlords will accept applicant fees already knowing they will not offer housing to the applicant, they said.
Several residents said coded racial language is used by landlords and developers to segregate neighborhoods, or otherwise turn away potential renters of color.
“It’s impactful to hear, I mean these are real life stories, this is really what’s happening,” Hoffman said. “It causes one to think, ‘Well, alright, how deep is this issue? How systemic is it?’ You have folks from different parts of the community that are all experiencing the same types of issues.”
Statutory language would need to be looked at to see how to address the issue, “especially on the discrimination side,” Hoffman said. “It’s real, and it’s happening right in our backyard.”
He said if statutory language already does not allow for discrimination based on factors such as race or poverty, then city housing authorities would need to look at what can be done to provide relief.
The forum broke into workgroups to discuss their personal experiences and possible solutions. Tim Moriarty, an area resident, said cities should require developers to include low-cost or subsidized housing in their new development proposals. Rather than separate and stigmatize these renters by separating their housing, they should have low-cost or subsidized housing mixed with unsubsidized housing, he said.
Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]