Keith Ellison’s Affordable Housing Forum Stirs the Pot.

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Today, October 30th  2015, Congressman Keith Ellison sponsored a public forum in Minneapolis on Affordable housing, featuring United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julian Castro and local stakeholders.  Together they addressed:

Urban neighborhoods and Suburbs

Do we build up what Castro calls the old urban neighborhoods or create housing in suburbs?  And what about there first ring suburbs getting all the affordable housing and second ring, more affluent suburbs  not getting their fair share.

Segregation and integration 

Both were mentioned as problems and solutions. People need to live in communities that provide social supports and often those tend to be places where one finds  people of one’s own racial, ethnic and religious group, but we can see a correlation between segregated communities and concentrations of White wealth  and People of Color in poverty.  Community Organizer Nelima Sitati talked of the community she created in an apartment building in Brooklyn Park where she and her neighbors, all single mothers, supported each other, took care of each other’s children, and helped each other get through college.  There was nothing wrong with them, — Satita said — what was wrong was the lack of investment in their neighborhood.


Sitati noted that every housing advocate has to be an advocate of racial justice.

Racism is a huge problem in housing, affecting who gets access to homeownership, (24% of African Americans — we learned — own homes in the Twin Cities — one of the lowest rates in the nation), and who gets access to decent rental property, affordable or not. Gentrification — when white people and their resources move into low income neighborhoods of color — leads to residents of color being priced out of rentals and property-taxed out of homes.

Looking forward and backward. 

Everyone was interested in looking forward but Yusef Mgeni of the St Paul NAACP said, we also have to look backward to see how we got to this place. I wish he had pushed further to talk of reparations for past injustices. Done correctly that could provide a substantial pot of money for those neighborhoods  and communities that need it.

My Thoughts: 

People in poverty have a right to live in all places,  but that is not enough. Audience member Chaun Webster asked why the panelists did not talk about poverty. In one of the wealthiest metropolitan areas in the wealthiest nation we need to move the above words around and demand that Peoples in all places have a right not to live in poverty.

Before I am accused to not being pragmatic enough, not addressing issues facing people today,  without much time I can think of a dozen things we could do policy-wise immediately to decrease poverty, fight gentrification in neighborhoods and increase affordable housing. All of these things are being done somewhere.

  • Immigration reform. Immigration issues were neglected by the panel but addressed by audience members. We need legalization. In the mean time – end discrimination in housing for all people residing in the Twin Cities  regardless of immigration status.
  • The Working Families Agenda of living wages, ($15 minimum) regular schedules and sick time.
  • Rent control and property tax control to protect People of Color and other low income people in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification.
  • Community Benefits Agreements to make sure businesses and public funds entering low income neighborhoods address  needs delineated by the community. This goes for housing stock as well. The fact that the Twin Cities has seen  a phenomenal growth in both new housing and  people without housing illustrates the problem.   
  • Move from banning the box to making it illegal to discriminate against former felons in hiring and housing.  An audience member noted there is a discrimination against parent renters ,whose children are picked up by law enforcement. They lose their housing — something that does not happen to homeowners.  Such discriminations make it impossible for people to create a stable household.
  • Begin a public works program to fix infrastructure and provide union jobs.
  • Increase corporate taxes. Eliminate corporate welfare and use all public funds for the common good. No more money for malls, stadiums and airports unless that means subsidies for low-income consumers.  If we subsidize sports and make the games free then I’ll support it. Otherwise that money should go to schools, parks, libraries.
  • Reverse the current funding disparities and put  our common resources into schools where kids are currently poor, fund culturally relevant curriculum,  field trips,  summer and evening programs, we will have both access and equity.
  • Free pre-K and college tuition.

But we need to think bigger too. Castro’s final remark illuminated a basic problem: there is not enough national funding for affordable housing to meet the needs. We can be creative — as he suggested — but unless we change national budget priorities, the people needing safe stable inviting and affordable housing will only continue to grow.

Keith Ellison’s forum was packed to overflowing with people passionate about affordable housing. There was  not enough time for audience feedback.  Hopefully there will be another event just focused on collecting ideas from the people.

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