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.

Racism 

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.

Gentrification meeting in Minneapolis’ Ninth ward.

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Three hundred people met  at Plaza Verde on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis on September 30, 2015 to talk about gentrification and pose the question, who will live in Minneapolis in 2020?

Jessica Lopez Lyman, Chicano Studies Scholar, explained that one of the myths about gentrification is that it happens overnight.  In reality developers, politicians and bankers set the stage for years before the sudden appearance of new businesses and an influx of the white, wealthy, and formally-educated people, buying housing and businesses.

An audience member illustrated how the process has worked in Minneapolis.   Former Minneapolis Mayor Sayles Belton got rid of much subsidized housing in the 1990s. Subsequent Mayor R. T Rybak built luxury condos. Our current Mayor, Betsy Hodges has made it a goal to encourage 100,000 new residents to our city by 2020. The question is: who will these new residents be? From the housing  being built, it looks like high income folks. What will happen to those living here now? We have a housing crisis currently in Minneapolis, with long lines for affordable rentals.  Why aren’t we building affordable housing?

Another participant pointed out that gentrifiers have the luxury to plan long- term, while the residents of a gentrifying neighborhood don’t have the time or space to fight.    Their window is often next months suddenly-elevated rent.

Lopez Lyman explained that displacement of People of Color (it does happen to working class whites as well)  to satisfy the needs of elites, has been happening for eons, this is just the new name for an old game.

Neeraj Mehta of the Center for Urban and Regional Development at the University of Minnesota  noted, we are now told the problem is “concentrations of poverty”, — too many poor people living together — instead of poverty itself. The gentrifiers solution is dissolution and dispersal of neighborhoods. Nothing is done about racism or poverty. Mehta said the bottom line is “It’s easier to move people than to move resources.” We need to demand resources now — he concluded — not wait for the gentrifiers to arrive with their attending resources.

Chaun Webster of the Firehouse Collective and Ancestry Books in North Minneapolis, pointed out that the justification for gentrification begins with the colonial narrative that the neighborhood is empty of human resources. Nothing is begin replaced, only added.  Artists come in to  “beautify,” creating murals  and such, that satisfy the palette of wealthier whiter newcomers, often referred to as “young professionals.”

The crowd was rich in ideas to overcome gentrification.  Here are some of the ideas coming from the panel and the floor.

  • Demand an end to government subsidies to developers.
  • We need Community Benefits  Agreements between neighbors and developers for any project receiving government funds.
  • Fund community development that uses the human capacities already within neighborhoods.
  • Redistribute Park resources to benefit Communities of Color.
  • Turn Section 8 housing system into a home ownership program.
  • Encourage local coops.
  • Protect housing from foreclosures,  tax hikes and rent hikes.
  • Fight the culture of gentrification – when wealthier newcomers demand their cultural norms become law. (Real life example: removing a basketball court in North Minneapolis.)
  • Create an affordable housing trust fund.
  • Fighting discriminatory lending. Prosecute the offending bankers and banks.
  • Fight Charter schools that disperse neighborhoods and support the public schools that anchor them.

A man who encouraged us not to use race language was chastised by people not wanting a race-blind discussion. Unfortunately his original point — that the enemy has a face — developers teaching people to flip houses, planning foreclosures, people who actually plan and carry out gentrification —  was lost.

A woman pointed out that reliance on non-profits ends up with band aid solutions that keep the structure of racism and poverty intact.

Kudos to Minneapolis Ninth ward councilwoman Alondra Cano, for sponsoring a forum that was NOT about band aids.  Hope it is the first of many.