It’s time to talk about housing in Bloomington. There’s a growing disparity between the lack of affordable housing and the needs of people who rent in the city. Directly or indirectly, it affects us all.
Last December, the Bloomington Housing Coalition and Bloomington’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) hosted a public forum to explore affordable housing issues in Bloomington. The forum offered a variety of speakers, and an update from Bloomington’s HRA on the city’s efforts to redevelop real estate and retain or create affordable housing within the city. It also featured a panel discussion, and clips from Twin Cities Public Television’s “Sold Out: Affordable Housing At Risk”, a documentary describing the “flipping” of the 700-unit Crossroads apartment complex in Richfield and resulting loss of 700 units of affordable housing for the 2,300 people living there. You can view the documentary here.
VEAP was one of a host of diverse agencies that sponsored the forum, along with Christ the King Lutheran Church, Community of the Cross Lutheran Church, Minnesota Housing Partnership, The League of Women Voters, Jewish Community Action, HOME Line, Oasis for Youth, and Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County.
The forum was well-attended with nearly 80 people, and featured members of the public, government officials and social service agencies. A number of speakers, including VEAP’s Lisa Horn and Molly Link, gave their perspectives on the growing lack of affordable housing, and its impacts to individuals and the community at large—noting, for example, that the most common emergency request to VEAP from families in need is help with housing. Using documented statistics and individual examples, the speakers framed the lack of affordable housing as a community crisis. The tone was one of concern and urgency, with a call for actions that would that would not only halt the decrease of affordable housing, but also boost affordable housing opportunities.
What makes the lack of affordable housing here a crisis? Consider the following:
- The Twin Cities apartment market is one of the tightest in the nation. With median rents going up 3-10% annually, depending on the location. The Twin Cities are in the top one-third of all major U.S. metro areas for growth in the cost of median rent. At the same time, wages stagnate.
- The average one-bedroom apartment in Bloomington now costs more than $1,100 per month. Neighboring cities average rents just above or below that $1,100 figure. A worker making the $9.50 minimum wage would need to spend 67% of their pre-tax income to afford such a rent.
- Bloomington has the highest concentration of hospitality, retail and food service jobs in the metro area. These jobs are typically low-wage, making increasing rent costs a barrier to finding a safe, stable place to live.
- Up to 170 kids in Bloomington schools are homeless. For many more, rent consumes so much of their parents’ income that they can’t always afford groceries, clothing, medicine or transportation. The cost or lack of stable, affordable housing directly impacts a student’s success in school, and can halt their education entirely.
- Local businesses struggle to adequately staff their sites and “Help Wanted” signs proliferate. For businesses, our low unemployment rate makes finding and maintaining a stable, reliable workforce a challenge. The lack of affordable housing amplifies that challenge, because potential employees can’t afford to live here, and may lack transportation options to get here.
- County wide, 144,022 households pay more than 30% of their income towards housing costs, putting them at risk of being unable to afford basic needs like groceries, clothes, prescriptions and transportation. This includes 61% of seniors who rent and 85% of renters who earn less than $20,000 per year.
- The low 2.3% apartment vacancy rate increases demand, providing landlords financial incentive to increase rents, further narrowing the affordable housing market.
So how do we address this crisis? To make any significant changes in housing policy, we need a public push in the form of strong housing coalitions. We need to work together with our government representatives and advocate for affordable housing policy. If you’d like to get involved, sign up here, and VEAP will connect you with your local housing coalition.