As the US economy faces the lowest employment rate since April 2000,simultaneously wages have remained static since 2000, especially for low wage workers. For working people, that means that wages have stagnated while rent and home prices are increasing. These factors have led to a housing crisis, prompting the convening of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing. A subsequent report revealed that:
The Housing Forum brought together leaders, policy experts, and union members directly impacted by the region’s affordable housing crisis and not included in the Governor’s task force to engage in a conversation to begin articulating priorities for housing.
President of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou explains what motivated her to put together the Housing Forum.
“For years, we have been hearing about how housing is a major priority in the communities where we have been organizing and for our union members. We are at this moment of being on the precipice of major decisions being made that are going to completely change the landscape of funding and what’s happening in affordable housing.”
Glaubitz notes that crucial victories like $15 in Minneapolis and improving contracts city and nationwide are still only a bandaid on the underlying issue of unaffordable housing. By bringing together a multitude of diverse organizations they can “cross-pollinate what is important to them” and form a shared vision to assert a comprehensive solution to the housing crisis.
For Israel Aranda with CTUL, the crisis is palatable among the workers with whom he interacts. Low wage workers don’t have “access to the living conditions that they build,” Aranda said. "They (construction workers) are already invested in our city; why can't they live in those neighborhoods [Edina, Eden Prairie] too?” As it is now, Aranda notes that multiple families are often crammed into a two-bedroom apartment.
Greta Callahan, a teacher and Secretary of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), explained the impact of displacement on her students. “I am here for my kids; we need more voices, more eyes on this problem.” Minneapolis public schools are already losing students to displacement; according to Minneapolis Public schools district-wide, eight point two percent of enrolled students experienced homelessness during the year. According to Callahan, the concentration is disproportionately higher in North Minneapolis where Callahan teaches.
In 3 years, low income Minneapolis families’ affordable housing unit tax credits will expire, which could lead to further displacement if the city doesn't step in. It is likely that rent will increase along with evictions. Minneapolis families are also experiencing pressure from gentrification as a consequence of the North Loop boom. “We are telling the same story but from a different perspective,” Callahan remarked. In her experience, she had never been in a meeting that included so many different sectors of the economy.
Nelima Sitati Munene is the executive director of African Career Education & Resource (ACER). For Munene housing is a human right, and ACER’s position on policy and organizing emphasizes a human-centered approach focused on how to make housing more affordable and accessible. In the Northwest suburb cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, there are large refugee and immigrant populations. In Brooklyn Center, for example, one out of four residents are foreign-born.
For Munene, “The problem is disinvestment when people of color and lower wealth people choose to live together, that is...what we need to be solving.” She further explained that if people choose to live in first-ring suburbs, they should have access to the same amenities. “If the only reason to move to Edina is that it’s the only place to get good schooling for your kids, then it’s a false choice.” Instead, there should be a greater focus on equity in funding equations.
Munene argues that, “People only talk about poverty, but not the connectedness of family as a support system.” Callahan argues that when students are forced to move, they are losing access to their support networks. “If anyone loses their friends and support system, they are not going to be successful.”
Kevin Pranis with Laborers International Union North America or LIUNA Minnesota explained that, “In the residential industry we see abuses from rampant wage theft, unsafe conditions, and workers being forced to work illegally as independent contractors.” Independent contractors aren’t entitled to basic workplace protections such as unemployment insurance. Their immigration status tends to lead to greater exploitation in unsafe conditions.
For Pranis, combating workplace abuses in the construction industry demands that public officials are held accountable. “The public entities are helping subsidize these projects; they are giving them the right to develop projects. We think there should be some standards that upholds the public interest and provides safe, high-quality local jobs to protect the basic rights of workers.”
Katie Hatt with North Star Policy Institute emphasizes the importance of keeping an eye on what is happening in the legislature. The flurry of preemptive bills, if passed in the last legislative session, would have undermined the ability of local municipalities to be responsive to the needs of communities.
What is unique about the forum is the way it brought together organizations that, “have not necessarily seen their destinies as intertwined,” according to Hatt. “Our shared interests mean that we need to be lined up and present and looking for change.” For Hatt, the importance of responding strongly to the current housing market is rooted in the reality that, “everyone needs a place to call home.”
At the end of the day, Aranda felt gratified to experience solidarity from union members. “You know it’s there, but to hear them say it as they plan and talk about the issues is refreshing. It's great to hear and necessary to hear; it revitalizes me to continue knowing we have that support.”
Roberto De La Riva with Inquilinos Unidos, a tenant's right organization, expressed his vision for moving forward;
“It’s important that we build sites of resistance to stop rent increases and open doors for new alternatives. These sites organized renters are massive weapons in political struggles to win co-op housing and tenant’s unions.”
For Munene, lifting people out of poverty and resourcing communities of color where they live “is a great strategy to make housing affordable and accessible.”