County hit by affordable rental housing crunchIt may or may not come as a surprise, but Lake County lacks affordable rental housing. That’s the conclusion of the recently released Housing Profiles report of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, which cites an increase in demand for rentals and a limited supply of them that makes it difficult for some families to find a place to call home.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
It may or may not come as a surprise, but Lake County lacks affordable rental housing. That’s the conclusion of the recently released Housing Profiles report of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, which cites an increase in demand for rentals and a limited supply of them that makes it difficult for some families to find a place to call home.
The county is not alone; the overwhelming majority of counties in the state experience similar shortages, the report states. In Lake County, it estimates the fair market monthly rent and utilities for a safe two-bedroom apartment at $661. An employee would have to earn $12.71 per hour and work 40-hours per week to afford these expenses. The average renter in the area, however, earns $9.90 per hour. Workers making minimum wage would have to hold 1.8 full time jobs to afford their rent.
Then there are upfront costs.
“Some places wanted first, last [month’s rent] and security. That can add up,” said Diana Duffy, a recent arrival to the area. She said she looked for an apartment for a month before finding something she could afford and during that time lived in a tent at a local campground.
A professional photographer and retired newspaper employee from Wisconsin, Duffy said she relocated here for a change of scenery and a new start. She initially went to Duluth, but after four hours “the big city was just too overwhelming,” she recalled. She drove up the shore and spent some time in Two Harbors, saying, “I could live here.”
The MHP report indicates that it’s people like Duffy—those on the lower end of the income scale—who are hardest hit when it comes to finding safe, affordable housing. According to MHP, 11.2 percent of people in Lake County are living in poverty, and for every 100 extremely low-income renter, there are 53 units of available affordable housing.
“As of 2010, about 1 in 8 Minnesota households paid half or more of their income for housing, with the vast majority being low-income households. The federal government considers this to be unaffordable housing,” Leigh Rosenberg, research and outreach manager for MHP, wrote in a commentary in June for Minnesota 2020, a public policy think tank. “Unfortunately, in the last decade, Minnesota has had the fastest growth of any state in the share of households that pay this much of their income for housing.”
That leaves many families scrambling for shelter, she continued. “With rising rents and long term unemployment, regrettably, and tragically, homelessness is up.”
Unstable housing coupled with poverty take a significant toll on children, who are disproportionately represented in the number of unsheltered people in Northeastern Minnesota. In 2009, a one-day count of people known to be homeless in the area was 214, including 98 children and youth.
When families are faced with having to make decisions between housing related expenses and other essentials like food, medical care and transportation, the stress can take its toll. The American Psychological Association found that poorer children and teens are at greater risk for academic problems and have higher school drop-out rates, developmental delays and behavioral and socio-emotional problems. These effects are compounded by the barriers children and their families encounter when trying to access physical and mental health care.
At the end of the last legislative session, $37.5 million in housing bonds were approved to support safe affordable housing throughout the state. Decisions about where the money will be spent will not be determined until the end of October, said Chip Halbach of MHP.
But the general breakdown of how it will be spent looks like this: $12 million will go to provide supportive housing—a combination of housing and services to help residents overcome the challenges that may have contributed to housing instability. There will be $18 million allotted for new housing, new rental property, land-trust purchases and to preserve federally assisted housing.
An additional $5.5 million will go to public housing and will be distributed dependent upon the submission of requests for the funds. The remaining $2 million dollars will be spent on shelter for battered women and children in Woodbury, Minn. Of all the above, Lake County’s share won’t be determined until next month, the MHP reports.
In the meantime, after a month-long search, Duffy finally found an apartment and has spent the past week getting settled. She reported that her stay at the campground was nice and everyone was pleasant, but after a few weeks of tent-living the novelty wore off.