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Housing advocates warn of 'wave of evictions'

An annual affordable housing scorecard shows the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened housing opportunities and gaps for people of color.

DMC Affordable housing
Gilbert Martinez of Rochester sands down trim that will be used in a bedroom of a workforce house being finished in The Gardens subdivision in southeast Rochester.
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COVID-19 has set up a looming eviction crisis, affordable housing advocates say.

Emergency programs put in place to stem the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic have helped people stay in their homes.

But there are about 40,000 people who are at risk of losing their homes once temporary rent and mortgage assistance programs preventing evictions end, said Judy Johnson, project director for Prosperity’s Front Door.

ALSO READ: Zone change for Rochester affordable housing project gets nod, despite neighborhood concerns

“There’s a wave of evictions waiting,” Johnson said during an affordable housing conference Tuesday.

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Prosperity’s Front Door released its annual housing “scorecard” Tuesday. The organization is a statewide network of business, government and nonprofit leaders working toward goals outlined in 2018 by the Governor’s Task Force on Housing.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan noted that the COVID-19 public health crisis prompted a strong and immediate response. Lack of housing should prompt an equally concerted effort, she said.

“People living outside is a public health crisis,” she said.

The scorecard shows progress in some areas toward statewide goals.

The first goal of the task force is to make affordable housing a priority in Minnesota. Affordable housing is generally defined as rent or mortgages costing families less than $1,000 per month or homes priced under $250,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic created extra challenges to an already lofty goal of creating 300,000 affordable homes by 2030. While new housing starts of about 29,000 homes statewide are matching that pace, many of the homes are higher priced, Johnson said.

The second goal of the task force is to keep the affordable housing stock the state already has. Johnson said about 214,000 affordable homes have been lost across the state since 2013. As housing costs continue to rise faster than wages, that loss will likely continue.

“We are losing ground,” she said.

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White families are also twice as likely to own their homes as families of color, Johnson said. As of 2019, 77% of white families owned their home compared to 25% of Black families in Minnesota. With economic impacts of COVID-19 hitting families of color harder, that gap, one of the worst in the U.S., likely got worse in 2020, Johnson said.

Olmsted County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden joined the conference along with JoMarie Morris, executive director of the Jeremiah Program Rochester-Southeast Minnesota. They talked about the partnerships between the county, city, Mayo Clinic and nonprofits to address local housing issues.

“No one can solve this alone,” Kiscaden said.

Myuana Harris, who lives at the Jeremiah campus in Rochester which opened last year with 40 housing units for single mothers, said the program gave her housing stability as she finishes her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Harris said she lived in an unsafe apartment while trying to go to school and later moved to a safer neighborhood, but that made it financially unfeasible to continue her education.

“People cannot afford to get an education and pay rent at the same time,” she said.

The Jeremiah program has opened opportunities for her for now, but she said she’s still worried about finding an affordable place to live later.

“Will my income be enough after I obtain my bachelor’s?” she asked.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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