Funding and re-development plans continue for a project to serve homeless adults, 55 years and older. Alliance staff are evaluating the re-use of a building at 201 Lake Street or a vacant lot to provide safe and secure housing as a base for a better quality of life for these folks. St. Stephens Human Service’s Community Engagement Team assisted Alliance in hosting a focus group of older adults who had experienced homelessness. We plan to use their wise advice to guide or work on this project. If you have ideas or advice to help us advance the project, please call or email Barb.
Archive for January, 2015
Alliance is led by 14 members of our Board of Directors. Miranda Walker and Mike Brown joined the group in October. Miranda is an emerging leader in the affordable housing development world. Mike is a seasoned marketing and communications professional. They join a group that contributes management, legal, and finance skills along with a deep understanding of our tenants and neighborhoods where our properties are located. Other members include:
Gail Dorfman, Kelly Elkin, Dean LeDoux, Carolyn Landrum, Chas Martin, Greg Mure, Fran Neir, Rick Nelson, Ben Olk III, Peter Sarafolean III, Marcy Shapiro and Kimberly Spates.
Twenty new mattresses were delivered on December 10th for tenants at 2011 Pillsbury. Rooms are furnished with a bed, dresser, nightstand, lamp and other useful and gently used donated furniture and household items. Most of our new tenants have little to their name upon move in. The current 8 year old mattresses had seen their day. New tenants are given a quilt donated by our friends at Peace Presbyterian Church. Rooms quickly become home.
Makeesha and her children have lived in an Alliance duplex in south Minneapolis since December 2009. Early on, Makeesha felt it was more important to raise her children attentively than work. She got by on a combination of MFIP, food support and one of the kid’s monthly disability payment. The budget was tight but they got by and kept current on their rent and other bills.
Once the kids were high school age, Makeesha decided it was time for a change. She got her GED, and found work at Mystic Lake, making about $11.50/hour in food service, 2nd shift. It was the first job she had in years, and she loved the sense of economic independence it gave her. The casino is a long way from home though. She could ride the shuttle bus to and from work for free, but at times it meant getting to work hours before her shift started, and she was fearful of walking home from the bus stop late at night. So, Makeesha purchased a new car to go with her new job. The payments were daunting but she loved the feeling that she had “made it”.
It wasn’t long before Makeesha started to think that she may have taken on too much, too fast. She struggled to keep up with the bills. She was involved in a car crash, totaled the car and was out of work for a time. Fortunately, Makeesha suffered only minor injuries and insurance paid off her car loan. Property manager, Bob Bono, worked with her on a rent payment plan until she got back on her feet.
As with most of our tenants who we give a little breathing room, Makeesha is back to work now, getting caught up with her rent. She has another car, old but affordable. The kids are doing well. The family is looking forward to the holidays and the new year. It may bring a few more bumps in the road of “making it on your own” but they feel optimistic they’re on the right track.
Each year the Alliance Housing board of directors spends an August evening reflecting on its strengths and challenges and refining plans for the future. We have drafted a set of 2-3 year goals for the various parts of our work. Some are as straightforward as investigating new property management software to manage our rent records more effectively. Others are more aspirational and will take further research, conversation and decisions. For example, we believe that the Alliance Housing property management methods – relational, flexible, 2nd chance – would make a good policy agenda. The agenda could increase housing options in existing properties without having to build additional units. We’d like to develop leadership opportunities for our tenants in advancing the agenda. We’d also like to preserve additional rooming house properties in Minneapolis. This will take more consideration, financial analysis and community conversations given the poor shape many of the properties are in and general neighborhood opinion and City code preferences to shut them down. While they aren’t “the” answer to affordable housing, at rents of around $330, they are a critical “piece” for low wage workers. If you have ideas you’d like to share or want to learn more about our plan, please call or email Barb.
We are grateful here at Alliance Housing. Ecoset Consulting donated 25 Christmas trees for families who are participating in Alliance’s Northside Supportive Housing for Families program. Two participants, Avery Webb and Tricia Smith, assisted Sue Roedl in delivering them to the homes of the families. The program helps homeless families break the cycle of generational poverty. Families exit shelter, learn to be good tenants and increase their income and education so that they can become economically self-sufficient. This is a long and rocky road for many. A little Christmas cheer never hurts. I am grateful for Sue Roedl, lead Supportive Services Coordinator of the program, who saw a posting for the donation and coordinated it from start to finish, including renting a truck and delivering the trees to each family. Sue’s work is testament to all Alliance employees and “the extra mile” they all go to assure our tenants remain stably housed, have access to resources and information to live independently and advance their lives, and keep our properties operating as the best on the block. I’m grateful that we have tenant participants that are willing to “give back”, as well.
We are grateful to all of you who take notice of our work, donate your time or resources and tell your friends about us. If you would like to learn more about us, tour a property, talk with staff or get engaged in some other way, please do not hesitate to call or email me.
It depends on who you are. Fair housing laws were created in 1968 to make sure landlords treated all potential tenants the same with screening procedures, tenant selection and application fees. HUD hires people to test out fair housing laws and prosecutes those who aren’t treating applicants fairly.
I’d like to challenge the framework of fair housing rules where they are used to screen out certain classes and groups of people based on their criminal, credit and housing history. While past behavior can be a good predictor of future behavior, it doesn’t allow for life circumstances or give someone a second chance to behave differently in the future. I believe that the opportunity to get a second chance should be a cornerstone in the philosophy of all affordable housing developers and managers. We use public dollars to serve people with low incomes, and people who for one reason or another face challenges in securing stable housing, because of a disability, a history of homelessness, or simply a history of poor decisions.
Let me offer a few examples of where I don’t think fair housing is fair. Many affordable housing managers have a list of criminal issues that will screen out various types of felony offenses for a year, or five years, or ten years, or for life. These are persons who have done their time and, in many cases, their probation or parole. Nonetheless, they must continue to “serve time” by being barred from housing opportunities. Police department crime prevention units exacerbate the problem by encouraging landlords to bar former criminals from their rental property.
Let’s say you are someone with a history, ready to turn your life in the right direction. If you are lucky enough to make it past the criminal background check, a landlord will most likely review your credit and housing history. If you’ve been poor, you’ve probably not paid credit cards timely and likely had to give up an apartment because you couldn’t keep up with the rent. Most recently, we’ve seen tenants facing a Catch-22 situation. Potential landlords insist that an applicant pay off a previous landlord for rent delinquencies before they will rent to them. I am sympathetic to some extent; we all want to rent to people that will pay rent on time. But we also know that there are myriad processes, both informal and legal, that a landlord can use to terminate the lease of a tenant delinquent on rent. It should be within the scope of our mission to give someone a second chance, because it is possible to get them to voluntarily or legally move if they don’t.
Public resources to build affordable housing are scarce. Competition to be awarded them is fierce. I think most public funders want to prioritize the most needy. Yet, best practices of property management, including exclusionary tenant screening done in the name of fair housing, encourages just the opposite – excluding the most needy in favor of the least problematic.
Alliance Housing relies on relational property management and has almost no tenant screening criteria. We take referrals from homeless shelters and other social service providers. We house those other landlords screen out. We know our tenants by name, know the ups and downs of their life, and work with them to keep them stably housed. Our mantra, coined by our former Director, Herb Frey, is, “We’ll house you as long as you pay your rent (mostly on time) and behave yourself.” We believe this is our mission. If more landlords lived our mission, it would make many more housing units available without spending the money to build another unit.