Archive for April, 2016

Advocacy: Be the Change You Seek

Posted on: April 4th, 2016

Capitol gifAlliance Housing is excited to be engaged with this year’s legislative session for the first time as an active member of the Homes for All coalition as well as building our own 2016 policy agenda. At the forefront of this work, we are maintaining our people-centered approach and using our tenant’s hopes, challenges, and lived experiences as guiding points for our policy work.

Since August, we have been gathering stories from Alliance tenants and working with community developers, issues-based organizers, and advocates to identify where Alliance should be present and what we should be bringing to the table. One thing that has become clear through this work is that we are unique in our approach and practice, setting us apart while allowing us to help shift the larger conversations around the need for more second chance affordable housing in the Twin Cities. The conversations within these policy circles have helped us to identify our multifaceted approach, recognizing that we need to address the lack of funding for affordable housing while also working to lower barriers and bolster opportunities for success.

We have separated our legislative priorities into three categories: Bricks and Mortar, Access to Affordability, and Opportunities at Stability. To ensure Minnesota and Minneapolis invest in affordable housing, we work alongside cross-sector organizations through the Homes for All Coalition and Make Homes Happen MPLS. These coalitions work primarily statewide and citywide to show legislatures the need for more affordable housing. We are at these tables to share stories from our prospective, current, and former tenants, as well as sharing our unique approach to extremely affordable housing. Without a doubt, funding for affordable housing is key to keeping people housed.

There are many barriers that our tenants face when looking for affordable housing. At Alliance Housing we practice a second chance model, housing people regardless of their criminal, rental, or financial background. Included in our policy agenda, we are working to expand the housing market through several measures.

First, we are leading conversations with other affordable housing organizations to change the stringent screening practice that exclude people with imperfect records, especially people with felony records. We are also looking into ways to make evictions expungements after several years possible so that evictions do not stick with people forever. We see the way that harsh screening measures lock people out of housing, and we are working to ensure change in the affordable housing field so that more people have access to affordable housing.

Along with the measures directly relating to housing, we know this alone is not enough. We recognize that our tenants lives won’t be stabilized without fair wages and dignified treatment in the workplace, rehabilitative justice systems, and access to programs and supports for mental health treatment. Because of this, we actively support agendas including Prosperity for All, the Working Families Agenda, and the Second Chance Coalition.

Policy work is becoming an integral part of Alliance Housing’s mission of providing housing stability for very low-income individuals and families in Minneapolis. We are excited to be a part of larger coalitions working to improve the lives of those we serve, and we look forward to the year ahead to continue in conversation with others about the policy changes that would lower barriers for Alliance tenants and help them continue on paths to stability.

Tenant Profile: LaToya

Posted on: April 4th, 2016

Melanie & LaToya 1LaToya’s energetic spirit and hopeful attitude are contagious from the moment you meet her. She is a working mother who is passionate about making her neighborhood in North Minneapolis a safe and loving community for her children and neighbors. She is involved with community boards and plans to work on Keith Ellison’s campaign in the upcoming months, helping get her neighbors and friends registered to vote. She is in conversations with a community council about getting a youth center built in the Harrison neighborhood. LaToya has faith that North Minneapolis can and will become a thriving community, one where people can feel safe and friendly with their neighbors.

LaToya works at a printing and bindery company part time while going to school and is hoping to get a job at the Guthrie Theater in the upcoming months to have a shorter commute, better hours, and to help connect her friends with the arts. Her three children are doing well, with her oldest two getting straight A’s and helping get their younger brother off to school in the morning while LaToya is at work. She is grateful and proud that one of her daughters received a district scholarship to attend Space Camp in Houston, TX, a dream she has had for years.

Positivity is one of the many reasons LaToya is where she is today; getting to this place of hope hasn’t been easy. This March, she proudly celebrated one year with our Northside Supportive Housing for Families program (NSHF), and her many milestones and plans for the future show how much housing stability has made a difference in her life. Just over a year ago, LaToya was living in an abandoned house, unstable and afraid, with her children living with their grandmother. She recalls meeting with her son, unable to afford dinner at a restaurant so she took him to a soup kitchen instead, hoping he wouldn’t know the difference. After spending 40 days in a family shelter, she got a low wage job and applied for our NSHF program.

Since being in the program, with her coach Melanie’s encouragement, she has enrolled in a 12-week program at Twin Cities Rise that focuses on empowerment, employment readiness, and permanent full-time employment. Since completing the first session of the program in March, LaToya has developed a very supportive professional network at Twin Cities Rise and is looking forward to participating in a paid internship that may lead to full-time employment. She is thriving in the program and has a goal of becoming an empowerment coach herself.

LaToya will be the first to admit that it took her a while to even apply for the program at Twin Cities Rise. Two months into the program with Alliance, LaToya shut Melanie out—“I was still living in fear and didn’t believe I was really safe again. It really took the support from Alliance, when I did finally talk to Melanie, to realize that I no longer needed to be afraid.” Through Melanie’s persistent approach, LaToya began to trust her and started to believe things were going to be okay. With a year of housing stability, she has started letting go of her fear, and from that has come a fountain of hope. “Since I’ve let go of my fear, I’ve been doing so much better. Now I can say, let’s figure out what’s for dinner tonight, when a year ago I wasn’t even eating.”

LaToya’s hope is what keeps her going. As she says, “It hasn’t always been an easy ride,” but despite this she has kept moving forward. The changes she has been able to make in the past year give LaToya hope that she can continue on this path for success in her own life, while also playing her part in making her larger community a safe and loving place.

The Next Big Endeavor

Posted on: April 4th, 2016

1525_Elevation 3- 030416Alliance Housing prides itself on being a good landlord to people with barriers to stable housing and very low incomes. We manage and maintain our properties to be the “best on the block.” In addition, we’ve always been willing to tackle the more difficult redevelopment or construction projects to serve a target population–even at the risk of the process taking longer and generating less resources for ourselves. We do not need to do real estate development to survive; we do it to serve.

With recent transitions in leadership, Alliance decided to tap into the intelligence and insights of a broader group of people to help determine our next big endeavor. Beginning in November 2015, Alliance invited a group of people who have experience with real estate development, the needs and desires of homeless people and people with very low incomes, and tackling tough issues in new and different ways.

The group met twice to discuss needs and projects that align with Alliance Housing’s strengths and how to mitigate challenges and strategies to expand Alliance’s reach. Many thanks to board member Miranda Walker for chairing the group and Jim Fournier, Tamuno Imbu, David Jeffries, Ron Price, Sue Roedl, Stacy Becker, Chuck Riesenberg, Matthew Ayers and Troy Kester for sharing their time and insights.

The group produced five endeavor profiles that included real estate development projects to serve distinct community needs. Each profile also included one or more policy issues that would need attention to accomplish the endeavor. Surprisingly, many of the suggestions mimicked work that Alliance is already engaged in. It was an affirmation of our niche, serving very low-income families and individuals, and our declaration that more housing is needed to end the challenges that lead to homelessness and to keep families stably housed.

Here is a list of the five profiles with highlights from our existing tenants that indicate our strength managing the property and/or the need:

Homeless adults, aged 55+

Nearly 60% of Alliance’s rooms for rent are leased by men and women 55 years and older. They’ve brought stability to the properties, but many have physical and health challenges that make climbing stairs to use a shared kitchen or getting to a second or third floor unit difficult. This group is also a growing part of the shelter population–increasing from 12% of overall homeless adults in 2009 to nearly 24% in 2015.

Thomas is a 75-year-old tenant of Alliance’s property on Pillsbury. He climbs to the third floor every day and is that floor’s ambassador. Everyone knows him and appreciates his generosity. He spent three years living in his car before moving into his Pillsbury home. He has a fixed income from Social Security and a very old criminal record that were barriers to affording and finding other units. He’s ready for a little more privacy, and his health is making his climb to the third floor more difficult. An affordable studio, on a bus line in a building with an elevator, would be perfect.

Single adult men with kids who have barriers to housing and may or may not have formal custody

Andrew, a single dad and an art activist, was a tenant in one of Alliance’s rooms until March when he moved on to a bigger place. Prior to Alliance, he owned a home in Powderhorn for years before his house was foreclosed, leaving him with no rental history and therefore no access to options for housing. This had been the house he raised his kids in, who are now in high school. Despite being grateful for the room, it wasn’t large enough to have them stay overnight. After a year of the kids bouncing around with friends, he recently moved on to a larger place so he can provide a roof over their head. While the rent is more than he can afford, this is a sacrifice he is making to try and provide stability for his family once again. More affordable options for fathers with partial custody would have been the answer for Andrew.

Single adults (men and women) with extremely low incomes

Chaz was 26 years old when he moved in at Alliance’s rooming house on Pillsbury in 2014. He had been bouncing around from temp job to temp job, trying to keep his head above water, managing to maintain a positive attitude through it all. Given his history with homelessness, he was classified as long-term homeless and appeared to welcome the opportunity for stable housing with some services. During his tenancy at Pillsbury he always paid his rent on time and kept stable employment. In 2015, he landed a permanent position at McDonalds and was given the opportunity to be sent to their education program for managers. He has since moved on to a more private room at another Alliance property and no longer needs the services of our staff tenant service coordinator. If it wasn’t for the second chance Alliance offered, he may not be on the path to stability he is now on.

Homeless families with extremely low incomes

Brittany was 22 years old when she and her two-year-old daughter moved into Alliance’s Northside Supportive Housing for Families program and apartment. She was excited about the program because she really wanted to provide stability for her daughter since she had been homeless on and off since she was a teenager. Her cooking job at a casual restaurant paid only $8.75 an hour. It was difficult to get a lot of shifts because of her hour-long bus commute to work and limited childcare options. Despite Brittany’s low wage and difficulty getting enough hours, she has paid her rent on time for 16 consecutive months. She is proud to be experiencing her longest stay in one apartment and providing her daughter her own bedroom in a place they call home. Alliance’s program and property management offer Brittany the support and flexibility she needs to move on with her life.

Adults and families with low wages and barriers to housing who may or may not have been homeless and aren’t interested in a supportive housing program

Jennifer is a 31-year-old mother of four. She moved into one of our South Minneapolis 3-bedroom units in 2012. With her only income being public assistance she was determined to get on her feet, quickly realizing that public assistance would not pay the rent and bills. Shortly after being housed, she got a job as a personal care attendant. However, the job did not provide her with consistent hours or pay, and she continued to struggle with the rent, $685/month plus gas and electric, even though that’s at least 1/3 below market rates. Alliance worked with Jennifer, accepting partial rent payments throughout the month. She works hard to maintain her responsibilities to her children, her neighbors and Alliance Housing, despite the challenges of being a single parent. Despite the offer to be placed on a Section 8 waitlist, Jennifer is not interested. Although making all her bills on time isn’t always easy, she does not want any more subsidies. She’s determined to make it work on her own. Alliance is the kind of landlord that will support her to make it on her own.

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