On a recent wintry day, residents from the Kenwood Retirement Community visited Alliance’s Minnehaha
Commons. The Kenwood residents brought many products of their labor – hand-knit scarves, hats, and
dishcloths, and a handmade fleece pillow for each of the 44 residents. The four Kenwood visitors were part of a
larger group of 18 volunteers who have been hand-making gifts for the past six months. Minnehaha
Commons hosts welcomed their visitors with smiles, words of thanks, and a tour of one of the apartments.
Both groups of residents had a chance to chat and share some snacks. All over age 55, the two groups were
overheard to share tips of aging well. The Kenwood visitors went back home with a feeling of a job well done,
and happiness to see that the Minnehaha Commons residents now have safe and comfortable homes. And the
Minnehaha Commons residents enjoyed the company, treats and were pleased with their colorful and practical
Archive for the ‘News’ Category
On a recent wintry day, residents from the Kenwood Retirement Community visited Alliance’s Minnehaha
This spring, Minnehaha Commons residents, staff, and community members will be creating a mosaic in memory of the six people who
perished in a fire on the site on April 2nd, 2010. Ann Gervais, her son Andrew Gervais, his three children Colton Gervais, and twins Austin and Aliciah Gervais-Hjellming planned to stay in an apartment above McMahon’s Pub with family friend Ryan Richner. They had nowhere else to stay that night.
Spearheaded by mosaic artist Lori Greene of Mosaic on a Stick, the group will be working together to make an artwork in tribute to all those who have been fragilely housed. When asked why so many of her mosaic installations are memorials, Greene reflected that mosaics are “broken” pieces of glass and tile, and that the people who are making the memorials have often been broken by their experiences. Minnehaha
Commons resident Charles Tolliver pointed out that crafting the mosaic is a step toward putting lives back together, and healing, not only for the community and family members but also for the residents of Minnehaha Commons, who have themselves been homeless in the past. Funding for the mosaic will be provided by Alliance Housing, Inc., and Touchstone Mental Health. Residents will also have the opportunity to make a trivet for their apartment. The memorial mosaic will be installed in the common area of Minnehaha Commons.
Alliance Housing’s policy advocacy work is primarily carried out through a variety of coalitions. Alliance is a member of The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. The organization is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) public policy and advocacy organization that works
to ensure statewide housing stability and economic security. The Coalition works with those experiencing housing instability in partnership with over 120 members across the state. These members range from those who work across the housing continuum
in direct service, to state agencies in public policy.
Each year the Coalition hosts “Homeless Day on the Hill” gathering its members and individuals who have experienced homelessness to advocate for additional housing resources at the Minnesota Legislature. The day starts with some training and a rally
and then teams of participants head off to the Capitol to meet with Senators and Representatives for the neighborhoods where they live.
Alliance has participated in the Homeless Day on the Hill most years and has engaged tenants to join in. Barb noted, “tenant participants
are always tentative at first but once engaged they feel pretty important and powerful about their ability to access elected officials.”
There is a lot at stake this year with the Governor’s proposal for $200 million in housing infrastructure bonds and other affordable
housing resources and tenant protections. The Homes for All MN coalition is asking for $500 million in bonds for housing, $15 million for
the emergency services program and $50 million to expand and preserve emergency shelter beds. Please help us by talking to your
legislative representatives about supporting increased resources for affordable housing. Let’s go big so everyone can go home!
You’ve heard us talking about Bob Bono, our 20+ year property manager and “secret sauce” to
our 2nd chance housing, relational property management operations. Bob is starting to think
about retiring in the next 1-3 years. Alliance is implementing a succession plan for him by
hiring a part-time property manager to train in over the next year to learn the “Alliance way.”
Alliance’s property management begins with low barrier screening that gives adults and
families a 2nd chance to access stable, quality housing despite a background that may include
evictions, poor credit, criminal convictions, or high rent to income ratios. Alliance has
operated housing with this philosophy for the past 25+ years.
Alliance’s tenants often have incomes at or below 30% of area median income. People living
on this level of income are adept at managing occasional set-backs – a car break down, large
medical bills, or assistance to a family member. They simply need some flexibility with rent
payments to remain stably housed. Alliance’s property management is flexible and negotiates
rent payment plans with all tenants who need one.
This management style is unique among property managers – even other nonprofit organizations. It’s not taught in a book or a
class. In its succession planning, Alliance is looking for candidates with a strong foundation in tenant/landlord relations and law.
Combined with the necessary on-the-job training, Alliance looks forward to successfully sustaining its 2nd chance, relational
property management operation past the retirement of our dedicated, long-time employee, Bob.
Alliance Housing has always focused its rental portfolio on those with the lowest income. In addition to its rooming houses which
are home to many extremely low-income adults on a fixed income, family housing rent levels provide an option for low wage workers
earning $10-$15/hour. These individuals are being priced out of the market, yet the positions they hold are critical in the metro area
economy and reflect positions with high projected growth rates. Alliance’s housing anchors affordability in Minneapolis
neighborhoods close to jobs and good transit. Most tenants can afford Alliance’s apartments without additional (and almost
nonexistent) rent subsidies.
Jessica, Keisha, and Krystal have all benefitted through the years by living in Alliance Housing properties. They are all single mothers.
They each work more than full-time to provide for their families. And the road would have been a lot tougher without the affordable
rent Alliance Housing charges.
Jessica is a graduate of Alliance’s Northside Supportive Housing for Families. Although the program no longer exists, Jessica’s success
is a testament to the value of the program, and the importance of affordable housing for low-wage workers. Jessica and her two sons
ended up homeless in 2013 and stayed at several shelters, and the recently demolished Drake Hotel. In August 2014, Jessica found
Alliance Housing. At the time, she did not have a lot of work experience. Through the help of a job counselor, hard work, and
determination, Jessica’s wages grew from her starting wage of $8.60 an hour. She was also able to find full-time work. Today, after
many job changes, and always increasing her job responsibilities, Jessica is now proudly earning $17.50 an hour, and can work from
home, which is even better for her family. When Jessica left her Alliance home, she was paying about $10,000 a year in rent.
According to the Living Wage Calculator for Hennepin County*, the typical rent expense is about $14,000 a year. So Jessica was able
to spend the extra $4,000 on other necessities, and even save some for the future, enabling her to move out of Alliance Housing in
2016. Since that time, she and her boys have lived in the same privately-owned apartment. They are all stable and thriving.
Keisha also pays about $10,000 in rent per year for her Alliance home in North Minneapolis. According to the same calculator*, the
typical housing expense for her family would be almost $20,000 per year. She is learning to save some of that “extra” money that she doesn’t have to spend on rent and feels proud that she is being responsible. Keisha and her three children, a boy and two girls, moved in December 2016. At that point, she paid 37% of her income towards rent. She managed but it left little room for unplanned expenses.
Alliance Housing property manager, Bob Bono, has often noted, “how hard Keisha works and how dedicated she is to managing her household and overall budget.” Since January 2017 Keisha has been working at Sunrise Senior Living. She started out working at the bottom of the employment rung and has moved up to being Lead Care Manager. Her current rent is now 24% of her income, allowing her a little breathing room.
She loves her job, relishing working with others, solving problems, and the opportunity to move up in her career. She works as much as she can to get ahead and not have to live paycheck to paycheck. The elderly residents often ask her “Are you still here?” after seeing her in the morning, in the afternoon, and the evening. Her job is just a few minutes from her apartment, and the children go to school across the street from each other, about a 10-minute drive from home.
Keisha recently accidentally became a Girl Scout leader. She was excited for her oldest daughter to join, and in the flurry of paperwork,
unwittingly signed up to be a leader. She came with her daughter to the first meeting of the troop and someone said, “This is your
troop.” Looking at all those little faces Keisha said, “I couldn’t back down.” She is proud of her troop. “They are so tiny, but they can
learn. We are teaching them the Girl Scout Promise, The Girl Scout Law, and Girl Scout songs. They love it.”
Like Keisha and Jessica, Krystal is a proud mom. When she originally moved to the Twin Cities from St. Louis, she and her son lived
in Richfield. Even though they now live in an Alliance Housing apartment in south Minneapolis, Krystal drives her 14-year-old son to
school each day, so he can experience the stability of staying with his friends in the same school. She was happy to find her apartment
in Powderhorn because she could reduce her rent payments to only 30% of her income at the time.
Krystal loves cooking and exploring different cuisines. Currently, Krystal works two jobs as a cook. She can’t get enough hours at either job to be full time and does not have benefits. She typically works 6 or 7 days a week, with a double shift on Sundays, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Krystal spent her first day off in 23 days being interviewed for this article.
Despite working a lot, Krystal wants even more hours because her main goal is financial stability. With an increased income, she currently pays 20% of her income towards rent giving her a little breathing room to pay off debt due to a car accident, car repair bills and student loans.
Through it all, the staff at Alliance have been understanding, and as Krystal put it “resourcefully helpful.” Property manager Bob Bono has put her in touch with other organizations that can help Krystal move forward. She explained “most people I’ve met in my
life haven’t been as understanding,” and added that she tries “to take good advice.” With her experience in food service, she dreams of having her own catering business or a bakery. Like Jessica and Keisha, the money she can save through Alliance’s lower rents will help her achieve her dreams.
Our working tenants will be some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re preparing to be even more lenient on rent than we usually are. We’ll negotiate payment plans with tenants that lost hours due to business closings or having to care for school-age children. We know you, our donors, wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thank you to all of you who have reached out to ask how Alliance Housing is weathering the effects of the COVID-19 virus. The short answer is “we’re doing business nearly as normal.” Turns out it’s pretty difficult to fix a toilet or get a furnace running while working virtually. Those of us who are more office-based are still reporting to work. Property management in our world is highly paper and file intensive. Most of those things don’t exist in digital platforms. Our office is small. We have our own space and are all happy to report to work.
The real heroes are Raymond, Craig, Michael and Bob – our caretakers, maintenance and property management staff. They continue to visit tenant homes and building common space to clean, repair and collect rent. They are aware of and practice good hygiene practices. Everyone’s hands are ready to crumble off with extra hand washing. We all healthy and will not endanger tenant’s health if and when we have signs of being ill.
Our real worries are for our tenants. Forty three percent of our tenants work – primarily parttime and low wage hourly ($10-$15) jobs. Others receive social security, disability or some other sort of rent support. They will be less affected. We’re assessing the damage but know many of them have already been laid off or lost hours. We’ve always been in the business of accepting late rent payments and negotiating payment plans. Now will be no different. It just may be delayed a bit longer. Worst case scenario, if 100% of working tenants paid no rent, it amounts to about $25,000 per month. Fortunately, we can weather that for a few months.
If you want to help, we are contemplating a fund that could eventually forgive $1 of rent for each $1 of rent paid. We think this will help immensely because families will be so far behind if they are out of work for 2 or more months, it will be nearly impossible for them ever to catch up. They simply don’t earn sufficient income to ever get ahead. As foundation funds are made available or additional gifts are received from donors through June, we’ll seed and create the fund.
As always, if you have other questions or suggestions, please call or email me at 612-879-7633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once a person moves into their Alliance home, they often don’t have some basic necessities. If they were homeless, they’ve lost or had to leave behind things like bedding and housewares. Bridging MN has started a pilot program to address the issue of smaller necessities. Mary Resemius, Housing Operations Assistant at Alliance toured the Bridging warehouse and saw the program as a great way to move Alliance Housing residents forward on the path of future independence. Mary seeded the program by donating money to fund over a dozen shopping sprees for single residents for a year. Mary explained that because many of our residents live in single-room occupancy units, and efficiencies, they do not need a full house of stuff. This program will fill a need, which Mary saw, and stepped forward to fill.
Over 100 people packed the auditorium at Open Book on October 16th to hear a dozen authors read from Home: An Anthology, exploring the concept of what home means to each of us. Readings ranged from comic to tragic, and all were heartfelt. Executive Director Barbara Jeanetta kicked off the standing-room-only event by thanking the publisher and authors, all of whom donated their work to make the anthology happen. All profits from book sales go to Alliance Housing, Inc. Copies of the book may be ordered from Amazon or at your local bookstore. https://www.flexiblepub.com/home-anthology
Sometimes the affordable housing crisis seems so big and overwhelming, people shrink from solutions. The tenant-landlord relationship has always been balanced in favor of the landlord and many tenants feel powerless to change it. The need for affordable housing far outstrips public resources despite efforts of the City, State, and County to increase financing programs.
Over the past couple of years, Alliance has stepped into the policy arena with other housing advocates, developers, and tenants. In September, after months of study and public comment, the City Council adopted two tenant protection measures. The first limits how far back landlords can look into a prospective tenant’s background. In the past, many tenants have been screened out of other landlord’s housing because of past criminal background. Alliance Housing has learned, and studies support this finding, that after a few years, screening out these tenants does not make sense. They are no more likely to re-offend, or be a poor tenant, than people without a criminal background. The second protection measure is to limit the dollar amount landlords can charge for security deposits. Alliance and others were active in organizing support for these ordinances.
Also during 2019, Make Homes Happen MPLS (MHH) successfully influenced the Mayor to continue resources for affordable housing in the 2020 budget. The Mayor has proposed a plan to provide $50M of local funds to the Housing Trust Fund over an eight-year period. This is the first step in establishing an ongoing, dedicated affordable housing resource for the City. Alliance is a member of MHH, and its tenants have talked with the Mayor and City Councilmembers, and plan to be at the public hearings on the budget.
Policy and communication efforts are essential to increase the supply of housing & effect change on issues important to the well-being of tenants.
Most people, as they age, would appreciate a few more conveniences and comfort: an elevator, help with chores, or maybe just peace and quiet. Alliance Housing’s aging rooming house tenants were motivation to pursue funding to build a place where they could find these amenities. We also learned that the only portion of the homeless population that was growing (and had tripled in the last 12 years) was older adults. The streets and shelters are no place to call home when you’re over 55 years old. Homeless older adults are more vulnerable to thefts and homelessness is harder on their health.
Minnehaha Commons, Alliance’s newest property, is designed for singles, ages 55 and older, who have experienced long-term homelessness. Seven of the forty-four studio apartments are designated for people who are already residents in Alliance Housing, and they were the first to move in. Tom and Ed are settling into their new homes and agreed to share their stories.
Tom, age 79, has spent most of his life adapting to new surroundings. He was sent to reform school when he was nine. After being there a while, he ran away and lived life on the streets before getting locked up in prison for a felony charge. He then spent most of his young adult years adapting to the culture of prison life.
Tom also lived in his car for three years, before moving into Alliance’s rooming house in January of 2015. The rooming house gave Tom a roof over his head, an address to receive mail, and a place to call home.
But the rooming house was becoming very difficult for Tom as he grew older. As he said, “I love cooking, but I hate having to go down to the basement (at the rooming house) and stay down there while it’s cooking. You couldn’t do anything but stay down there the whole time you’re cooking. Now I’ll be able to throw something in the oven and hop in the shower.” In addition to making the basic act of feeding himself far more convenient, Minnehaha Commons has an elevator that will allow Tom to easily get to his third floor home without the pain of stairs. He’s also excited to be able to finally watch each of the 41 channels his TV allows, all while enjoying his signature Southern biscuits and gravy. He is already adapting to his new, Alliance home.
Originally from California, Ed, now 62, moved to Minnesota with his wife and children in 1989. After he and his wife divorced, Ed spent the next 17 years living with friends but mostly living on the streets and in various shelters. Then in 2013, Ed was hit by a delivery truck, which crushed his right foot. At the time of the accident, Ed was under the influence and therefore unable to file an insurance claim. Swamped with hospital bills, Ed was sent to a nursing home to recover for four months. Since 2016, Ed has lived at the Alliance rooming house. His apartment was on the first floor, so somewhat more accessible than Tom’s, but he still had to go up and downstairs to make a meal, and down the hall to go to the bathroom. He is very happy to now have his own bathroom and kitchen at Minnehaha Commons.
In addition to the devastating injury to his foot, Ed also suffers from bone spurs, a hereditary disease that causes him to experience extreme joint pain. And Ed has had two major shoulder surgeries. His doctor tells him that before long, he’ll need a wheelchair. Fortunately, Minnehaha Commons provides Ed and other residents the accessibility and convenience he will need as he ages. His bathroom has a walk-in shower, which can also accommodate a wheelchair, and many grab-bars. The height of his bed is adjustable, ready to change as his needs change. And all the apartments are fully furnished. Ed is excited to personalize his new home to fulfill his needs.
We look forward to seeing Tom, Ed and others create a home for themselves in a new community. Touchstone Mental Health staff is on-site to assist with health and personal needs that can help build stability and well-being. As it is often said, it takes a village and Touchstone has become a valuable part of the Alliance village.
In September, our long-time Tenant Support Coordinator, Audrey Preston will be leaving, after 15 years working at Alliance. Before joining the Alliance team, Audrey worked for 16 years with homeless adult programs at St. Stephens Human Services, making her a perfect fit for the Alliance job. She came to the work from the “school of hard knocks” – having gone gotten sober and stable from years of addiction and all the problems it brings.
In her most recent work with residents at our 2011 Pillsbury property, Audrey practiced relational management every time she walked through the door. Most of the residents are older, retired, and often isolated. Audrey would check in, offer her signature good humor and words of encouragement, and send people on their way with a better outlook because someone cared to ask after them. She helped residents connect with agencies and programs in the community as well as remembering birthdays and other important life events. Audrey always made sure the building was running smoothly and would alert property manager and his team if anything needed attention. Audrey will be missed. The bond that residents have with her is clear – hugs and handshakes all around.
“Home” is the theme of an anthology in development by a Twin Cities author and publisher, William Burleson, with all proceeds of the book earmarked for Alliance Housing. “When planning this new project, supporting Alliance was simply a no-brainer,” says Burleson. “I think Alliance’s approach to empowering people and building communities is exactly what excites me, and everyone involved in Flexible Press.”
Burleson is still on the lookout for short fiction, poetry, and essays connected to Minnesota and exploring what home means to each of us. “We want to help emerging authors have their voices heard, especially those who too often have not had a voice,” adds Burleson. Flexible Press continues to take submissions until May 15, 2019. More information can be found at www.flexiblepub.com.
The mission of Flexible Press “is to support authors, communities, and mission-driven non-profits through story.” Home is planned be the fourth book and second anthology from Flexible Press. In the fall of 2018, Lake Street Stories was released with 12 stories focused on the iconic South Minneapolis thoroughfare, with all profits going to CLUES.
Construction on Minnehaha Commons is recently underway. As noted before, the property will be home to 44 adults, aged 55 years or older with a history of homelessness. Older adults are a rapidly expanding portion of the homeless singles living in shelters in the community. In 2009, 11% of those who stayed overnight in shelters in Hennepin County were over 55. By 2015 that percentage had doubled. Given the demographic trends regarding the aging of the population as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, it is inevitable that the problem will continue to grow.
The staff and leadership of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) responded to Alliance’s very early questions about resources to house older adults who had experienced homelessness. An early investment of DHS Live Well at Home funds (LWAH), was a catalyst investment and leverage for other public resources.
This video was produced as part of the 2017 LWAH grant award program. Alliance Housing’s tenant, Pat Straw, is featured along with other older adults who also have experienced homelessness. Their stories highlight some of the challenges of finding and keeping affordable housing by older adults.
In spite of the brutal heat, Alliance Housing has had an incredibly productive summer. We are elated to share the major political gains that Alliance and our fellow housing nonprofits and advocates made this season!
In the past several months, we have become increasingly involved in Make Homes Happen, a coalition of nonprofits, congregations, neighborhood associations, and of course individual housing advocates like you. Make Homes Happen has been pushing Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council to allocate $50 million dollars in an affordable housing trust fund (AHTF) for the next 10 years in order to address the growing housing crisis in Minneapolis. While our goals were not met in full, Mayor Frey has chosen to invest nearly $40 million dollars into affordable housing for 2019, with state and federal funds bringing the total to $50 million. While our target of $50 million was met, Frey has described this funding as a “one-time infusion” rather than a dedicated stream for 10 years. That said, Make Homes Happen is dedicated will remain steady in our demands until they are met. We are ecstatic to have a mayor that is receptive to our cause and Alliance is looking forward to moving Minneapolis forward in partnership with Make Homes Happen!
The victories for Alliance and the Twin Cities’ many housing advocates have, however, extended well beyond Minneapolis’ borders. On August 21st, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton released the final report for his housing task force. The report included 30 recommendations, including calling for stricter protections for tenants facing eviction and loosening screening requirements that unfairly discriminate against people of color, both of which echo Alliance’s mission of providing flexible, relational, and just housing. Section 5 of the report also highlights the increasing need to “build stronger links between where we live and the services we need to live stable lives” and emphasizes that people living with disabilities, particularly those experiencing homelessness, must live in an integrated setting and have a person-centered plan for overall wellness. The same philosophy underpins Alliance’s partnership with Touchstone Mental Health for Minnehaha Commons: with the proportion of homeless seniors growing, we must allow these people to age in place by consolidating medical services and housing at an integrated yet quiet location in close proximity to a high-frequency bus route as well as the Blue Line.
Overall, the final report reflects a deep understanding of the meaning of housing, citing a secure housing situation as the cornerstone for increased wages, higher academic achievements, and improved health. However, we cannot be complacent with the progress we have made. A Dayton’s term comes to an end, we need to ensure that our next governor will continue to make strides towards housing justice. We urge our supporters to stay informed on housing issues, particularly as they relate to the upcoming gubernatorial election. Homes for All MN will hold a Gubernatorial Forum in Duluth on September 12th at which Jeff Johnson and Tim Walz will discuss their vision for affordable housing in the state of Minnesota. If you are unable to attend, there will be significant media coverage on the event as well as a Homes For All MN Tweetchat on 9/5 from 11AM to 12PM to engage with the candidates and build visibility for our cause.
Thank you for your continuing support for Alliance Housing as we continue to fight for affordable housing!
Ryan Cirillo, Management Intern
By fall of 2019, 44 adults, 55 years old or older will call Minnehaha Commons at 3001 E. Lake Street, home. All residents will be very low income; most will have experienced homelessness and may have been screened out by other landlords due to their housing, credit or criminal history. Alliance Housing owns and/or manages similar properties in South and North Minneapolis. The properties are an asset to the tenants, the surrounding neighbors, and our community at large.
Alliance’s partner, Touchstone Mental Health, will provide a range of support services to ensure tenants can remain stably housed. Cermak Rhoades Architects managed the project design. General Contractors are Watson Forsberg in partnership with TRI Construction. Broen Housing provided real estate development consulting. The Longfellow Community Council, Councilmember Cam Gordon, and Representative Jim Davnie welcomed the project to the neighborhood and provided letters of support.
“According to the Wilder Foundation’s 2015 homeless survey, seniors are the fastest growing segment of homeless people locally,” said Alliance Housing Inc. Executive Director, Barbara Jeanetta. “Alliance Housing was ahead of the curve when we conceived this project more than ten years ago. Our organization is uniquely positioned to successfully house this population because of our previous experience serving seniors in our rooming houses.” Jeanetta continued, “Our tenant service coordinators and property managers build trusting relationships with tenants, discuss problems, identify options for maintaining housing stability and increasing self-sufficiency, and assist tenants to choose their community services. It is a proven program, and we look forward to bringing this exciting new development and its related support services to serve seniors in south Minneapolis.”
Construction will begin in September 2018. To celebrate, Alliance Housing is hosting a groundbreaking event on Thursday, September 13th at 4 p.m. on the site. Invited and/or confirmed guests include the Commissioner of DHS, Emily Piper, and Councilmember Cam Gordon. A neighborhood historian will eulogize the homeless family that lost their lives when the McMahon Bar, the site of the new building, burned. And Alliance’s board chair, Ben Olk II, a Longfellow Community Council board member, and a potential future tenant of the property are also anticipated to be part of the program. The $10.8 million development is expected to be completed and fully leased by September 2019.
Funding for the project was provided by a variety of sources including a State of Minnesota Department of Human Services Live Well at Home grant, Minnesota Housing’s Housing Infrastructure Bonds and 4% tax credits. The City of Minneapolis’ Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Hennepin County’s Affordable Housing Incentive Fund, the Metropolitan Council’s Livable Communities Local Housing Incentives Account, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines’s Affordable Housing Program also provided financial support. Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Thrivent, and the Sisters of Carondelet provided early acquisition and predevelopment support.
ABOUT ALLIANCE HOUSING, INC: Alliance’s work makes it possible for individuals and families to create homes for themselves, regardless of income and background by developing and managing housing that is: inclusive, affordable, relational, and, flexible. In addition, Alliance Housing challenges the environment that limits its residents’ opportunities. Neighbors and tenants alike say Alliance’s properties are the “best on the block.” For more information visit AllianceHousingInc.org.
Where we live impacts every aspect of our lives; the jobs we can access, the education our children receive and the wellbeing of our growing senior population. One’s income and history of credit, housing and convictions effects where we live further – and for some is the reason for their homelessness.
Alliance Housing is one of some 170 organizations who have banded together to ensure:
- There are homes for all stages in life,
- To allow workers to be more productive and businesses to thrive,
- And enable students to achieve in school.
Together, with a similar message, we’ll advocate for $140 million in bonds to create supportive rental housing, preserve housing with existing federal investments, promote homeownership through community land trusts and make improvements to the state’s public housing.
It is these type of bonds that are the basis of funding for Minnehaha Commons – Alliance’s project for adults over 55 years old with a history of homelessness. While we won’t directly benefit from any new appropriation in the next year, we know from talking to people every day and for the 300 some adults and families on our “interest list” that there is a pressing need for more housing options today. It also gives us a network to continue to influence unreasonable screening criteria and get more property owners back to the business of housing people.
Learn more at www.homesforallmn.org. Follow the work on Twitter @Homes4AllMN.
The answer is a solid “depends.”
Some of our donors have told us that tax benefits didn’t drive their past gifts. To others, it is important. The tax overhaul passed at the end of 2017 changed a number of provisions that may or may not effect our donor’s charitable giving. The standard deduction taxpayers are now allowed to take, without itemizing is $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for couples. This larger standard deduction may remove the incentive to make charitable donations and itemize one’s deductions for a tax benefit.
Most of the other changes to the estate tax and limits on cash gifts are frankly not an issue for nearly all of the Alliance Housing current donors. Donor Advised funds have gotten more popular and were unchanged.
Got advice for us? We’re all ears. Please email or call Barb Jeanetta at email@example.com or 612-879-7633.
It’s hard to believe that Patrick ever had a first chance. At the Alliance Breakfast in 2016 he shared the story of his life. He grew up in a family of drug abusers as role models. When he became an adult, he himself predictably struggled with drugs, addiction, and homelessness. He was fortunate to enter Alliance Housing in August of 2015, living at 2011 Pillsbury. Living there, he could save some money, due to the low rent. Eventually, about a year ago, Patrick moved from 2011 Pillsbury to his own Alliance studio apartment.
We caught up with Patrick recently, to see how life is going now that he has a studio apartment. Although he had use of the kitchen facilities at 2011 Pillsbury, there was no convenient storage for his food. Patrick lived on the third floor, and after a long day of work, he was too tired to go up and down the stairs to make dinner. Hence, Patrick had been “eating out every single meal”, which isn’t healthy, and is very expensive. He would generally wake up and leave for work, and just come home to sleep.
Now that Patrick has his own kitchen, he proudly stocks his fridge, cooks in large quantities and stashes the leftovers for the future. Sometimes he even brings his homemade lunch to work. He relishes the sense of independence he gets from taking care of this basic need for himself. He eats out far less, and when he does, thinks of it as a luxury, not a necessity.
What has Patrick done with the money he has saved by not eating takeout for every meal?
One of the reasons for Patrick’s homelessness in the first place was addiction, caused by trying to find a way to soothe his chronic back pain. Now, with the money he saves by eating at home more often, Patrick can afford massages. So instead of self-medicating with illegal drugs, Patrick is using massage to treat his chronic pain.
Also, one of Patrick’s passions is music. He plays guitar, bass, piano, and drums. And he sings. Until recently, however, he was distracted by his own “horrible singing.” With the money he is saving by eating at home, Patrick is taking singing lessons. He uses the words “spiritual” and “edifying” to describe how it feels to find his own, better voice.
All this from simply being able to prepare his own food in his own Alliance home.
Alliance’s new on-line donation option, Vanco, charges 2.75% to process a credit card gift. This is a significant savings over the 6.9% our former processor charged. Please let us know if your experience is positive with this change. Thanks!
If you have already made a gift to Alliance Housing in 2017, thank you. Your investment enables Alliance Housing to:
• Keep our rents affordable to low wage workers.
• Support services helping families exit poverty and avoid future homelessness.
• Keep our properties “the best on the block.”
If you haven’t, you can donate on-line here >
or by mailing us a check.
If you’re feeling extra grateful this year, consider assisting us by investing in the renovation of community space at our rooming house at 2011 Pillsbury. Pillsbury is home to 27 low income single adults, most who have experienced homelessness and other barriers to finding housing. 65% of residents are over the age of 55. To further accommodate resident gatherings and mitigate isolation, Alliance would like to renovate the basement space by updating the shared kitchen, adding a TV/game lounge and generally making the area feel a little more homey.
We’ve raised 43% of the $75,000 needed. The U of MN School of Architecture offered pro-bono design, retirees from IBEW (electricians) have committed their time and Alliance has socked away the rest. If you’d like to support community at 2011 Pillsbury, please consider a year-end designated gift.
Alliance Housing Fully Funded for Minnehaha Commons Project
43 units of affordable housing will be constructed for extremely low-income seniors.
Minneapolis, October 31, 2017: Minnesota Housing announced on October 17th that $126 million will be invested in affordable housing across the state. Alliance Housing received $5,146,302 in deferred funds for Minnehaha Commons to be located on Lake Street in Minneapolis. With this award, the project is now fully funded. Other funders include the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, the Metropolitan Council, the Federal Home Loan Bank, and private investors. Minnehaha Commons will provide 43 units of affordable housing, in partnership with Touchstone Mental Health, for extremely low-income seniors who have experienced homelessness.
According to the Wilder Foundation’s homeless survey, seniors are the fastest growing segment of homeless people. Alliance Housing is uniquely positioned to successfully house this population because of its previous experience serving seniors in rooming houses. Alliance’s tenant service coordinators and property managers build trusting relationships with tenants, discuss problems, identify options for maintaining housing stability and increasing self-sufficiency, and assist tenants to choose their community services.
Alliance Housing’s model offers a solution for housing stability for people who are traditionally denied housing opportunities because of their low-income, poor rental and criminal histories, and/or a history of homelessness. Homeless studies show that many homeless people also experience mental health symptoms. Supportive services designed to successfully house this population will be offered at Minnehaha Commons by Touchstone Mental Health through supports that utilize best practices, address underlying mental health conditions, and support whole person wellness and self-sufficiency.
Alliance’s work makes it possible for individuals and families to create homes for themselves, regardless of income and background by developing and managing housing that is: inclusive, affordable, relational, and, flexible. In addition, Alliance Housing challenges the environment that limits its residents’ opportunities. Neighbors and tenants alike say Alliance’s properties are the “best on the block.”
Thanks to those of you who joined us for the 2017 Alliance Housing’s Annual Fundraising Breakfast on Sept. 28th. Our guests, sponsors and donors helped us raise nearly $80,000 to support our work. Pat, 2011 Pillsbury resident, shared how Alliance helped him when he was homeless and again after his stroke. Until his stroke, Pat worked hard at D’Amico catering and helped refer other tenants to jobs. Gloria, former tenant and Northside Supportive Housing for Families participant, shared her successes with Sue Roedl’s suport – a GED, increasing wages, better credit, training and now homeownership. Gloria accomplished this as a single Mom of 5 kids. Amazing!
Alliance Housing’s board chair hosted two walking tours around Lake of the Isles on May 14 and June 25th. 40-50 people joined us both days to learn more about the history of Minneapolis and its parks. A former history teacher, Olk shared stories and details about some of the stately houses around the lake. He talked about the people who designed, built and originally lived in them. In addition to these impressive homes, Olk also discussed how Minneapolis and its citizens have responded to the housing needs of those who are less fortunate. Guests also learned about Alliance Housing who has been creating housing alternatives for people in poverty and those on the margins for more than 25 years. Alliance makes it possible for individuals and families to create homes for themselves, regardless of income and background, by developing and managing housing that is inclusive, affordable, and relationship-based.
If you are interested in future tours feel free to contact Barb @ firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-879-7633.
By Tessa Williams.
For the men living at our Fremont property, finding a safe, affordable place to live has never been easy. Seven of our residents here came to us through Better Futures (Better Futures is an immersive program that gives men who have experienced prison, poverty, homelessness and untreated disabilities the training and resources they need to become independent). These men are now enjoying having their own apartment for the first time in their lives. I sat down with three residents, JT, Greg and Michael, to hear what having their own apartment means to them. Their responses shared common themes of safety, peace and quiet, freedom, pride and dignity.
“There’s a yearn for privacy, especially as you get older and start to get to know yourself,” says JT, now 40 years old. Growing up, he says, “I never had my own bedroom and at times had no bedroom.” For JT, having his own apartment gives him a sense of peace and tranquility. “You can come home to a safe space to be by yourself after a long day… You have the ability to relax and decorate your apartment and let it mean something to you.” JT’s previous living situations give him a strong appreciation for a safe, peaceful environment. In one place he lived after prison, he paid rent for six month but estimates that he didn’t sleep in his room for more than three nights because it didn’t feel safe. In another, he paid a woman with a cocaine addiction about $300 a month to live in what he called “a closet.” For men of color with a criminal record like JT, rental screening for safe housing so often forces them into dangerous housing situations, often in the same environment that got them in trouble in the first place.
Greg also mentioned peace and quiet as one of the positives in living at Fremont. He says having his own apartment makes it easier to focus on school. In June, Greg completed an associate’s degree in culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu. By February, he will also have an associate’s degree in pastry. The other men at Fremont love that Greg is studying pastry because he frequently brings home sweets to share with them. Right now he’s doing an externship at Cookie Cart, a nonprofit bakery in North Minneapolis. Greg also enjoys having his own key to the building and the dignity of being able to come and go as he pleases without a curfew. At 53 years old, Greg doesn’t like to stay out late, but he still appreciates the freedom to set his own schedule.
Just down the hall, Michael says having his own room gives him more flexibility when looking for work. When he shared a bedroom at the Better Futures guest house, his roommate would be getting ready for work when he was getting ready for bed. Now Michael has the freedom to take night shift jobs that pay better and still sleep well during the day. Another benefit of living at Fremont, Michael says, is that “you don’t have to worry about your neighbors.” He likes that he knows the other men from Better Futures and that the guys look out for each other. But the change that mattered most to Michael was the confidence that came with paying rent. At 53, Michael had never had his own apartment, and he felt it was a stepping stone to adulthood he had yet to reach. “When it’s something you’ve never done, you’re really scared you’re going to mess up,” Michael said. After he paid his first month’s rent, Michael felt a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. After a few months, he says, it feels pretty manageable.
I asked Greg, JT and Michael where they see themselves in the future. Greg says he might move back to Chicago to take care of his mother in a few years. But as long as he stays in the Twin Cities, Greg sees himself staying at Fremont—the rent is the most affordable for what Alliance offers, and like Michael, he likes knowing his neighbors. JT is grateful for his apartment but aspires to own his own house. He recently started his own roofing and gutter business, and if business stays as good as it’s been lately, his dream could well become a reality. Michael says he would like to look into some programs self-improvement. While Greg, JT and Michael are all at different points in their lives, with different interests and aspirations, it’s clear that they all share an appreciation for a safe home and a second chance.
Longtime (& very active) Alliance Housing Board member, Fran Neir, and his wife, Patti Anne Smith Neir, made us the memorial beneficiary with Patti’s recent death. We are humbled and grateful for the outpouring of love towards the Neir family and will steward the resources well helping single adults and families create stable homes for themselves and their children. Stable housing is the foundation of accomplishing anything in one’s life. All gifts will be formally acknowledged by Alliance and the list of donors shared with Fran.
Thank you to Lawrence Young, a neighbor, who shared this store about Dwayne.
Thirty years of oblivion. That’s what most of us would consider the last half of the life of Dewayne Fleming, most commonly known as Brillo on the streets of Minneapolis. But after being shot and stabbed more than once, that is not the term that he would use to describe it. Being kidnapped and locked in a trunk for days only adds to the color of the man who told me “I like my women so black they just short of blue.”
We met after Dewayne was released from Hennepin County hospital where he had spent a considerable amount of time being treated for congestive heart failure. When I visited him there I could see when his memory kicked in and he recognized me. I hadn’t seen him in years but I could tell he had something funny to say but the tubes he was attached to kept him from talking. That’s the first and last time I ever saw him at a loss for words.
I became Dewayne’s neighbor and moved into a place across the hall from him. Everyday we spent hours in the kitchen sharpening each other across the table with our experiences and wisdom until breakfast was ready. We had the best soul kitchen in the city. We were the bean and cornbread brothers and it was doing good things for the both of us. Dewayne lost weight and seemed to be improving in health. Although he was confined to a certain part of town for a long time, his conversation covered the universe. His comments didn’t come from out of left field but the other side of the cotton field where truth was spoken and it trumped feelings. His views were raw and as he understood it. He loved to tell me ways of outsmarting or maneuver any obstacle the system could offer.
It was during one of these sessions that I realized I was talking to my medical advisor. I had injuries from an auto accident and had no idea how to negotiate the medical field, which was to me, a quagmire between someone who needs treatment and the medical and insurance fields. One day as I was leaving on my quest for treatment Dewayne stopped me and said, “You bout to walk into the lions’ den wearing bacon underwear. Take me with you and do what I tell you and we’ll get all that done today.”
When I got back home I had everything I needed to start my recovery. He explained not only the mechanics of how these fields work but the psychology of them. He made me understand that the medical field was full of hoops to jump through guaranteed to frustrate the insincere and timid as well as those in need. He explained job titles and what the duties behind them were supposed to be. He was like my personal PHD on the subject.
Whenever we went somewhere in my car I felt like I was driving Denzel Washington around. Waves and acknowledgements came from everybody that saw him along the way. Every stop light meant a conversation with someone in the next car, on the street corner, or on the bus stop. He was a bonafide celebrity.
Brother Bishop, as some of us called him, was crude but unpretentious. He always told me to count my blessings and not my troubles. He was the absolute funniest man I ever met while expressing sage wisdom at the same time. He told me he’d had a beautiful life because God hadn’t let him die from all the tribulation he’d been through. All his anecdotes were about his experiences on the streets. He had made his peace with God but his mind couldn’t escape the last 30 years. One Saturday, after 30 years of living everywhere, Bishop Dewayne Fleming died AT HOME.
Selena has a lot to be proud of. She works full time as a Credit Advisor at Target Corporate, making $15.50 an hour, while raising her son, Sean, who just turned two in November. She graduated from Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana in 2011, has a degree in cosmetology, and moved to Minneapolis in May of 2014. In June 2014, Selena came to our program when she found herself without a home. Although she had experienced homelessness as a child, this was her first time encountering homelessness as an adult. While at the shelter, Selena met Melanie, who works with our Northside Supportive Families Program, and got accepted into the program, working at both Target and the Children’s Place for $8.20 an hour.
Unhappy with the late hours and low wage, Selena left her retail jobs for a position with Wells Fargo. After being with Wells Fargo for six months, she applied for a job with Target Corporate and got accepted to the position she now has, which she loves. Making nearly double what she earned at the start of the program, Selena has been able to pay off $1,000 in debt, while budgeting money to save for a car. She is proud to have raised her credit score, and that she has enough discipline to pay off what debt she still has left. Having the past experience of raising her credit score, she is calm despite recent bumps in the road, knowing that she has the skills needed to manage her money and get back to where she wants to be. She’s also started couponing, and managing her money makes her hopeful that she’ll be sufficient on her own.
One quote Selena goes by is, “think rich, look poor.” As she describes it, “Right now, (living this way), it’s only temporary— save, reach your goals to do what you dream of. Right now you don’t have to buy all of the fancy materials, but live within your means and plan for the future. I’m thinking for the future rather than living rich now. That’s what a lot of people do, I’m trying to do the opposite.”
Although she isn’t currently using her cosmetology degree, she is working on getting licensed in Minnesota so she can have the career she dreams of. She’s proud to be saving and building a cushion of stability through her career at Target, while watching Sean grow up and become “this new person”, a sometimes bossy two year old who loves the word “mine”.
More than anything, Selena is hopeful for stability. “I hope for stability, that’s all I hope for. I just want my kid to be in a good school and for me to be able to provide for the both of us.”
Alliance Housing is 25 years old. Though many things have changed over time such as staff, leadership, office address, and numbers of properties owned. Our mission and values have remained steadfast. We believe the totality of the following attributes are what sets us apart from most housing agencies and organizations, and make us good stewards of the gifts we’ve received over the years from many generous individuals and foundations.
- We’re in the business of housing people – not screening them out. Everyone deserves a 2nd
- Our operations and decision making begins with the lives and realities of our tenants – balanced with the bottom line. We’ve kept our rents some of the most affordable in the market.
- Our resources primarily cover property management operations and tenant services – not administration, fundraising and marketing. We’re lean and effective.
- Our supportive housing program rewards people for working. Coaching helps parents learn new skills that can help them sustain housing and advance in employment long term.
Remaining committed to these attributes has allowed us to establish a critical niche in the affordable housing world. That may sound like standard nonprofit marketing claims but we’ve got evidence to back it up. Our phones ring off the hook from people who are denied housing because of their criminal, housing or credit history. A quick survey of our scattered site rental property tenants indicates that up to 70% have criminal issues in their background. Many of these tenants have also been homeless or stuck in low wage jobs. Because they’ve been poor, many have eviction, unpaid rent and other bills in their past. Alliance’s 2nd chance policy gives them the opportunity to prove they can be a good tenant. And most are, – they pay their rent, mostly on time, and respect their apartment and neighbors. As a result, our uncollected rent and loss from vacant units is under 5%.
Our tenant’s wellbeing is a core focus in everything we do, from budget changes to our board selection processes. At budget preparation time, the board is always cognizant of the impacts any rent related changes will have on our tenants, especially those living on fixed incomes. Tenants have a direct voice in board decisions because they make up 25% of its members.
In regards to use of our resources, our audit has tracked our expenses over the years to be around 94% programs, 4% management and 2% fundraising. Our management and fundraising percentages have never been higher than 8%.
Our 34 families who are participating in our Northside Supportive Housing for Families program are demonstrating higher wages and monthly income the longer they participate. They earn a $200-$300 monthly subsidy when they are working 25-35 hours per month. This gives them a cushion in their monthly budget which helps with saving money and paying off old bills. Some of them are experiencing the longest tenure in housing and employment. In more traditional public rent assistance programs, their subsidies would be higher if they were unemployed – creating (we believe) a disincentive to work.
Alliance’s 2015 Annual Report is here! You can learn more about Alliance’s accomplishments and plans, and our amazing tenants and volunteers by clicking on the link below.
Thank you to the 170+ guests who joined us on October 8th for our Alliance Housing annual fundraising breakfast. Tenants, Greg Mure and Brenda Connell, stole the show by sharing their stories and how stable housing has helped them move forward in their lives. Thanks to our terrific and generous sponsors who along with our guest’s generous donations and matches from the Pohlad Family and Frey Foundation matches exceed our fundraising goal.
We depend on the generosity of donations to allow us to keep our rents affordable to very low wage workers and disabled adults – many of whom would be seriously challenged to find housing elsewhere. Gifts also support our innovative Northside Supportive Housing for Families program – providing housing subsidies that incent work, not unemployment.
By Barbara Jeanetta, Executive Director of Alliance Housing Inc.
I read almost weekly about the ills of rooming house life. My google alerts bring me stories of fire, over –crowding, and substandard conditions. In Minneapolis, zoning codes prohibit new rooming house licenses. Some of you will be surprised to hear that there are still a few rooming houses out there. I toured a few existing properties a few years ago and found many of the properties worn out, but at full occupancy.
Alliance Housing gets multiple calls every day from single adults looking for an apartment. Some are not too keen on the idea of sharing a kitchen and bathroom with other adults until they learn they’ll have a lease in their name and rent is under $350. Once they are in our attractive, well-cared for building in Whittier, or one of our properties in the Powderhorn, Phillips, and Central neighborhoods, they quite happily settle in having more control over their housing situation than they’ve had for a long while.
A profile of our rooming house tenants makes it hard to put a finger on exactly who needs this type of housing. Our tenants who rent rooms are varied: men, women, working, not working, old, young. 38% of them are working, 45% are disabled and on some sort of government program, 14% are retired and receive a government or VA pension. The kinds of jobs our tenants have range from parking lot attendant to retail clerk, from fast food and janitorial work to day care. A few work seasonal landscaping and construction labor jobs. The most unique employment is a job on the carnival circuit. Some jobs pay cash. Most pay no benefits.
At an average income of $11,734, men and women who want their own place are well matched with the price of rent in an Alliance room. The average one bedroom apartment in south Minneapolis costs $788 per month. To pay 30% of one’s income or less for this rent would take a minimum wage person 65 hours per week or a much higher wage at less hours. Alliance’s rooms are affordable under the same terms for 27 hours per week.
24 of 27 tenants at our Pillsbury rooming house over the past year had lived there over 6 months. The longest tenured tenant has been there 15 years. The average tenancy is 3.5 years. There is no time limit for how long someone lives in the rooming house as long as they are paying their rent and respecting the property and their neighbors, but we hope some are able to move on to a bigger place of their own. Some find the price aligns with their income and are quite satisfied. Some get asked to move on after unsuccessful attempts to negotiate and collect rent or because of their inability to control either their own behavior or the behavior of friends.
Alliance supports the tenants’ sense of community and enforces a few rules to keep its rooming house calm and an asset to tenants and neighbors alike. Over the past year, police were called 27 times. More than 75% of the calls were for issues the police keep anonymous – help with issues related to mental health and issues that don’t involve a crime. Admittedly, six were for fights or concerns about drug activity. We take those seriously and follow-up to ensure they don’t happen again, at least with that tenant at our property.
A recent editorial by Ed Murphy of Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless noted that we have eliminated much of the housing in this community for tenants like Alliance’s at 2011 Pillsbury. Urban renewal cleared out residential hotels and pay-by-the-week housing to make way for high amenity condos and apartments in downtown Minneapolis. Coupled with higher incarceration rates and deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill without good solutions on the other side, the number of homeless adults who can’t afford or get screened out of today’s affordable housing options continues to increase. Well-run rooming houses like Alliance’s are part of the solution. Better public policy and use of government support would encourage their presence and focus on keeping them well-managed in order to keep low-wage and low-income adults housed.
We bid farewell and thank you to Administrative Coordinator, Lynne Rectenwald, in February. Lynne joined Alliance Housing in 2010. Kudos thrown her way at her farewell lunch included: she brought polish and professionalism to Alliance’s events, she tackled and organized the mountains of paperwork that had accumulated at Alliance, she brought a positive, can do attitude to all of her work. We were lucky to have someone of Lynne’s talents and wish her well as she returns to the world of meeting planning fulltime.
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.
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.
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.
Alliance Housing Inc. is like an enduring classic novel. Its theme or story line remains unchanged. Give people a second chance. Rent to individuals and families with a history of homelessness, at the bottom end of the wage scale, and those who have often been screened out due to their rental or criminal history by other landlords. Make it work with simple expectations – pay rent mostly on time and behave as a good neighbor and tenant. Keep property management relational and lean. Develop new properties and rehab existing properties with no amortizing debt. Reach out to donors like yourselves to help us keep rents 15-25% below market so that our tenants can remain stably housed, retain jobs and get their kids to school. 2014 was a year of transition for Alliance Housing Inc. The board of directors stewarded the organization through a leadership change. To continue the book metaphor, it appears existing funders, partners and contributors have turned the page to the new chapter with us. The next real estate development chapter also contains some old and new. In the last chapter, some funding was raised for Jordan Apartments and a property to house homeless adults, aged 55+. Both have existing funding commitments from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. In addition, Jordan has some funding from the City of Minneapolis and the 55+ project has funding from the Sisters of Carondelet and Mount Olive Lutheran Church. Opportunities and need abound. The board of directors used part of its August 2014 planning session to begin to provide focus and priority to future projects.
A classic needs to have enduring qualities AND look good on the shelf to attract readers. We work hard to keep our properties “the best on the block.” In the last few months, we rebuilt a crumbling retaining wall at 2103 2nd Avenue S (pictured) and paved the parking area behind 3631 Penn Avenue N. Our maintenance staff faithfully keeps lawns mowed, landscaping weeded and trim, and snow removed. Occasionally, we get a little help picking up trash – the Longfellow Neighborhood engaged the VOA to clean up litter around the neighborhood and visited Hiawatha Commons this spring.
In August 2014, Alliance increased its rents 2%. The board considered this decision in the context of the rental market, property cash flow and our tenantsʼ ability to pay. We donʼt take these decisions lightly. A $10 increase per month is a big challenge to someone living on a disability pension or someone whose low wage and fluctuating hours keep the monthly budget tight. A recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition analyzed how many hours a minimum wage worker had to work in order to afford an average cost 2 bedroom apartment. In MN, it was 91 hours per week. Alliance rents rooms with shared bath and kitchen facilities, studios and 1-3 bedroom apartments. A minimum wage worker would have to work 42 hours in a month to afford a room and 117 hours in a month to afford a 3 bedroom unit – well below the averages.
Alliance Housing Inc. is relatively unique in owning and managing rooms for single adults Alliance has 44 rooms – 25 in a rooming house at 2011 Pillsbury (picture) and the rest scattered among 7 properties in south Minneapolis. The advantages of renting a room are many: The rent can be as low as $330 – unheard of in todayʼs hot rental market. The room comes furnished – great for someone just starting out or starting their rental history again. The room is small – easy to keep clean. It provides safety and independence – providing a secure location for oneʼs belongings and in the company of others that can keep an eye on things. Our tenants who rent rooms are varied – men, women, working, not working, old, young. 38% of them are working. 45% are disabled and receiving some sort of government assistance. 14% are retired and receive a pension. The kinds of jobs the tenants have include parking lot attendant, retail clerk, fast food, janitorial, day care. A few work seasonal landscaping and construction labor jobs. The most unique employment is a job on the carnival circuit. Some jobs pay cash. Most pay no benefits.
With recent investments from the Otto Bremer & WCA Foundation and Hennepin County, Alliance Housing will be able to double the size of our Northside Supportive Housing for Families program. We’ll expand from working with 26 families to 50 by the end of the year through agreements with other North Minneapolis rental property owners.
Melanie Williams will begin her work in early May, getting oriented alongside veteran, Sue Roedl, and building trusting relationships with families. Melanie says, “I’m excited about this opportunity to work as a Supportive Housing Coordinator with Alliance. The mission of the organization, as well as the program incentives that promote self-sufficiency among families to set goals that involve a career, training and education really resonate with what I’m passionate about. I am truly looking forward to working with families and supporting them in achieving their goals.”
We’re seeing promising results from participants in the Northside Supportive Housing for Families program. They prove out the growing understanding that stable housing is a key to kids doing well in school, parents being more successful in work and overall family well-being. Here are some current successes of note:
- 5 have experienced their longest stay in one apartment – 2 for an average of 33 months compared to 3 months previously.
- 4 received their GED & 4 enrolled in post-secondary school – important for opening up higher paying job opportunities.
- 10 opened a bank account & 4 started paying down debt – building towards economic stability.
- 3 got their driver’s license – an achievement in process and the increased access and flexibility to get to work.
- 6 are receiving their highest wages in their lives – an average of $10.76/hour.
One resident stated in regards to her financial debt, “I used to just think who cares I’m going to die sometime anyway. Now I want to pay it off so I can save money and help my kids.” Since moving into Alliance Housing, this resident has paid off $13,000 of her $17,000 in debt!