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 April, 2020
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.