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.
Alliance 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.
LaToya’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.
Alliance 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.
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.
Sandra Mosley has been with Alliance Housing since 2007. She currently lives in one of the studio apartments, having come from one of the shared duplexes. She moved to Minneapolis from her hometown of Chicago in 1998.
Sandra was working at Mystic Lake seven years ago, and lost her job. She struggled with illness and surgery. She had no job and no place to call home. She was homeless, staying at 1010 Currie.
While working at a temp agency, she was sent to the Star Tribune on a work assignment. She was tired of working temp jobs and so asked a worker there if he would give her a reference. He agreed, and the next day she was called in for an interview which led to a part time job with the company.
One of her co-workers at the temp agency was renting a room with Alliance Housing and told her about us. She called Bob, (our south side property manager) and was offered a room where she lived for 5-6 years before moving into her own studio apartment. Sandra currently works full time at the Mall of America, and keeps a very tidy, comfortable, and homey place.
Sandra says; “I am blessed—Alliance Housing helps you keep housing, they are flexible and understanding. I am glad to be here, I appreciate them. When I was at my lowest, Alliance Housing was there for me. I want to say, Thank you.”
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.
Alliance Housing participated in Hands on Twin Cities Volunteer Expo at the Mall of America on Valentine’s Day. The event is designed to introduce Twin Cities nonprofits and their volunteer opportunities to Mall visitors and businesses. Hands On also selected and funded Alliance’s speed volunteering activity – welcome cleaning kits for Northside Supportive Housing for Families. We’d love to partner with a group or corporation to provide the kits long term. We’re also looking for someone or a group that would buy and provide birthday kits for families. If you’re interested, please call Barbara Jeanetta at 612-879-7633.
Alliance partnered with the Beltrami neighborhood group in visioning what an investment in housing might look like on the dead end of NE Taylor Street. The American Institute of Architects helped us out by selecting the site as one of their 2015 Search for Shelter projects. The team consisted of two practicing architects and several students. They brought creativity and sensitivity to neighborhood context to their work. Lots more work continues before the idea becomes reality including further conversation with the neighborhood on February 25th.
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.
Alliance Housing was honored to receive a number of donations in honor of Karl Cooper in January 2015. The family was attracted to us because of our 2nd chance housing philosophy. Karl spent much of his life working and living among those who needed a 2nd chance.
Alliance’s founding roots were set around the conviction that poor and homeless people can act in their own best interest and need to be part of solving their own problems. Our board leaders have stewarded that conviction for the 20+ years of our history.
A shout out to our many other faithful and loyal donors who make our ongoing work possible.
On a cold night in February, eight families came together to celebrate their accomplishments and progress. Coaches, Sue & Melanie, organized food, games and a festive atmosphere to build positive relationships among participating Northside Supportive Housing Families. The night highlighted each families’ progress on goals. Latece is raising 2 kids along with her partner. She was recognized for evaluating job training programs, enrolling in Twin Cities RISE! and working towards a career. Michele, mother of 3 sons, started the evening by helping us set up the room. She was recognized for her fulltime job stability and entering her 3rd semester of college as well as obtaining her driver’s license. Shantell and Tim came with two of their kids. Shantelle started a career in child development as a volunteer at PICA. She is now employed fulltime with benefits at a daycare center. Keleshia, mother of three young children, holds down a job in health care while she works on her GED. She has passed 3 of the 4 required tests. Gloria is raising four children. She works in health care customer service at a hospital, completed her GED and got a driver’s license. Felicia, mom of two, works as an AmeriCorps reading tutor in a North Minneapolis school. She loves the job and believes it is building her resume and skills to obtain similar work. Felicia also pitched in to set up and clean up after the event. Keith and his spouse are both working and raising two young daughters. They share child care and are actively paying down debt. Candice and her partner are raising four kids. Despite many barriers they are both working. Candice is training for a managerial position in her company.
It might all sound pretty straightforward if I didn’t know the back story. Many of the adults had never held a job for more than a year. Many had never had a lease in their name or managed to retain housing for 6 months previously. All were in an emergency homeless shelter for families before moving into Alliance’s housing and enrolling in the program. Some had or were working crazy part time hours required in the service industry. Most took public transportation to get kids to daycare and then to work. Something higher than $10 an hour was the highest wage any had earned previously. They were managing to pay rent and buy household essentials on less than $20,000 per year. I’d challenge any of us that have had more privilege in our lives and work to survive one day in their shoes.
But on February 5th, we weren’t focused on the barriers or challenges. It was a night to celebrate accomplishments and what was ahead. If you’d like to learn more about our program, check out our website (http://www.alliancehousinginc.org/program/) or give us a call.
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.
Twenty new mattresses were delivered on December 10th for tenants at 2011 Pillsbury. Rooms are furnished with a bed, dresser, nightstand, lamp and other useful and gently used donated furniture and household items. Most of our new tenants have little to their name upon move in. The current 8 year old mattresses had seen their day. New tenants are given a quilt donated by our friends at Peace Presbyterian Church. Rooms quickly become home.
Makeesha and her children have lived in an Alliance duplex in south Minneapolis since December 2009. Early on, Makeesha felt it was more important to raise her children attentively than work. She got by on a combination of MFIP, food support and one of the kid’s monthly disability payment. The budget was tight but they got by and kept current on their rent and other bills.
Once the kids were high school age, Makeesha decided it was time for a change. She got her GED, and found work at Mystic Lake, making about $11.50/hour in food service, 2nd shift. It was the first job she had in years, and she loved the sense of economic independence it gave her. The casino is a long way from home though. She could ride the shuttle bus to and from work for free, but at times it meant getting to work hours before her shift started, and she was fearful of walking home from the bus stop late at night. So, Makeesha purchased a new car to go with her new job. The payments were daunting but she loved the feeling that she had “made it”.
It wasn’t long before Makeesha started to think that she may have taken on too much, too fast. She struggled to keep up with the bills. She was involved in a car crash, totaled the car and was out of work for a time. Fortunately, Makeesha suffered only minor injuries and insurance paid off her car loan. Property manager, Bob Bono, worked with her on a rent payment plan until she got back on her feet.
As with most of our tenants who we give a little breathing room, Makeesha is back to work now, getting caught up with her rent. She has another car, old but affordable. The kids are doing well. The family is looking forward to the holidays and the new year. It may bring a few more bumps in the road of “making it on your own” but they feel optimistic they’re on the right track.
Each year the Alliance Housing board of directors spends an August evening reflecting on its strengths and challenges and refining plans for the future. We have drafted a set of 2-3 year goals for the various parts of our work. Some are as straightforward as investigating new property management software to manage our rent records more effectively. Others are more aspirational and will take further research, conversation and decisions. For example, we believe that the Alliance Housing property management methods – relational, flexible, 2nd chance – would make a good policy agenda. The agenda could increase housing options in existing properties without having to build additional units. We’d like to develop leadership opportunities for our tenants in advancing the agenda. We’d also like to preserve additional rooming house properties in Minneapolis. This will take more consideration, financial analysis and community conversations given the poor shape many of the properties are in and general neighborhood opinion and City code preferences to shut them down. While they aren’t “the” answer to affordable housing, at rents of around $330, they are a critical “piece” for low wage workers. If you have ideas you’d like to share or want to learn more about our plan, please call or email Barb.
We are grateful here at Alliance Housing. Ecoset Consulting donated 25 Christmas trees for families who are participating in Alliance’s Northside Supportive Housing for Families program. Two participants, Avery Webb and Tricia Smith, assisted Sue Roedl in delivering them to the homes of the families. The program helps homeless families break the cycle of generational poverty. Families exit shelter, learn to be good tenants and increase their income and education so that they can become economically self-sufficient. This is a long and rocky road for many. A little Christmas cheer never hurts. I am grateful for Sue Roedl, lead Supportive Services Coordinator of the program, who saw a posting for the donation and coordinated it from start to finish, including renting a truck and delivering the trees to each family. Sue’s work is testament to all Alliance employees and “the extra mile” they all go to assure our tenants remain stably housed, have access to resources and information to live independently and advance their lives, and keep our properties operating as the best on the block. I’m grateful that we have tenant participants that are willing to “give back”, as well.
We are grateful to all of you who take notice of our work, donate your time or resources and tell your friends about us. If you would like to learn more about us, tour a property, talk with staff or get engaged in some other way, please do not hesitate to call or email me.
It depends on who you are. Fair housing laws were created in 1968 to make sure landlords treated all potential tenants the same with screening procedures, tenant selection and application fees. HUD hires people to test out fair housing laws and prosecutes those who aren’t treating applicants fairly.
I’d like to challenge the framework of fair housing rules where they are used to screen out certain classes and groups of people based on their criminal, credit and housing history. While past behavior can be a good predictor of future behavior, it doesn’t allow for life circumstances or give someone a second chance to behave differently in the future. I believe that the opportunity to get a second chance should be a cornerstone in the philosophy of all affordable housing developers and managers. We use public dollars to serve people with low incomes, and people who for one reason or another face challenges in securing stable housing, because of a disability, a history of homelessness, or simply a history of poor decisions.
Let me offer a few examples of where I don’t think fair housing is fair. Many affordable housing managers have a list of criminal issues that will screen out various types of felony offenses for a year, or five years, or ten years, or for life. These are persons who have done their time and, in many cases, their probation or parole. Nonetheless, they must continue to “serve time” by being barred from housing opportunities. Police department crime prevention units exacerbate the problem by encouraging landlords to bar former criminals from their rental property.
Let’s say you are someone with a history, ready to turn your life in the right direction. If you are lucky enough to make it past the criminal background check, a landlord will most likely review your credit and housing history. If you’ve been poor, you’ve probably not paid credit cards timely and likely had to give up an apartment because you couldn’t keep up with the rent. Most recently, we’ve seen tenants facing a Catch-22 situation. Potential landlords insist that an applicant pay off a previous landlord for rent delinquencies before they will rent to them. I am sympathetic to some extent; we all want to rent to people that will pay rent on time. But we also know that there are myriad processes, both informal and legal, that a landlord can use to terminate the lease of a tenant delinquent on rent. It should be within the scope of our mission to give someone a second chance, because it is possible to get them to voluntarily or legally move if they don’t.
Public resources to build affordable housing are scarce. Competition to be awarded them is fierce. I think most public funders want to prioritize the most needy. Yet, best practices of property management, including exclusionary tenant screening done in the name of fair housing, encourages just the opposite – excluding the most needy in favor of the least problematic.
Alliance Housing relies on relational property management and has almost no tenant screening criteria. We take referrals from homeless shelters and other social service providers. We house those other landlords screen out. We know our tenants by name, know the ups and downs of their life, and work with them to keep them stably housed. Our mantra, coined by our former Director, Herb Frey, is, “We’ll house you as long as you pay your rent (mostly on time) and behave yourself.” We believe this is our mission. If more landlords lived our mission, it would make many more housing units available without spending the money to build another unit.
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.
Greg Mure has lived at 2011 Pillsbury for 5 years. He said that renting a unit in Pillsbury “let him be a man” in the sense that he could support himself and have a place of his own. Greg spent a bit of time in the shelter before moving to Pillsbury. He disliked living with so many other men and being constantly on the watch for petty theft. Compared to that, his rental at 2011 Pillsbury feels like a palace. Greg feels like he is part of the booming economy in Minneapolis. He loves his neighborhood because it seems prosperous and most of the people moving around are working – like himself. Greg described the rooming house as “really quiet.” He and others have seen it not so quiet and they take pride in their attentiveness and working with their neighbors to keep the building safe and secure. Lastly, he offered that it is wonderful to be able to have a guest over to his place. “You canʼt do that if your address is 1010 Currie,” he offered with a sparkle to his eye.
You may remember Brenda from our 2012 Annual Report. Brenda as well as her husband and their two pre-teens moved into a 3-bedroom Alliance property from a shelter. Today Brenda’s husband is working as a cook and she continues her work at the Mall of America, where she recently received a raise and encouragement to apply for a leadership role during her review. The girls love their own rooms and the whole family appreciates moving off busy Broadway Avenue onto a quieter street.
Jontel, also featured in our 2012 Annual Report, will graduate from Culinary Arts School this June. With improved study habits, he is excelling in school receiving A’s and B’s in the most difficult courses. Jontel is now working part-time and has his three children 4 days each week. He is looking forward to graduating from school so he is able to work full-time and save some money. After moving from place to place, Jontel moved into Alliance Housing where he has now had stable housing for the past 3 years, which allows him the freedom to pursue his career and provide for his children.
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!