This spring, Tiffany Simmons, an Alliance Property Manager, helped a tenant move into one of Alliance’s buildings. This tenant knew exactly what he wanted to do first after settling into his room — take a nap. This seemingly simple act, resting, is difficult without a safe place to stay. And difficulty attending to basic needs such as sleeping, preparing food, and hygiene creates profound impacts on a person’s life.
The individuals and families Tiffany works with each have their own stories, but they’ve all experienced challenges finding housing in the Twin Cities. Alliance works to change that by building and maintaining housing that is affordable to the tenants, working with them as they transition into new housing, and advocating for policies that increase access. Alliance believes everyone deserves stable and quality housing.
Tiffany says the new tenant is now working and saving money. “To see where people started from, and where housing has given them stability to further some of the other goals that they have set, really makes me smile,” she says. After the first year, 56 percent of tenants who live in Alliance housing increase their income. Alliance’s focus isn’t just on financial return though, but also on the social and personal impacts stable housing creates in people’s lives.
Alliance is focused on people — not just meeting their individual needs, but also recognizing how they interact with systemic barriers. Rather than focusing on the difficulties tenants may have had in the past as the cause of their housing instability, Alliance looks at the structural barriers that exist in the market, such as large security deposits, denying housing based on criminal histories, and over reliance on rental histories. This gives Alliance a unique framework — moving away from the common concept of “low-income” affordable housing, and toward a “low-barrier” approach that reflects the organization’s responsibility to the community to provide housing that is affordable, accessible, and dignified.
Every other year, Alliance surveys tenants’ experiences living in Alliance housing and the global policies that affect their lives. Data from these surveys have revealed a nexus of needs that go along with access to a stable home, things like childcare, food access, and transportation. Although Alliance can’t provide services that address all of these needs, their relationships put them in a unique position. “Because we’re relatively small, we can really understand tenant stories and tenant experience,” says Jessie Hendel, Alliance Housing Executive Director. “We can then bring forward that direct experience into an advocacy role.”
Alliance’s advocacy work has shifted what low-barrier housing looks like in Minneapolis. One model of housing Alliance provides is single-room occupancy. This kind of housing often works well for people who have been living outside. “For somebody that never had housing, or struggles with housing, or struggles with chemical dependency, sometimes maintaining a whole studio is hard,” Tiffany says. Minneapolis ordinances once made it illegal to rent single occupancy rooms, but Alliance successfully lobbied to change that when they saw the model worked for so many people.
Tiffany has seen the long-term effects housing has for people, feeling secure in their housing and saving money helps residents imagine other possibilities for growth. She recalls the tenant she moved in last January, “You know,” she says, “he’s thinking about going back to school.” That’s just one tenant of many who came to Alliance searching for simple rest — and is now dreaming about the future.