Minneapolis 'does not have any more affordable housing than it did 25 years ago'

The Lowry Grove manufactured home park
Residents of the Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony, Minn., received a letter in April saying the park would be sold and closed. Manufactured home parks are "some of the most affordable housing in the state," according to Alan Arthur, the CEO of Aeon.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The numbers on affordable housing in Minnesota are troubling: Since 2000, the purchasing power of people's incomes in Minnesota has gone down 12 percent, according to Mary Tingerthal, commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. At the same time, gross rents have risen 7 percent.

In the metro area, the affordability issue is particularly acute: The market research firm Marquette Advisers said the vacancy rate for apartments in the $700- to $1,000-a-month range is just 2 percent.

While new affordable units continue to be built, existing affordable housing is being closed or transformed into higher market rate units.

According to Alan Arthur, the CEO of an affordable housing nonprofit called Aeon, the city of Minneapolis "does not have any more affordable housing than it did 25 years ago."

Arthur and Tingerthal joined MPR News host Tom Weber to discuss affordable housing across the state, and what measures are being taken to build and protect it.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Defining affordable housing

"When people talk about affordable housing, people think of a place. It's really not about a place, it's about the ability of a family to work hard and be able to afford a place for their family to live, whether that's a home or an apartment building," Tingerthal said. "We just have a bigger and bigger gap between working people and their ability to pay either rent or a mortgage."

"The benchmark we use is that if you have to pay more than 30 percent of your income for your household for housing, then it's not affordable for you," she said. "So 30 percent is the benchmark, and we have many households in Minnesota that pay more than half for housing."

"When you're a poorer household, a lower-resourced household," Arthur added, "even 30 percent is too much of your income."

Arthur identified three types of affordable housing available. The first is public housing — housing owned by the government or paid for with vouchers distributed by the government. The second is affordable housing that is owned and operated by entities like Aeon, and regulated by the government or some other source of funding. The third type, and the most endangered, is naturally occurring affordable housing — units available at an affordable price without any subsidies, vouchers or other interventions.

"That's really disappearing fast," Arthur said, "which puts tremendous pressure on folks who are just trying to find a simple thing — which is a place to call home."

Arthur's nonprofit, Aeon, is currently involved in a lawsuit to keep a mobile home park in St. Anthony, Minn., from being closed and redeveloped.

"Manufactured homes are some of the most affordable housing in the state — about 50,000 units. 13,500 in the Twin Cities," Arthur said. "They're an extremely valuable resources and we can't in good conscience say to ourselves that we're trying to provide homes for the folks with the greatest barriers in our community without doing something on this front, so that's the strategic decision we've made."

For the full discussion with Mary Tingerthal and Alan Arthur on affordable housing in Minnesota, use the audio player above.