Labor and faith groups tie low wages to the housing crisis

A coalition of labor and faith groups is launching a campaign fighting for higher wages and affordable housing in the Twin Cities.

Carlos Suazo has worked in construction for about a decade. He said it’s hard to make ends meet on the wages construction companies pay to subcontractors.

“They offer you one job for one price, but when you deduce the hours, you get like $15 hourly,” Suazo said. “That’s not right. How are you going to pay all this stuff on that salary?”

Suazo was among the more than 100 people who attended a housing forum Wednesday that brought together labor unions, elected officials and religious leaders. Organizers say officials give developers generous tax incentives in exchange for building affordable housing, but that workers and tenants also need to be considered.

Workers risk being displaced from their communities because wages aren’t keeping pace with housing costs, said Veronica Mendez Moore, executive director of the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL).

“It’s a crisis across the country,” said Mendez Moore. “The crisis seemed like such an opportunity for us to come together and start crafting solutions.”

But amid the current affordable housing crisis, some builders say the cost of red tape contributes to the problem. They complain that state and local government requirements can add tens of thousands of dollars of unnecessary cost to a new home in Minnesota.

Still, housing advocates say the people who build homes for the construction industry should also be able to afford a home.

“Divide and conquer is no longer an operable strategy on the part of developers receiving public money to build affordable housing but not turning around and paying their workers adequately for their work,” said Korla Masters, a pastor at Shepherd of the Lake church in Prior Lake.

Organizers say the campaign will focus on both legislative proposals and grassroots pressure on companies that withhold employee wages or don’t compensate workers fairly. They’re hoping that a projected budget surplus of $1.3 billion could provide some relief to people who are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

CTUL has previously put pressure on companies they say exploited workers and withheld wages. Other labor organizations, Jewish Community Action and African Career, Education and Resource are also involved in the effort.

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