Column: Housing needs to continue to be a focus in St. Louis Park

Derek Burrows Reise

By Guest Columnist Derek Burrows Reise

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen increased attention to the issue of housing affordability and stability in and beyond St. Louis Park.

Last year, changes at Meadowbrook Manor Apartments garnered a community response. We know that to be a complete and strong community, we need to have secure housing for people at all income levels, ages and life situations.

The April St. Louis Park apartment listings illustrate that we are falling short of our goal for housing for everyone. The median price for two-bedroom units in St. Louis Park was $1,255, not including utilities. The lowest available two-bedroom apartment was $855. According to U.S. Census data from 2015, 36.8 percent of St. Louis Park renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Due to a lack of options, many low-income families spend well over half of their income in housing costs. When so much of your income is taken from housing, it is easy to imagine how difficult it is to create any savings to weather a job loss, health problem or another crisis. Something as common as a car repair can endanger a family’s ability to make rent. This situation destabilizes families and communities.

It is encouraging that the St. Louis Park City Council has focused on the issue of housing. Policy decisions can have an impact on whether some community members will be able to continue to call St. Louis Park their home. The causes of the housing crisis are due to complex national and regional economic dynamics, but the impacts are right here in our community. There is much that can be done right here to address the symptoms.

In April, several regional community foundations unveiled an effort to invest a combined $20 million of assets in a fund devoted to developing affordable housing and small businesses in Minnesota. The Greater Minnesota Housing Fund has also started a fund to encourage investors to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing units in the Twin Cities.

These efforts are promising, but the scale of the problem is large. Jewish Community Action and Adath Jeshurun Congregation are hosting a community forum to discuss and act on affordable housing in Hennepin County 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, at Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 10500 W. Hillside Lane in Minnetonka. The St. Louis Park Emergency Program is a co-sponsor. Attendees may preregister at tinyurl.com/HennepinAffordableHousing.

Last summer, the Park Nicollet Foundation challenged the community to raise funds for STEP’s emergency housing fund. STEP has a program for preventing homelessness in families facing a one-time financial crisis. Between Park Nicollet Foundation, the city of St Louis Park, faith communities and individuals, we raised more than $45,000 in housing stabilization funds. Those funds will help stabilize housing for approximately 70 families in our community.

Unfortunately, we only have resources to fulfill a segment of the need. Once a family has initially lost their housing, the cycle can be hard to recover from. Fewer landlords will rent to families with eviction-related court records. This has the impact of forcing people with poor credit and housing records to pay more for poorer housing. Families in this situation more often deal with unscrupulous landlords who know renters have few alternatives.

We can prevent or stop the cycle for a family with emergency financial assistance. If you are interested in helping ensure a St. Louis Park family stays housed and secure, donate to STEP’s emergency assistance program, and we will get it to those who need it most.

The housing crisis has been brewing for some time. Each year, a growing percentage of our community is being impacted. Neighbors are being squeezed out or their homes and leaving our community. Let us commit to securing the needs of families of all income levels in St. Louis Park by creating and sustaining secure, affordable housing.

Derek Burrows Reise is the executive director of the

St. Louis Park Emergency Program. To learn more about STEP, visit stepslp.org or call 952-925-4899.