By Dave Healy
Does St. Paul have a housing crisis?
These days, that is a very topical question given that the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) reports three-fourths of St. Paul’s housing units are at least 50 years old, and half of those are renter-occupied. To accommodate the city’s growing population, the MHP predicts St. Paul will need more than 18,000 new housing units by 2030.
According to a recent American Community Survey, half of St. Paul’s non-white residents and one-third of the city’s white (non-Hispanic) residents are cost-burdened; that is, they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
Currently, the St. Paul City Council’s 2019 budget includes $10 million for a new housing trust fund to be deployed over three years. St. Paul and other public and private entities have proposed spending $71 million over the next three years to improve housing affordability.
In keeping with the city’s current emphasis on housing, the St. Paul Public Library has selected “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond as this year’s adult book in its Read Brave program. Read Brave is an intergenerational, citywide program that invites residents to read a designated book and attend presentations and discussion events related to that book.
Two Read Brave events
St. Anthony Park will feature two Read Brave events in the coming weeks. The St. Anthony Park Branch Library and the St. Anthony Park Branch Library Association (SAPBLA) will host a discussion on “Evicted” on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. The discussion will be moderated by Paul Fate, a St. Anthony Park resident and former president and CEO of CommonBond Communities, the Midwest’s largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing.
“Evicted” was published in 2016 and won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Carnegie Medal, and the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. The book is set in Milwaukee and follows the lives of eight families living in that city’s poorest neighborhoods, where evictions are commonplace.
“For decades, we’ve focused mainly on jobs, public assistance, parenting, and mass incarceration,” Desmond said. “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty.”
Desmond, who is white, lived in a trailer park for four months, getting to know its residents. He then moved to a rooming house on Milwaukee’s North Side, a mostly black and poor neighborhood. There he got to know the landlords of his and many other buildings. His book is about both the people who get evicted and those who evict them.
Copies of “Evicted” are available to check out at the St. Anthony Park Library and are for sale at Micawber’s Books, 2230 Carter Ave., in Milton Square.
The second Read Brave-related event will feature St. Anthony Park resident Tom Fisher, former dean of the University of Minnesota’s Architecture School. Fisher will discuss “Community-First Approaches to Housing the Homeless” Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, 2323 Como Ave. The event is hosted by SAP library and SAPBLA. Fisher is currently director of the U of M’s Design Center and holds the Dayton Hudson Chair in Urban Design.
Fisher will talk about the work he and his colleagues at the Minnesota Design Center are doing to develop innovative approaches to housing the homeless. One way has involved partnering with Hennepin Healthcare as part of a medical and public health initiative; another has entailed partnering with the faith community in the East Metro as part of the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“This work represents a community-first approach to housing that has begun to gain national attention,” Fisher said.
Both Read Brave events are free and open to the public.
Dave Healy was the Park Bugle editor from 2000 to 2010.