Local view: Lack of affordable housing is community-wide problem
What would you do if you found an eviction order posted to your front door? What if you had no family to turn to, and other apartments were out of your price range? Would you move into a shelter? Brave the winter in a tent? Catch the next bus out...
What would you do if you found an eviction order posted to your front door? What if you had no family to turn to, and other apartments were out of your price range? Would you move into a shelter? Brave the winter in a tent? Catch the next bus out of town?
These are questions facing people who live at the Seaway Hotel after city inspectors deemed the building unsafe for habitation.
When news of the condemnation broke in July, residents and housing advocates began to look for other options. We quickly realized we had a big problem. Even if money to relocate 70 residents miraculously appeared, most of them could not find a home before their eviction date. Public housing waiting lists are long, and many Seaway residents are not eligible. Some are unlikely to get a second look from any landlords for a complex set of reasons ranging from pet ownership to criminal history.
The math is simple: More people are seeking housing than there are affordable homes.
The condemnation of the Seaway highlights a much larger mathematical problem with tragic human consequences. The economic downturn and cuts to public services have made it more difficult for people to meet basic needs. At the same time, Duluth has seen a steady loss of low-rent housing.
It may not be a surprise to learn that CHUM and Loaves & Fishes are hearing from record numbers of people in need of emergency housing. The rapid growth of the crisis alarms even longtime advocates. From April to June, 388 of your neighbors turned to CHUM for shelter. That is an increase of nearly 100 people over the already-crowded winter months. Easily, hundreds more Duluthians rely on other emergency shelters, on camping or on couch-surfing for their survival.
On Aug. 13, residents of the Seaway and other concerned citizens rallied at the Duluth City Hall to start a much-needed conversation about the lack of affordable housing here. Afterward, city councilors heard from people living in the turmoil of this mathematical problem. They agreed to continue the conversation today when they gather in the City Council chambers.
As winter approaches and eviction looms for Seaway residents, there is need not only for talk but for action. We urge the city and the owner of the Seaway to come to an agreement that will keep the building open while necessary repairs are made. At the same time, we must act urgently to address the broader need for affordable housing. Answers will come through thoughtful discussion and coordination between city government, housing providers, people experiencing poverty and many others.
Member agencies of the Duluth Affordable Housing Coalition have begun that work, and we are hopeful for several upcoming supportive housing projects for families. Additionally, we believe a reasonable goal is 100 units of safe and affordable housing for single people by 2015.
In the meantime, can we look creatively at existing resources? It is hard not to notice the old Gardner apartments sitting empty or the many vacant school buildings that scatter the city. And what role can the city play in advocating for tenant and homeowner rights in order to prevent homelessness in the first place?
This is a caring and creative community. Together we can make sure everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home. Please join us as we take steps toward accomplishing this task.
Matt Traynor is a community organizer for CHUM in Duluth and Joel Kilgour is from Duluth's Loaves & Fishes Community.