Foreclosures push rents higher, squeezing low income familiesby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
There's a troubling trend rippling out from the mortgage foreclosure crisis. People who lose their homes to foreclosure often become renters. The result is the demand on Twin Cities rental housing is intense. The demand is so intense, the vacancy rate is very low and rents are rising. That means low income working families who are renters face higher monthly rents even though their income is unchanged. The precarious financial situation of low income workers puts them at risk for losing their housing.
New Hope, Minn. — Here's the human face to the problem.
41-year-old Gwen Hollins earns $11.50 an hour at her suburban Twin Cities job processing auto loans. That is not enough money to pay her bills, Hollins says. She is constantly behind on the monthly rent for her one bedroom apartment in New Hope where she lives with her two children, 10 and 12.
"The rent currently is $650. I often pay $700 or more because I'm late or a delinquent account or something," she says.
The Twin Cities rental vacancy rate the past three years has dropped from seven to around four percent. Average monthly rents over the same period are up more than $25, rising from $825 to more than $850.
Gwen Hollins is getting plenty of advice from people telling her where on the Internet she can look for a better paying job.
"Everything is on the Internet, and everybody is, 'Oh, look it up on the Internet.' I don't have access to the Internet," she says.
There have always been people in Gwen Hollins' predicament. The economy has millions of workers in low wage jobs struggling to make ends meet.
Their problem is easy to define - they aren't earning enough money. Not only have their wages not increased over the years, they've actually lost ground, and now their living expenses are rising.
New information shows the number of low wage workers in the Twin Cities will swell. St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation, a social service and research organization, predicts in some areas the number could double.
Wilder recently reviewed income data for several Twin Cities counties. Researchers found the number of people in those counties paying too much for their rental or owner occupied housing will double - from about 70,000 now to 140,000 by 2010.
Susan Freeman describes the picture she is seeing this way.
"I have never seen in my history at VEAP people working so hard and making so little and still not making it."
Freeman is executive director of Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People, a 35 year old social service organization in Bloomington. Freeman has been there for 32 of those 35 years.
"People aren't earning enough to pay for housing, utilities, transportation, food," she says.
VEAP offers help with housing and a range of services to low income working people and others. It operates the Twin Cities largest food shelf. VEAP has already served a thousand more people so far in 2008 than it served in all of last year, Freeman says.
Michael Dahl, the executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless sees the same picture. Low wage workers are spending too much on housing, Dahl says.
"Housing, which should take up no more than one-third of household income is amounting to much more than that," he says.
Some of the families in the Wilder survey are paying 40 percent, 50 percent or even more of their income for housing.
The demand on rental housing due is in part to more foreclosed families in the market is pushing up rents, Dahl says.
"So, low income folks get priced out of the available housing, and we're seeing an increase in folks coming to homeless services as the last resort," he says.
A partial solution, Dahl says, would be for the federal government to reverse course on housing policy and supply a lot more money for rental assistance including help for working families.
That would certainly help Gwen Hollins stay in her one bedroom apartment with her two children. It would allow her kids to stay in school where she says they are doing well.
And it would help society avoid spending more on a costly array of social services should Hollins and her family lose their housing.
However at the moment rental assistance for Hollins and millions of other working families is not on the agenda. Hollins forces the worries out of her head so she can sleep at night, she says, and get up and go to work the next day.
"The hope is dwindling but it's still there, you know, I just see that there is still hope, it may not be as much, but it's still there," she says.
Gwen Hollins has applied for Section 8 housing but hasn't heard if she's on the waiting list. In any case, the wait for Section 8 housing in the Twin Cities can be as long as 10 years.
- Morning Edition, 09/22/2008, 7:25 a.m.