Tiny city tops lists for poverty and youth opportunityby Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Landfall is a tiny city east of St. Paul, right behind a Harley Davidson dealership on the edge of a small lake.
It's a mobile home park of about 700 residents. More than a quarter of them live in poverty, which the federal government defines as just short of $11,000 for an individual in 2009.
"You cannot live cheaper than living in Landfall," said Greg Feldbrugge, mayor of Landfall. Everyone knows him as "Flash", a nickname he earned during his days as a stockcar racer.
He moved here 13 years ago, and has been mayor for the last 4.
"My lot rent on my home is $273 a month. Everyone has to live somewhere and it's nice that you actually can have a yard and a garden and a dog and turn your music up if you so desire," he said. "And I mean, it's like owning a home, it's just that it's mobile home."
Down Feldbrugge's street of tidy snow-bundled homes and Christmas lights lives Josh Mars, who moved to Landfall from St. Paul with his six-year-old son a year and a half ago.
"Before this I was paying almost $1,000 a month and renting a two-bedroom home on the east side," he said. "Here I was able to quit my second job, and since I'm a single dad, that was kind of nice. I don't have to work two jobs anymore. I can just work one and I have a lot more time for my son."
Landfall is a community of the working poor -- 85 percent of households have someone working. It's mostly white, with a growing number of Latino families.
Mars calls Landfall an "awesome" neighborhood for kids.
Others agree. Twice in the past three years, this city, the poorest in the metro, has been named one of the 100 best communities for young people by America's Promise Initiative, a non-profit founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Landfall has benefited from a lot of non-profit investment. Seventeen years ago, Family Means, a Stillwater social service agency, flagged Landfall as a place that could use some help.
According to Tom Yuska, a community organizer for Family Means, the biggest complaint from parents was there was nothing for kids to do.
Now, Yuska runs a teen center, a bike shop and a computer lab right inside city hall called the "investigation station."
"Artists come in -- we get grants to bring in artists -- we have a county extension service person come in and do cooking and nutrition classes, we'll do field trips, we've done summer soccer programs for younger kids," he said. "One of the things I do in summer is run a youth bike program here where I teach kids how to fix bikes and they can use that knowledge to earn bikes, and we also go on bike rides."
Up to 90 percent the 150 kids in Landfall are on free or reduced lunch.
Mayor Feldbrugge credits Family Means with a steep drop in juvenile crime. As he parks behind city hall, the mayor intercepts workers loading pop into vending machines and tells them to put a sticker on the machine with their phone number. The kids have been calling him each time the machine eats their dollars:
"'Hey, the pop machine robbed me,' [they say], and I'll either give them a dollar or tell to come over to my house and I'll give you a can of pop," Feldbrugge said.
As mayor of a poor community, Feldbrugge is well aware of the social problems some of his residents face. He wishes for more parent involvement. He worries about alcoholics and hoarders. He finds himself part social worker, setting up regular bus trips to the food shelf, and part handyman.
"A lot of the people this weekend, because of the heavy snow, it blocked their furnace vents. In fact these people right here, I went up and shoveled off their roof, right there," he said.
Flash says he can't understand why there's not a waiting list to get into Landfall. There are 10 spots available.
He pulls up to City Hall. It's the end of the tour. He mentions the town's upcoming Christmas party. The 100 best communities for young people designation came with a small grant for a community celebration, and they'll be giving Christmas presents to all the kids.
The poverty data from the American Community Survey tell Flash what he already knows.
"We're poor but we're not losers," he said.
Poverty Rates in Metro Area Cities
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- Morning Edition, 12/16/2010, 7:20 a.m.