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Complex problems require thoughtful, collaborative and sophisticated solutions. As the executive director of Hope Community, a 46-year-old, community-led organization that provides a range of programs and services, including housing, I am sounding the alarm. The supportive housing system in the Twin Cities is at a crisis point. Hope Community is just a small player in a much larger system and the strain of current pressures is affecting us acutely. We are the early warning. But make no mistake, the fissures in this foundational set of services are everywhere if you know where to look.
Even before the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and a surge in potent and deadly drugs on our streets, supportive housing providers were feeling the stresses of increasingly intense community needs, aging facilities and underfunded services.
According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership, we have 169,585 extremely low-income renters who earn 30% or less of the area median income in Minnesota, and only 64,238 units available to them. Our current housing system depends on nonprofit housing developers to fill this gap. Deeply affordable housing has always required significant subsidies and philanthropic support — both of which are subject to the politics and public sentiment of the times. While substantial dollars go toward building affordable housing, these dollars do not support the ongoing operations and facility upkeep. These buildings were never intended to do more than break even, at best, from rental income. Our affordable housing infrastructure in Minnesota is stretched to a breaking point.
Since 2018, Hope has struggled to fund additional support for one of our housing communities that serves individuals who are coming out of long-term homelessness. For a time, we were able to maintain the building without impacting the operational budget for our other community-building programming. This is no longer the case — more than 10% of our operating budget is going toward the safety, services and maintenance of this one property. This cost is being redirected from youth programming and community-building programs. This level of continued funding will put the entire organization in jeopardy, sacrificing the decades of experience in the Phillips Community, connecting neighbors and providing resources.
It is my commitment to the people who come to Hope Community to provide a dignified and safe experience. Like other nonprofit housing organizations, we have invested significant resources to ensure that the individuals and families who choose to live with us know that they are valued and respected. We are no longer able to ensure the safety and dignity they deserve. Hope has met with the mayor, Minneapolis Police Department, City Council Member Jamal Osman, and staff from our funding partners in the city's Department of Community Planning and Economic Development, Minnesota Housing and Hennepin County. Our partners at Trellis Management have gone above and beyond in having a physical presence in the building. We have upgraded physical infrastructure to high security doors and locks and brought 24/7 security to the property at a tremendous expense to the organization. "I've never seen so much financial investment and owner resources put into a property with little to no support from local municipalities," said Andrew Perry, president of Trellis Management.
We have worked with service-provider partners to assist the individuals who are squatting, participating in open drug use, prostitution and causing damage in our building to find housing or shelter elsewhere — to no avail. We have also repeatedly called and worked with the MPD so that our residents — who are themselves formerly homeless — can have a safe, secure place to call home, with no success. Many of our government leaders have pointed to limits in funding or capacity in response to our concerns. Our property is just one of many in the area facing these crises right now. If we are unable to systematically revamp our systems of affordable housing and public safety, it will be a challenge for any organization to be able to keep their doors open to serve the neighbors that need us to show up for them the most.
Community-level problems require community-level solutions. Let's think creatively about what a strong, safe and inclusive community looks like. Let's cut through red tape and bureaucracy together. Let's rethink our housing policies, systems and funding mechanisms to ensure just and dignified housing for our neighbors.
Shannon Jones is the executive director of Hope Community Inc. in Minneapolis.