How Duluth's high rent and low housing stock is impacting the low income population

Rent Burdened Duluth: Part Two

By KBJR News 1

June 4, 2012 Updated Jun 4, 2012 at 11:59 AM CDT

It's already hard enough for low income individuals to rise above the poverty line. But in Duluth, their situation is made even more difficult due to extremely high rents, and a lack of affordable housing.

Duluth has the highest rate of rent burdened individuals in the state of Minnesota. With a large affordability gap, the low income population of Duluth is hit exceptionally hard.

For those in Duluth making below $30,000 a year, the cost of renting is extremely burdensome.

"I'm basically looking for a one bedroom, and the rent is sky high," says Deanna Stiffarm. She and her husband are currently staying with friends as they look for a place to call home.

In the last ten years, rent has gone up about 20%, while income has only risen by 4%.

For Deanna and her husband, everything they find is outside of the price range they can afford based on income.

"What we're finding is about five or six hundred dollars, and then they want the deposit and first months rent. It's just impossible for someone of my class of people," says Deanna.

Dana Race is a case manager at SOAR Career Solutions, and she says her clients regularly struggle with finding rental units that they can afford.

"The rent doesn't match the income being made here," she says.

Dana says many of her clients have a hard time making rent and having money left over for other obligations.

"If you're paying half your pay check in rent--and then you probably have your utilities on top of that--you don't really have a lot left over to do anything."

So many are turning to government assistance. But unfortunately, the demand is more than the city can accommodate.

"The numbers are showing that the vacancy rate is relatively low and doesn't offer much choice and affordability in housing as we would like to see," says Rick Ball of Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

With over 2,000 people currently on the wait list for section eight housing vouchers, and about 1,000 on the wait list for public housing, low income individuals are often in a pinch.

"If it is low rent, or whatever, it may not be something that we may want to live in, but we have no choice," says Deanna.

Dana says if her clients can find a rental, what they see on the market is not very desirable.

"For a while there, the sewer was backing up, one of the bathrooms didn't work, he hadn't had garbage taken away," says Dana. "They called the city inspector who couldn't believe that the individual could rent a place like this."

Rick Ball with the Housing Redevelopment Authority says they would like more affordable housing in Duluth, but it isn't easy. He says getting developers to build in Duluth is a bit challenging.

"The construction season is short, and sometimes the cost of construction in Duluth can be expensive," says Rick.

But they do have some projects in the work, and they're hoping it will alleviate some of the rental woes.

It's these kind of affordable housing projects that people like Dana say Duluth needs to get more of, because with a poverty rate at 22%, she says things aren't getting any better.

"If we don't come up with some kind of low income housing, we're just going to get more homeless people, which just leads to more social issues that frankly, we aren't ready for, nor do we want," says Dana.