Lower-income renters struggle rents rise across Minnesota

Published 9:17 am Tuesday, November 5, 2013

ST. PAUL — Lower-income renters in the Twin Cities are struggling to cope with the steepest increases in more than a decade, a persistent hangover of the housing crisis even as the economic recession has subsided.

Average metro-area rents are approaching $1,000 a month, according to the Minnesota Housing Partnership. Rents have increased by 8 percent since 2000, while renters’ income has dropped by 14 percent during the same period, the partnership said.

About half of all Minnesota renters pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, partnership director Chip Halbach said.

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“It’s a rapidly worsening situation,” Halbach said.

Halbach said that even though overall average income has risen, there are simply more people struggling with low-wage or part-time jobs. Meanwhile, the flood of foreclosures of a few years ago drove more people into rental housing, which led to higher demand and rates.

There currently is a construction boom for high-rent apartments, but almost no new construction of lower-rent units, Halbach said.

Dena Felper, 49, said the rent on her St. Paul apartment is jumping 23 percent to $750. She plans to get another job — her third. She called it “so disheartening.”

“Let’s see … I could work nights and weekends,” she said. “It would be in retail, maybe a bookstore or maybe Target. I don’t know.”

Halbach said some lower-income renters are forced out and have to go live with friends, relatives or in a homeless shelter.

“The net effect is tremendous stress,” he said. “You see kids doing poorly in school.”

Cassandra Block, 28, of Brooklyn Park, works about 38 hours a week as a school bus driver. She recently learned her rent would jump $135 a month, to $835. She’s on a waiting list for subsidized housing, but is not guaranteed to get it.

“Maybe I will try to find a roommate online,” Block said. “Maybe I am going to be homeless or living with someone else.”