As a renter in the city, I care deeply about affordable housing in Minneapolis. When I was a young teen, my family moved here from rural Minnesota and I finally experienced diversity — people of color and of all income levels were represented.
My family was low on the income spectrum, but we found decent rental housing in the Whittier neighborhood. I’m not sure we could do that today. Decent, affordable housing for residents with modest means is almost impossible to find now, and what exists is rarely available.
It should be good that there’s a boom of dense housing construction in Minneapolis now. But nearly all of the buildings going up are “luxury” housing. We have a huge, growing deficit in rentals for low- to middle-income residents. As a result, a lot of less-affluent renters are forced to live beyond our means or to leave the city for the suburbs, where it’s still possible to find decent affordable housing.
As in much of the city, the northeast area where I rent is experiencing a construction frenzy, and prices are skyrocketing. The cheapest unit in these new buildings typically rents for $1,400 to $1,500 per month. Add $100 to $175 per month for parking.
Let’s say your rent tops out at $1,600 per month. That’s $19,200 per year (plus utilities). Analysts suggest paying no more than 30 percent of our gross income for housing. To afford $1,600 per month, your gross annual income should be $64,000 — equating to an hourly rate of $31 for a 40-hour workweek.
Not many Minneapolitans gross over $60,000 annually. The 2010 census put the per-capita income in Hennepin County at $35,902, and pay rates haven’t increased much since.
As of Jan. 1, Minneapolis employers must pay a minimum wage of $10 per hour if they have 100 or more on the payroll. At 40 hours per week, such a worker will gross just $20,800 annually. By 2024, Minneapolis employers will have to pay $15 per hour, or $31,200 gross for a 40-hour week.
In short, most Minneapolitans make far less than $31 per hour. How can we afford these rents?
That $1,600 rent is for the least-expensive units. They’re tiny. At 400 to 550 square feet, occupancy by more than one person is unlikely, unless you’re one of the few comfortable with little personal space. Some of us are trying to reduce our environmental footprints, but Engineering Toolbox estimates that the average person needs 100 to 400 square feet of residential space for comfort.
For a small one-bedroom apartment in these new buildings, expect to pay at least $1,700 to $1,800 per month. Rents increase according to size and floor level. Some of these buildings feature three- to four-bedroom luxury penthouses that rent for over $7,500 per month — sheesh!
There is some decent (subsidized) affordable housing in Minneapolis, but annual income limits may apply. Typically, individual annual income must be roughly $36,000 or less to qualify for these units, but there are few available.
And if your annual individual income level is more than $36,000 but less than $65,000, where do you go? Housing prices are so high that most people in affordable housing stay there, resulting in almost no vacancies. Landlords do quick “renos” on vacated units, then jack up the rents to keep pace with the market.
I doubt there’s an intentional strategy for Minneapolis to devolve itself into a city designed for mainly a high-earning population. That would be a shame, because a diverse variety of cultures and income levels brings heart and soul to a city. Minneapolis will be diminished if it loses many of its lower- to middle-income residents.
It’s time for those who have the power to take the necessary steps to ensure that everyone who wants to live in Minneapolis can live in Minneapolis. We have a new mayor now. I hope he’s listening.
P.J. Wetterlund lives in Minneapolis.