A light snow fell outside a brown apartment building on Pleasant Avenue, where tenants gathered to protest something that's become inevitable in Minneapolis: rising rent.

The company that manages seven buildings just south of Lake Street told residents in a letter that their rent will rise by as much as $125 per month, to $775.

For many of the families there, that will be too much, and nearby options are limited. Only a handful of apartments in the area rent for less than $900 per month.

"Lyndale is one of the last neighborhoods in this corner of Minneapolis where all walks of life can live," said Brad Bourn, director of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

As rents rise across the city, there are fewer and fewer places for poor people to live, and policymakers are wrestling with what, if anything, should be done about it.

A new study from the University of Minnesota has put a fine point on the problem, showing that several neighborhoods around downtown Minneapolis are gentrifying. A long-term drop in crime, combined with a concentration of high-wage jobs and a renewed preference for urban life among highly educated workers, have made the city's core more desirable.

The trend is most pronounced in sections of south Minneapolis along Lake Street and the Blue Line, parts of Northeast near downtown and along the river; and the Willard-Hay and Harrison neighborhoods in north Minneapolis.

Many cities across the country would be thrilled with an influx of high-income, highly educated people. It raises property values and increases tax revenue. A national study from 2015 shows that Minneapolis is one of the fastest-gentrifying cities in the country, behind only Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

Racial gap persists

But the growing gap between income and rent in Minneapolis is most pronounced for Latino and black households.

"It's happening, and I can see it, and I can feel it," said Alondra Cano, a Minneapolis City Council member who lives in Powderhorn Park and represents Phillips and Corcoran. "In my ward, specifically, Latino renters are being priced out, or blatantly evicted."

Around the year 2000, a Latino renter with median income could afford to live in 50 percent of the rentals in every part of Minneapolis. Now the share of neighborhoods with affordable rent for the median Latino renter is an area mostly confined to near south Minneapolis. For black households with median renter income, no part of the city remains affordable by that measure.

"Everybody likes to see neighborhood improvement, but when that improvement accelerates to a point that people are forced out of their communities, then that becomes an issue to be concerned about," said Ed Goetz, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, which conducted the research. "That's really the concern when it comes to gentrification."

Using different measures

Gentrification can be difficult to define, so Goetz and his colleagues are measuring each census tract in Minneapolis and St. Paul according to three widely accepted indexes of gentrification — one each from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Columbia University and the city of Portland, Ore. The U researchers identified a part of Minneapolis or St. Paul as gentrifying if two of the three indexes showed gentrification there.

Cano, whose ward in south Minneapolis is gentrifying as much as any part of the city, thinks the trend can and should be slowed. Rent controls and land trusts that keep homes in the hands of low-income owners are both options, she said, for maintaining diversity and affordability in the core of Minneapolis.

"Diversity is more important than straight-up economic growth," Cano said. "It's not as simple as just championing investment for the sake of investment."

Blong Yang, the council member whose ward in north Minneapolis is also becoming less affordable for the poor, takes a different approach. He said the neighborhood improvement he's seeing is a "slow, natural progression."

He doesn't like referring to it as gentrification, since people in his neighborhood are pleased when they see more young people, more children and more strollers in the neighborhood.

"When you talk about that big term it sounds scary. It's something to be feared and not liked," Yang said.

The key to preventing the displacement of longtime residents — which Yang, too, sees as a problem — is to get them into homeownership, he said, and create conditions in the city for more high-paying jobs.

Goetz, the researcher, said there's no one proven method for encouraging economic growth without displacing low-income people, but a few things have helped: just-cause eviction policies, subsidized housing that prefers locals in fast-improving neighborhoods, and denser housing development around transit.

At the apartment building on Pleasant Avenue, Elena Espinosa, a mother of two whose husband is a mechanic, said her family will be able to afford the rent increase "with a lot of sacrifices." They'll have to spend $100 less per month on food.

"It's not that we don't agree with an increase," said Espinosa, whose family rents a one-bedroom apartment. "It's just an excessive increase."

Tenants complained on Tuesday about maintenance problems at the apartments, which are managed by QT Property Management. Some have had mold, or leaky windows, or cockroaches. The units haven't been renovated for a while.

A chagrined Matthew Mock, the manager of the properties, looked on as TV camera crews set up to record the tenants' complaints on the steps of the building.

Increases in property taxes and utility costs have forced him to raise rents, he said, and still there's almost nothing between Interstate 35W and Lake Calhoun that's cheaper.

"The rent increases are less than the market rate," Mock said. "We haven't raised rents at these properties for over 24 months."

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405

Twitter: @adambelz