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NW Minnesota has rising share of people living in unaffordable housing

Housing is becoming harder for more Minnesotans to afford because of rising costs and falling incomes, increasing the share of people living in homes they cannot afford, according to a new study.

Housing graphic

Housing is becoming harder for more Minnesotans to afford because of rising costs and falling incomes, increasing the share of people living in homes they cannot afford, according to a new study.

"A slow economic recovery and rising rental costs have made housing increasingly difficult to afford, especially for renters," according to the Minnesota Housing Partnership, introducing its annual collection of county-level housing data in Minnesota.

Across the state since 2000, rents have risen 6 percent while renter incomes have fallen 17 percent, the organization found.

Counties in northwest Minnesota have seen a growing share of residents spending more than 30 percent of their gross incomes on housing, despite a perception that the region has fared better economically than Minnesota or the country as a whole.

"In general, the northwest portion of Minnesota has done better," said Leigh Rosenberg of the Housing Partnership, based in St. Paul. However, the amount of rental homes available has not been enough to meet needs.


"There certainly is a shortage of rental housing available," she said.

Among nine northwest counties, the share of residents paying more than 30 percent of their household income on rent has increased since 2008, according to the group's data.

In Polk County, the percentage moved up slightly, from 50.8 percent to 51 percent between 2009 and 2013. Other counties had bigger increases, such as Pennington County, where the share of renters in unaffordable homes went from 28 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2013.

Polk and Beltrami counties also were among the state's counties offering the fewest affordable renting options for "extremely low-income" renters.

Incomes lagging

Statewide, more people found themselves losing homes and moving into rentals since 2008, Rosenberg said.

"With the financial crisis we had many people who had previously been owners who were pushed into a rental situation," she said.

Incomes among renters also have not kept up with rents. Minnesota's median full-time wage is $16.71 for full-time employment and $9.41 for part-time work, according to Rosenberg.


"At $9.41, that's certainly not going to pay anyone's rent," she said.

With housing eating up a bigger part of people's incomes, it leaves less money available for other needs. For low-income renters, that means less money for other necessities, such as food.

Tracy Volker, food shelf coordinator for the North Country Food Bank in Crookston, said the service experienced high demand in July and saw new families seeking help. She said housing costs were a reason some clients turned to the food shelf.

"I know you're probably making eight or nine bucks an hour and trying to pay rent and pay electricity," she said.

Aside from low-cost housing, mid-price housing has become harder for some to find, according to Housing Partnership's data.

In Polk County in 2009, 7 percent of renters and 15 percent of homeowners making between $35,000 and $50,000 were paying more than 30 percent of their household incomes on housing. In 2013, those numbers increased to 10 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

University of Minnesota, Crookston, spokesman Andrew Svec said a need for more mid-range homes could be the reason many of the university's employees live in Grand Forks.

"A mid-level of affordable homes certainly does play a factor in whether people choose to live in Crookston or in Grand Forks," he said.


On the Web: Minnesota Housing Partnership's data on all counties is available at bit.ly/16GbpGY.

Call Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com .

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