Just a few years ago, affordable housing wasn’t even on the Brooklyn Park City Council’s radar. But thanks to African Career, Education and Resource (ACER) and partner organization La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles,times have changed.

In November 2017, the city council passed a ground-breaking affordable housing policy that will create and preserve affordable housing in the northwest Minneapolis suburb for at least 20 years. An innovative, multi-racial organizingpartnership has ensured that affordable housing is a top priority for Brooklyn Park city officials.

Disturbing Housing Trends Drive Action

ACER and La Asamblea are community-based organizations serving the African and Latino immigrant communities of Brooklyn Park, respectively.

Latino residents comprise about 6.5 percent of Brooklyn Park’s total population. An additional5 percent of city residents are of African descent. Although small in comparison to the total population, these two immigrant groups make up a large portion of the city’s renters.Around 30 percent of Brooklyn Park residents are renters; in comparison,65 percent of black residents and 60 percent of Latino residents rent their homes.

Affordable housing is an important issue for all Brooklyn Park residents. Approximately 56 percent of Brooklyn Park renters were cost-burdened by their housing in 2015, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That same year, 26 percent of renters were severely cost-burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing.

Staff at ACER and La Asambleabecame concerned when they saw several instances where Section 8 housing in other first-ring suburbs was purchased and converted to market rate units.

They knew that if that trend spread to Brooklyn Park, immigrants would besome of the most vulnerable to displacement.

Innovative Apartment Complex Organizing

ACER and La Asambleapartnered to knock on Brooklyn Park renters’ doors to learn about tenant concerns and priorities. They spoke with an estimated 2,000 tenants. Tenants talked about a lack of maintenance in older buildings, unfair evictions and towings, aggressive monitoring of tenant guests, unexpected rent increases, and a variety of health and safety concerns. The organizations learned that not only was there not enough affordable housing in Brooklyn Park, the housing that did exist was substandard and created undue stress for residents.

The partner organizations provided leadership development and organizing training for volunteer leaders, who served as building captains in some of the largest apartment complexes in the city. This allowed the organizations to quickly mobilize residents when threats and opportunities arose.

In one successful endeavor, they worked with tenants at the Autumn Ridge apartment complex to organize for building upgrades and improvements to outdoor spaces. The organizing shifted the dynamics between the building owner Sherman Associates and residents. This partnership was so successful that the city of Brooklyn Park is considering expanding the model to other apartment complexes in the city.

Now there is a sense of community there. The residents know each other and they have built close-knit relationships,

Said ACER Executive Director NelimaSitatiMunene.

Now they know how to push for change.

A Community-Led Apartment Action Plan

Staff from ACER and La Asamblea learned that the city of Brooklyn Park intended to update its Apartment Action Plan. At that time, the plan primarily served as a document to guide the city’s expectations of landlords and property managers. ACER and La Asamblea asked city staff to think about the document differently by engaging tenants in the process of creating the updated plan.

The new Apartment Action Plan includes feedback from at least 500 residents and is focused on improving the quality of life for renters in Brooklyn Park.SitatiMunene said the updated plan is a blueprint for equity and housing justice in the city.

The old plan was created from a crime and safety perspective,

She said.

We transformed that to say it should be about serving apartment dwellers. It should uphold good standards of housing, safety, health and security for residents.

Organizing for Policy Change

ACER and La Asamblea’s leadership development and organizing training created a critical mass of African and Latino immigrant community members with the skills and knowledge to advocate for change. With several small victories under their belts, the team set their sights on broader city policy changes with the potential to improve conditions for all Brooklyn Park renters.

Staff and residents proposed an aggressive new mixed-use housing policy that would require developers to include affordable housing in every new publicly subsidized housing complex in the city. ACER and La Asamblea organized renters to attend community forums andto testifyat city council meetings about the need for more affordable housing choices. After several months of organizing and negotiating, city staff agreed to bring the policy to a vote.

A Progressive Housing Policy for Brooklyn Park

On November 27, 2017, the Brooklyn Park City Council unanimously passed one of the most progressive mixed-use affordable housing policies in the Twin Cities region. The new policy stipulates that any new multi-family housing development of more than 10 units must include a percentage of affordable units. Under the new policy, developers can choose to develop:

  • at least 5 percent of the total units to be affordable at 30 percent of area median income (AMI).
  • at least 10 percent of the total units to be affordable at 50 percent of AMI.
  • or, at least 15 percent of the total units to be affordable at 60 percent of area median income.

Any affordable housing developed under the new policy will be preserved under the new law for at least 20 years.

After the city council’s unanimous vote, city council members praised ACER and La Asamblea de Derechos for their persistence.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen unless you push for it,

Said Councilmember Mark Mata.

You have to ask, you have to fight, you have to be willing to make sacrifices, and things don’t always turn out your way…I commend you for your efforts and your time.