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What You Can Do to Ensure the Unhoused Have a Place to Stay in Light of the Green Line Shutdown

Cars cross the tracks as a test METRO Green Line light rail train waits to cross Snelling Avenue along University Avenue in St. Paul on Thursday, April 17, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Last week, Metro Transit replaced overnight service on the Green Line with buses.  

Maintenance needs are the main reason that overnight Green Line service needs to end, according to Metro Transit officials. “We are making this change to allow for safer and more timely maintenance along the Green Line corridor,” said Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra in a statementAs a result, on August 17, Metro Transit eliminated the following overnight trips on weekday mornings: 

  • the two eastbound trips that depart Minneapolis at 2:14 and 3:14 a.m. 
  • the two westbound trips that depart St. Paul at 2:16 and 3:02 a.m.  

The Green Line was never intended to operate 24 hours. But community support ensured that around-the-clock service became included. The Blue Line operates 24-hour service on weekends; on weekdays, it has a 2-hour gap in northbound and southbound service overnight.  

It is important to note that the Green Line will still continue to run overnight. But instead of trains, buses will operate those trips. Many news agencies, elected officials and advocates erroneously reported this change as a service cut.  

Nonetheless, the move to reduce Green Line service was not without controversy. Advocates, as well as local and national media outlets, derided the decision as a move to displace the unhoused who frequently used the Green Line as shelter. Individuals and organizations, including The Alliance, formerly known as the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, alleges that Metro Transit wanted to shut down overnight Green Line service “due in large part to the light-rail being used for shelter as the number of people experiencing homelessness in our region continues to grow”.  

With overnight trains no longer an option for the unhoused, where should they go? Sure, they could go to shelters that are overcrowded and unsafe (However, more shelter beds will be available soon in Ramsey County). But that’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. In order to address the homelessness crisis once and for all, we must make it easier for everyone, regardless of their background, to access housing.  

Minneapolis: Let’s Make It Easier To Access Housing 

Let’s start with what Minneapolis is proposing. Minneapolis has two ordinances in the works to increase access to housing for those with difficult backgrounds. The first proposed ordinance prohibits landlords from using a prospective tenant’s credit history, and it limits their ability to use prospective tenants’ rental and criminal history, in deciding whether to rent to them. Landlords can also choose to consider a prospective tenant’s credit, rental, and criminal history, so long as they consider additional information from prospective tenants that explain their difficult rental, criminal, or credit history.  

The second ordinance puts limits on security deposits. Landlords can either ask for first month’s rent, as well as a deposit equivalent to the first month’s rent from the prospective tenant. They can also ask for first and last month’s rent, as well as a deposit that is no more than half of one month’s rent from the prospective tenant. Under the second option, a tenant can choose to pay the security deposit in installments.  

 Option 1 – Security Deposit = 1 month’s rent   Option 2 – Security Deposit = ½ month’s rent + installment option  
Upfront costs for renter:  

Security Deposit + first month’s rent  

Upfront costs for renter:  

Security deposit + first month’s rent + additional rent  

Example – Rent = $1000/month  

Security Deposit = $1000 +  

First Month’s Rent =$1000  

Total upfront costs for potential renter: $2000  

Example – Rent = $1000/month  

*Security Deposit = $500 +  

First Month’s Rent = $1000 +  

Last Month’s Rent = $1000  

Total upfront costs for potential renter = $2,500  

*$500 security deposit may be paid over 3 months  

Table: Examples of Security Deposit Options. Source: City of Minneapolis 
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A Safe & Affordable Neighborhoods Minneapolis lawn sign is placed on a lawn on an apartment complex in the Phillips’ neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Safe & Affordable Neighborhoods Minneapolis is an initiative of the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association. Photo: Henry Pan

The ordinances face obstacles. The Minnesota Multi-Housing Association (MHA) is opposed to them. According to their website, they contend that the legislation will make it more difficult to ensure that “applicants will be good neighbors to all” by “not allowing property managers to screen for the most violent crimes and other serious criminal offenses”. Consequently, they believe that neighborhoods will become more expensive and that the housing supply will be significantly constrained and neglected.   

Advocates contend that MHA’s policy platform reeks of racism. In a letter to the MHA written by Inquinidxs Unidxs Por Justicia (IX), they contend that the positions of the MHA stoke “white people’s fears of people of color,” because people of color are “disproportionately incarcerated and criminalized by our justice system, In addition, in a letter of support of the proposed ordinances, they highlight that single black women with children and neighborhoods that are majority non-white are more likely to be affected by evictions, and that credit scores are significantly lower in nonwhite ZIP Codes and based on limited information on someone’s ability to pay rent.  

At a rally that IX hosted at the headquarters of the MHA, members of IX further contend that housing is already hard to access. Lacey Gonzalez, a mother of three mixed-race children whose family works two full-time jobs, talked about how prospective tenants have to “pay application fees, in addition to first and last month’s rent, along with security deposits” to access housing. This makes it hard for family; she says that “anytime we have to find housing, we have to work three full-time jobs in order to be able to afford to have a safe place for our children to live.” Gonzalez also has bad credit. The bad credit has made it difficult for her to find housing, despite her demonstrated financial responsibility. “No landlord has cared that I pay rent on time. Landlords have rejected my application, despite the fact that I paid all of my debts, and have never paid rent late once in 10 years.” 

Advocates also contend that the properties their members live in – most of their members are low-income renters – are already being neglected, no matter how much rent they already pay. Luis, through an interpreter, said at the rally, “When we’re paying our rent and we ask for repairs, all they want to do is evict us. And the apartments we live in are in terrible condition, and it’s so sad to see rents increase when nothing gets improved in the apartment.” Gonzalez echoes this sentiment, saying, “they make us live with pests and unsecured buildings because they only want to profit. They come in and buy my building, turn over maybe two or three units, raise rent more than a couple hundred dollars, and then they say it’s my fault that my apartment is not clean”.  

This legislation has the potential to help many of the unhoused get out of homelessness. But it needs your help to ensure that it becomes reality. A public hearing will be held about these ordinances on Wednesday, August 28, 2019. It will be held as part of the Housing Policy & Development Committee. The meeting is scheduled to start at 1:30pm. If you cannot go, both the MHA and IX, along with IX’s partner organizations, encourage people to contact their City Council members. Supporters of the proposed ordinances can click here to sign a letter 

The Overnight Light Rail Shutdown Is Distracting Us From What We Really Need To Do 

Minneapolis’ two renter protections ordinances, as well as increasing shelter beds, are only some of the measures that local government bodies should be doing. No, Metro Transit should not restore overnight service on the Green Line with the sole purpose of giving the unhoused shelter. Instead, for example, Metro Transit should be converting buses that they are currently retiring into shelter, like what Hawaii did.   

But those are short term solutions. Metro Transit, Met Council, and all City and County governments in the Metro have an obligation to solve the housing crisis. In the coming weeks, I will talk about some of the solutions each of these agencies have developed, as well as what more these agencies could do to solve the housing crisis once and for all.  

H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏

About H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏

H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏 (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is a Minneapolis-based introverted freelance journalist who reports primarily on their lifelong passion: transportation issues. Find them on a bus of all types, the sidewalk, bike lane, hiking trail or perhaps the occasional carshare vehicle, camera and perhaps watercolor set or mushroom brush in tow, in your community or state or regional park regardless of season. If you can’t find them, they’re probably cooking, writing, curating an archive of wall art or brochures, playing board games, sewing or cuddling with their cat. Follow on Twitter: @h_pan3 or Instagram: @hpphmore or on BlueSky: hpan3 dot bsky dot social See bylines after March 2020 in Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Racket, Minnesota Reformer, Next City, The Guardian, Daily Yonder and MinnPost.