Activating the Power of Young Voices For the Working Family Credit

This blog was written by Shannon Holloman about a community conversation Voices for Racial Justice was a part of that took place in April with young workers about economic prosperity and the role of tax credits, specifically Minnesota’s Working Family Credit (WFC) and the push to expand it during this legislative session so that more young people receive more back at tax time.

On the evening of April 16, we, along with our partners Minnesota Budget Project, Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, Ujamaa Place, Voices for Racial Justice, and Youthprise, hosted a community conversation with young workers about economic prosperity and the role of tax credits, specifically Minnesota’s Working Family Credit (WFC) and the push to expand it during this legislative session so that more young people receive more back at tax time.

The gathering was designed to build momentum around the WFC and to activate the voices of young people. The night started off with a performance by Individuals With Dreams (IWD), a group of entrepreneurs who connects individuals to their dreams by mentoring and teaching entrepreneurship, striving to uplift the community through creative expression and outreach. Their goal is to create a brighter future for youth by establishing economic growth in Twin Cities’ neighborhoods and changing the mindsets of the next generation. The IWD performers set the tone for the night speaking about eliminating negative stereotypes that surround young people, specifically young men of color, and empowering youth voices and diverse talents to fulfill their purpose, passion, and peace in life.

“The revolution will be televised. Our ancestors have been systemically removed from our society, to the fathers in our households to the Martin Luther Kings of the world. Still even with all the great leaders that we know about, there is still a negative stigma on the black male. We have been viewed as thugs, criminals, monsters, and even animals. This is what happens when others tell your story. We are way more than that, we are visionaries, entrepreneurs, creators and role models. Together we are being leaders to changing the narrative of young black males. This is our story to tell and for once the revolution will be televised.”

Historically, young taxpayers of all backgrounds have been shut out of access to (or omitted from eligibility for) refundable tax credits, which play an important role in economic stability and success.  In 2017, Minnesota became the first state in the country to pass legislation, which takes effect this year, to extend the Working Family Credit (our state’s Earned Income Tax Credit) to younger workers without dependent children, helping them get a foot hold in the work force while also being able to meet basic needs.

However, currently, a full-time, year round worker earning minimum wage makes too much to qualify for the WFC. Advocates are working to strengthen the WFC, including a push for a larger tax credit (increasing the dollar amount received) and an increased income threshold (raising the income limit so more young people will be able to qualify).

At the community conversation, more than a dozen young people gathered to learn about the WFC and the plans to expand it, and how they could take action and raise their voice to increase our likelihood of success. We discussed the most significant barriers young people face in achieving economic success and discussed what a boost to their income through the WFC would mean.

The evening took a powerful turn when Stevenson Morgan, employment and evening coordinator for Ujamaa Place also challenged everyone in the room to flip the script on barriers and instead focus on actions.

From Stevenson’s question came:

  • “Set part of it aside for savings and share the rest with others.”
  • “Use money to build up my side hustle and support my entrepreneur skills.”
  • “Invest in my mechanic business and hopefully it can be a catalyst to help others in my community.”

Marcus Pope, vice president for Youthprise, “piggy backed” off of this idea of community and had the room think beyond an individual boost to tax refunds.

Weaving together the power of community and collective action we took time to write our stories and the ways an expanded Working Family Credit can assist young workers to overcome economic barriers and reach their financial goals.

In these few remaining weeks of session, policymakers will be making important decisions about taxes and tax credits like the WFC. Refundable tax credits play an important role in racial equity and promoting, protecting, and strengthening financial security for all.

We will be sharing stories and educating policymakers about the economic challenges younger people face and how the WFC expansion would benefit them.  If you are interested in writing a letter to your legislator about the importance of Minnesota’s WFC, please contact Shannon at shannon@prepareandprosper.org.

 

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Protecting the Renters Credit is a Racial Justice Issue: Part Four

This is the final part of a piece written in collaboration with Brett Grant (Voices for Racial Justice), Clark Biegler Goldenrod (Minnesota Budget Project), Roberto de la Riva (Inquilinxs Unidxs), and Eric Hauge (HOME line).   Read part 1 here,  part 2 here, and part 3 here

Policy Proposals to Protect Renters in the Twin Cities

Disparate Cities is a special report by Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia that examines how housing policy — incentives, regulation, and deregulation — have created a socioeconomic underclass in the Twin Cities. This class includes people of all demographic makeups, but people of color, women, and renters are disproportionately represented. The report examines three strategies for redressing these wrongs and for creating a more democratic society: a tenants’ bill of rights, tenants’ unions, and housing cooperatives.

Tenants’ Bill of Rights

A tenants’ bill of rights gives tenants additional legal mechanisms to more evenly negotiate with their landlord, over applications, repairs, or displacement. “A tenants’ bill of rights is universal; it doesn’t explicitly outline policies that will support women, people of color, or other specific demographic groups. However, because it will help renters, it will also help lessen racial and gender inequalities.” Policy makers can advocate publically for a tenants’ bill of rights and be ready to explain how they can benefit all Minnesotans. Before writing a bill, they should consult with tenants and other stakeholders, as some Minneapolis City Council members have begun to do. Finally, they should pass the strongest tenant protections they can.

Tenants’ Unions

A tenants’ union is a structured association of tenants that allows for negotiating on a more even playing field with owners. Policy makers can help at a basic level by speaking positively and often of tenants’ unions. Policy should be enacted to fund enforcement when landlords deny their tenant’s their rights. This funding should include funds for tenant organizing of unions, one of the most efficient enforcement measures. Unions are the most effective tool for enforcing housing codes and combating run-away landlord profits, which, in Minneapolis, have been 60 percent or higher in some of the worst buildings.

Housing Co-ops

Housing Co-ops encompass multiple properties and are designed to keep housing permanently affordable and democratically controlled. In a co-op structure, rather than being tenants, residents are associates: they are business partners, neighbors, and creative collaborators. Associates of a co-op may organize a daycare, for example, or any other structure they choose that would allow them to meet their own needs, and are free to make their own decisions rather than being thrown about by an unaffordable market.

Lawmakers should talk publicly about the benefits of housing co-ops. A simple first step is to enact a right of first refusal so that tenants who wish to see their building become part of a co-op have that chance. (For example, Washington, DC, has the “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act”). Eventually, lawmakers should offer financial support to tenants wishing to buy into a co-op and to co-ops wishing to expand their housing stock.

So, where do we go from here?

If policies are informed by racial equity, the federal government would suppress predatory lending and fortify programs that provide affordable home mortgages and refinancing arrangements. Today, however, the Trump administration and Congress are gearing up to remove federal fair lending protections, and are making it easier to hide emerging patterns of predatory financing. In the long term, city and state government policymakers will have to find solutions to this, root out abuses in real estate lending, and close racial gaps in homeownership. In the short term, they will have to protect renters who cannot afford to own their own homes. Minnesota offers a way to do this.

Eric Hauge, Executive Director of Home Line, a non profit Minnesota tenant advocacy organization, explains that during almost every legislative session, there are bills introduced to cut or “reform” (negatively impact) the Minnesota renters credit. “Usually they target the percent used to calculate the portion of rent that went to property taxes, proposing to decrease it,” he says. Hauge reminds us that in 2019, there will be discussions about the need to conform to federal changes in tax law and that advocates will need to make sure the Renters Credit is transitioned through that process without significant reductions or changes to the populations targeted by the refund, and that provisions of Minnesota’s current Renters Credit program are maintained and perhaps even improved to best serve the needs of low-income communities of color, indigenous communities, and seniors.

As the Disparate Cities report states, “The problems facing renters have been decades in the making, they will not be solved with a one-time hand out to suppliers or consumers.” Non profit organizations, both urban and rural, state lawmakers, advocates, artists, and healers must work in collaboration to ensure that renters’ voices are heard in and throughout public policy.

 

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Protecting the Renters Credit is a Racial Justice Issue: Part Three

This is a piece written in collaboration with Brett Grant (Voices for Racial Justice), Clark Biegler Goldenrod (Minnesota Budget Project), Roberto de la Riva (Inquilinxs Unidxs), and Eric Hauge (HOME line).  It will be released in four parts over the next few weeks.  Read part four here

Who Receives the Renters Credit?

In 2015, about 328,000 Minnesota households received the Renters Credit. Most households receiving the credit had incomes of around $31,000 or less.

According to the Minnesota Budget Project, the average amount of Renters Credit received in 2015 was $636. More than a quarter of the households receiving the Renters Credit included senior citizens and/or people with disabilities; for these households the average credit was $702. The share of households who receive the credit that include seniors or people with disabilities tends to be higher in Greater Minnesota. In 12 Greater Minnesota counties, at least half of the participating households included seniors and/or persons with disabilities.

Racial Equity Implications of the Renters Credit

In Minnesota, racial equity policies to eliminate socio-economic and racial disparities center around the belief that what we look like and where we come from should not determine the benefits, burdens, or responsibilities we bear in our society. Despite Minnesota’s reputation as one of the most progressive and thriving states in the country, we cannot escape the legacy of present and past discrimination. To reverse this legacy, numerous community organizations have adopted policy strategies grounded in racial equity, or “the development of policies, practices and strategic investments to reverse racial disparity trends, eliminate institutional racism, and ensure that outcomes and opportunities for all people are no longer predictable by race,” as a central part of their organizing principles.

A look at the racial composition of renters in Minnesota shows that almost three quarters of low-income black Minnesotans are renting. About 60 percent of people who identify as Ojibwe are renting. Half of low-income Hmong folks in Minnesota are renting, and 90 percent of low-income Somali Minnesotans are renting. For our purposes, we define people as being low-income if they are living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line or below. For example, a family of three with an income of $42,000 is living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Table 1 – Selected Low-Income POCI Populations Living in Minnesota

Estimated Population Renting Proportion Renting
Black Minnesotans 84,000 74 percent
Somali Minnesotans 16,000 90 percent
Hmong Minnesotans 10,000 48 percent
Mexican Minnesotans 34,000 60 percent
Ojibwe 8,000 58 percent
Lakota 1,300 53 percent

Race Equity Implications for Minnesotans with Children

The implications for many communities of color with children in Minnesota are similar. About 80 percent of low-income black Minnesotans who have children are renting, which translates to about 41,000 Minnesotans. Minnesotans from Mexico who have children are also likely renting in high numbers, about 21,000 Minnesotans.

Table 2 – Selected Low-Income POCI Families with Children Living in Minnesota

Estimated Population Renting Proportion with Children Renting
Black Minnesotans 41,000 82 percent
Somali Minnesotans 9,000 91 percent
Hmong Minnesotans 6,000 53 percent
Mexican Minnesotans 21,000 62 percent
Ojibwe 3,700 69 percent
Lakota 700 64 percent

 

Race Equity Implications for Seniors

A look at the racial equity implications for seniors who are renting in Minnesota shows that most low-income senior Somali Minnesotans are renting. Close to 70 percent of low-income black seniors in Minnesota are renting, which is about 5,000 people. About half of Ojibwe seniors are renting. Over 60 percent of Hmong seniors are renting, and about 40 percent of Mexican seniors are renting.

Table 3 – Selected Low-Income POCI Seniors Living in Minnesota

Estimated Seniors Renting Proportion of Seniors Renting
Black Minnesotans 5,000 67 percent
Somali Minnesotans 1,500 98 percent
Hmong Minnesotans 600 64 percent
Mexican Minnesotans 800 39 percent
Ojibwe 700 49 percent

 

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