Our Voices

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

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 week.  Read part three here

Renters in Minnesota

Housing policies throughout Minnesota in the form of incentives, regulation, and deregulation, have created a socioeconomic underclass in the state. This class includes people of all demographic makeups, but people of color, women, and renters are disproportionately represented. If we are to help create a truly free and equal state through public policy, we must work to undo the power-imbalances that give rise to these disparities.

In Minnesota and across the country, since the collapse of the housing market, the economy has improved while the lives of people who are poor and working class have gotten worse. The disparities and power-imbalances in housing markets around the country were exacerbated by the Great Recession. Many of the homeowners who had been targeted by predatory lenders saw all equity in their homes evaporate nearly overnight, and were forced into the rental market. The earlier discrimination that locked women and people of color out of the housing market pushed them into the rental market and more recent discrimination locked them out of the prime mortgage market and pushed them into the rental market as well.

This discrimination of the past is reflected in cities such as Minneapolis. Female-headed households are more likely to be cost burdened than male headed households. Black-headed households are nearly twice as likely to be cost burdened as white-headed households. People who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to be homeless. Most federal money spent on housing goes to wealthy homeowners in the form of regressive tax credits. The subsidies that are available for renters are exclusively available for very low-income renters, mostly in the form of public housing and Section 8 vouchers, both of which have seen such massive disinvestment in recent years that only a small percentage of renters who qualify for these programs have access to them. Furthermore, in Minneapolis, private landlords may choose to accept Section 8 vouchers or not, and are free to stop accepting them at any time.

The Renters Credit

According to the Minnesota Budget Project, a research and advocacy organization that works towards a future where all Minnesotans have access to economic opportunities and well-being, the Renters Credit is a tax credit that refunds a portion of the property taxes that renters have paid through their rents. Tax refunds received through the Renters Credit help people who struggle to pay the bills, many of whom belong to communities of color and American Indian communities. Minnesotans report that when they receive this property tax refund, they use it to buy medicine or school clothes for their children, to catch up on bills, or for other basic needs. This spending in turn boosts our local economies.

While the Renters Credit is not a solution to the discriminatory housing practices and policies of the past, it is a tool that provides renters some financial relief and can perhaps offer a chance at more significant and long-term asset/wealth building. Below are a few portions of testimony prepared by HOME Line for one of the times they testified at the Minnesota Legislature about the renters credit:

As has been covered extensively, low-income renters are facing a difficult time with increased housing expenses, while other costs of living are increasing too. Many folks–especially seniors and people with disabilities–are on fixed incomes and are having difficulty making ends meet. That’s where the Renters Credit comes in—it makes a real difference in people’s lives when they receive their refund. Every year around this time (the landlords Certificate of Rent Paid (CRP) form is due to tenants by January 31) is when folks are applying for their refund, and we start hearing from renters across the state about the types of things they spend it on. And then the refund is timed perfectly for families with kids–it comes in mid to late August, when everyone is preparing for the start of school. It’s not uncommon that refunds are spent on clothes and supplies for the new school year, as well as childcare for younger siblings who aren’t off to school yet. One thing we’ve heard consistently is that the Refund goes towards basic needs. It’s almost exclusively spent within the nearby community on items that we all take for granted. We hear from seniors and families who spend their refunds on:

  • household needs – laundry, cleaning supplies / toothpaste, toilet paper, soap and other toiletries;
  • out of pocket prescription costs and other important over-the-counter medicines and drugs;
  • prescription eye-wear and dental expenses not covered by insurance;
  • winter boots and other seasonal clothing needs;
  • school supplies and kids clothing for school;
  • maintenance and upkeep on automobiles, licenses/tabs, insurance or other transportation costs like Metro Mobility–especially for seniors, to keep them mobile so they can visit their doctor;
  • bills: telephone service, utilities, etc.;
  • stocking up on groceries for the winter;
  • Christmas presents for family members, postage for holiday cards;
  • catching up on overall household expenses to keep head above water.

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

This is the first piece in a series 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 2 here

 In Minnesota, people from black and indigenous communities are more likely to be renters than homeowners. For generations of white American families, homeownership has been a fundamental means of accumulating wealth. Their homes have grown in value over time, providing security in retirement, and serving as an asset against which they can borrow for education or other purposes.

For generations of communities of color and indigenous communities who were shut out of early federal programs that promoted homeownership, such as the New Deal mortgage insurance system that generated the mid-20th-century homeownership boom, this missed opportunity to amass wealth that white Americans took for granted is evident to this day. For example, in the African-American community, it is evident in a black-white wealth gap, black-white health disparities, poor living conditions, and dismal educational opportunities for African-Americans.

Historical Barriers to Homeownership for African-Americans

Historically, African-Americans were shut out of early federal programs that promoted homeownership. In the 2017 volume, The Fight for Fair Housing: Causes, Consequences and Future Implications of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act, housing expert, Lisa Rice, notes that federal programs created to support homeownership dating to the 19th century “largely, and in some cases, exclusively benefited whites” while making it difficult for black citizens to achieve the dream of owning homes and land.

Black Americans were initially unable to take advantage of the Homestead Act, under which the federal government encouraged westward migration by giving away tens of millions of acres to settler citizens. Former enslaved black Americans gained full citizenship with the 14th Amendment and became eligible for land grants; however, that right became irrelevant with the collapse of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, and the limitations on the rights of black people that Southern states placed in their constitutions.

This pattern of exclusion continued into the Great Depression. For example, the Homeowners Loan Corporation, established in the 1930s to refinance mortgages, set a discriminatory pattern when it drew lines around black communities — a system known as “redlining” — and decreed them “unsafe” for federal investment.

That system of exclusion was picked up by the Federal Housing Administration, created in 1934 to encourage homeownership with federally backed mortgage insurance. A 2017 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago featured in the New York Times found “evidence of a long-run decline in homeownership, house values and credit scores” that persists to this day in the formerly redlined neighborhoods.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 ended the most outrageous forms of housing discrimination and brought a modest rise in black homeownership. But studies continue to show pervasive discrimination in housing, and whites with lower incomes still have greater access than middle-class African-Americans to mixed-income communities.

Unfortunately, the gains and the wealth that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 represented were wiped out a decade ago in the Great Recession, which reduced African-American homeownership rates to levels not seen since housing discrimination was legal in the 1960s. These losses reflect the fact that black people who were eligible for affordable credit were victimized by predatory loans that paid off handsomely for brokers and lenders, but led borrowers to foreclosure.

Current Barriers to Homeownership

An analysis by the nonprofit organization, Urban Institute, of the black-white homeownership gap in 100 cities across the country shows that none have actually closed the ownership gap. The gap was widest in Northeastern and Midwestern cities. The widest gaps, listed in order of severity, were found in Minneapolis, MN; Albany, NY; Buffalo, NY; New York, NY; Salisbury, MD; and Bridgeport, CT. The cities with the smallest gaps were found in Killeen, TX; Fayetteville, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Austin, TX; and Augusta, GA.

Communities of color and indigenous communities that were ravaged by predatory lenders during the run-up to the recession have now been shut out of the credit market entirely because of tightened lending standards. Some of these communities have seen the return of a particularly pernicious predatory lending system known as contract for deed. Such contract for deed programs were especially difficult on black communities in Chicago and Baltimore, in particular, during the mid-20th century.



Change is in the air: News of my transition from Voices for Racial Justice

Vina Kay
(Photo by Jenn Ackermann)

Dear Friends,

I am writing to share with you some changes – both in my life and at Voices for Racial Justice. I have accepted an opportunity to join Race Forward as Vice President of Movement and Capacity Building, so will be moving out of my role at Voices on March 15.

I am excited about the opportunity to bring the experience that I have gained in my work at Voices for Racial Justice to an organization working at the national level. My grounding in and respect for grassroots racial justice organizing – which is truly the heart of the movement – will inform how I think about supporting a racial justice movement from a national perspective.

As I considered this opportunity, it was leaving Voices that gave me the most pause. I truly love our organization and our team. Over my nearly eight years at Voices and last five years as executive director, we have experienced significant challenges, but also incredible growth. Our strategic vision has offered a clear set of values and a roadmap for the work ahead. The healing justice framework that we committed to in our strategic planning process has informed all of our work, both internally and in community. Although it is difficult for me to leave this family in an official way, I also know that Voices is in the strongest place it has ever been. We have a talented, committed, grounded, and creative team that I am confident will continue to lead this work beautifully.

In preparing for this transition, our team imagined an executive leadership model that would be in alignment with our strategic vision of tending to the soil, and developed a transition plan that uplifts the knowledge and experience of our team. Our interim executive team will be made up of three co-directors, all strong leaders from our staff and board.  

  • Fayise Abrahim, Interim Executive Co-Director, Programs
  • Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez, Interim Executive Co-Director, Communications
  • Monica Bryand, Interim Executive Co-Director, Operations

Incoming Interim Co-Directors Monica Bryand (Operations), Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez (Communications), and Fayise Abrahim (Programs).

During this interim period, the board and staff will be assessing the needs and the plan for long-term leadership of the organization

I feel fortunate that we have such a strong team, both staff and board, ready to lead this transition. I am humbled and grateful for their support as I prepare to move into a different role in our shared movement.  

I hope that you can join our Voices team for an open house and celebratory farewell at our office on March 14th from 5:00 – 7:00 pm. I look forward to seeing you then.

In solidarity,

Vina Kay

Executive Director