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An open letter to Mayor Ness and the Duluth City Council

Home sweet home? photo: Deb Holman

April 27, 2014
TO: Duluth Mayor Don Ness
Duluth City Council
FROM: Concerned people of Duluth

At its first meeting of the year, the Duluth City Council, with the support of Mayor Ness, unanimously passed a resolution supporting a Homeless Bill of Rights and committing the City to take bold action to end homelessness.

Three months later, the city has not appointed a single person to the Human Rights Commission, the body tasked with implementing the resolution. In recent days, Mayor Ness has been quoted by the Duluth News-Tribune calling housing projects for the chronically homeless a “distraction,” and urging Duluth to “stay focused on market-rate housing.”

Homelessness remains a life-and-death struggle for hundreds of Duluthians, and a looming threat to thousands more. In March, the Minnesota Housing Partnership issued a report that identified Duluth as the least affordable rental housing market in the state, with an astounding 59% of Duluth renters paying more than they can afford for housing.

Duluth’s housing shortage is felt most acutely by low-income Duluthians. They will not be saved by imagined trickle-down benefits of investment in higher-end “market rate” housing. Please do not let the Homeless Bill of Rights be mere empty words. We urge you to take action today, hand in hand with housing advocates, landlords, the faith community and people experiencing poverty, to build a Duluth in which everyone has a safe place to call home. We can start by creating opportunities for poor Duluthians to have a voice in city policy and funding decisions; improving rental rules to reduce barriers to fair housing; and investing in housing for people who are least able to afford it.

As the late Steve O’Neil said, “homelessness is as wrong and unjust today as it has always been.” Homelessness is an economic, social and moral crisis that cannot be tolerated in a just and democratic society. Duluth can do better.

This letter was signed by nearly 300 people who participated in the “A Place to Call Home” concert at Sacred Heart Music Center to honor the memory and legacy of Steve O’Neil. You can see the full list of signatories here.

1 Comment

Carla

about 7 months ago

Joel, I absolutely respect what you are trying to do and wish you luck. I have recently been made aware of a new method of social problem solving called "collective impact." It is a methodology developed at Stanford and MIT. The way it works is that all of the stakeholders and interested parties in an issue are assembled and asked to strategize and negotiate until a solution is reached. Concurrently, a funding entity (public or private) selects an employee (or several) to serve - not exactly as director - but as someone who follows the process and makes sure that people do what they say they are going to do and that the meetings and negotiations go forward without petering out until a workable solution is discovered and implemented. That system could be used in Duluth but it would require funding. The Duluth City Council has no real power to do such a thing. But the Saint Louis County Board probably does. Somebody has to put some real skin in the game in order for a solution to be had. Economically speaking, it is not possible for housing built by union labor with modern materials to be constructed in Duluth for much below $250 per square foot. That puts the financing rate at about $2 per square foot per month. So for a 1,000-square-foot apartment, the mortgage payment is going to be in the neighborhood of $1,700 per month. That does not include upkeep, utilities or taxes. If the mayor hasn't done anything, it's not because of intent, it is because of economic reality. Additionally, there needs to be buy in from the homeless themselves. Public housing projects are notorious cesspools. But there have been projects where the residents are organized and police themselves. That is a crucial component. It's great that you and 300 other people signed the letter. But that will not help unless people are willing to do some real work and put up some real money.

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