Debt in Duluth

I was reading a recent DNT article about the Twin Ports credit debt. Mainly, how it’s one of the highest in the country. Just nutty, but got me to thinking about my personal debt and why I have it. What do I have to put on a credit card? Well the creditor changes, but it is always that — a creditor. Cellphone, electric, Charter … they have all had the plastic treatment.

Why does this happen though? I work 60 hours a week, make a living wage … perplexing.

Rent in Duluth is too high. Median income is $38,392, HOUSEHOLD! Why am I paying $500 for a studio in a converted house with a shared bathroom? This can most likely be attributed to a high student population whose parents just write a check. But why will anyone stay after they finish school? They won’t find a job and if they do they won’t make enough to pay their school loans.

There needs to be some landlord control. There must be some sort of equation that can be applied, that takes property value and tax as well as income of the renting majority when calculating rent. Something! I love Duluth, but I could live in Minneapolis for cheaper.

And P.S. the apartments suck. I will go out on a limb and say that a lot of them are not in compliance with code, but get away with it because Duluth has no money to enforce its ordinance. They also have no character; from what I can tell anything with historic significance is covered in aluminum siding and carpet. Well done.

Does anyone have thoughts on this?


Paul Lundgren

about 12 years ago

Drop your cellphone and cable. That will amount to three or four months of free rent per year. (As someone who doesn't have a cellphone or cable, I can vouch for that.)

$6,000 a year for a roof over your head doesn't seem like much if you're willing to pay $600 a year for extra TV shows. 

It's not easy to make ends meet in this world, but I don't think it's your landlord who is ripping you off.

Barrett Chase

about 12 years ago

1. If you judge that your problems are caused by students, move to a neighborhood where students don't live. Have you tried living in Proctor? What about Gary or Superior? You'll most likely get more for your money in these areas.

2. Consider spending more to get more. Sure, $500 for your place is exorbitant, but most studios are a ripoff. Another $100 along with some patience and resourcefulness can put you into a nice two-bedroom.

3. Remember, rent is highly negotiable. Just because the landlord is asking a certain price doesn't mean the price is firm. I once rented an apartment for $650 that was originally $900. All I compromised was that I had to mow the lawn and shovel the sidewalk.

4. Why live in Duluth? Do you ever envision yourself buying a house? Find a nice house here and look at the price. Now think about buying that house in the Twin Cities. The price automatically doubles.

Danny G

about 12 years ago

So what you're saying is ... the rent is too damn high?


about 12 years ago

Paul's got an excellent point. Just because the rent is the highest amount in your budget, that doesn't automatically make it the thing you're paying too much for.

We dropped cable years ago, and when the cable guy came to unhook it, he said "where are you moving to?"

We said "Nowhere, we're just not going to pay that much for TV."

He said, "Hmm. I've never seen that happen before."


about 12 years ago

The equation you're looking for is the renter's refund as described on MN Property Tax Form M1PR.


about 12 years ago

The price doesn't automatically double.  Depends on the where the house is.  Homes in Duluth are way overpriced compared to other areas.  Look at what you can get for 150,000 in Duluth and then look at the Twin Cites, Fargo, Eau Claire.  Usually a newer home with more square feet.


about 12 years ago

It's called learning to live within are means and learn to budget your expenses...don't eat out all the time, cut cable, find affordable rent, get a roommate, and so on.


about 12 years ago

I don't know very many students whose parents just write a check.  Lots of those students are working 20+ hours a week in addition to full class loads and taking on student loans to get through, as you point out -- contradicting your initial indignation.

Yes, rental rules need to be changed.  Yes, living expenses are too high.  But do what Joe said -- examine your choices.  It's not someone else's fault that you're in the hole, just like it's nobody else's fault that I am, either.


about 12 years ago

I moved to Duluth from St. Paul and Duluth is much more affordable when comparing comparable housing and comparable locations.  I also rented in Duluth from 1999 - 2004 and paid $550 for the bottom level of a duplex, two bedrooms, fireplace, real nice in East Hillside.  I also never have had cable tv and never will.

I'd search around for cheaper rent, drop the cable and perhaps the cell phone.  

And, if you plan on staying, at today's interest rates you can get a $100,000 house for a bit over $600 month, an $85,000 house gets you under $500 a month (plus the other expenses of home ownership like heat, but hey).


about 12 years ago

Cable TV is not the devil, but Charter Communications is.


about 12 years ago

I will say it again: wages in this area are artificially low.


about 12 years ago

Housing and transportation costs both have been taking a growing proportion of median household income for many years.

Our country has had a bipartisan policy of inflating home values for decades through the mortgage interest deduction, FHA backed loans, and other incentives. Artificially inflated real estate values have allowed consumer spending to grow even while real wages remained flat.

These factors have increased rent prices without increasing renter's income.


about 12 years ago

In recent history (like . . . when I was a renter), rent as a percentage of income was high in Duluth.  According to this article, it's gotten better in the past couple of years:
Which makes sense, because more rentals are available, both because people in financial trouble are living with family or friends or otherwise doubling up in one living space, and because sometimes when people can't sell their house, they'll rent it out.

Not that any of that helps explain why we have more debt here.  Is that a relatively low median household income?  Most financial advisers say not to spend more than 1/3 of your income on housing.  In this case, if you divide by 12 and back out 25% for taxes and whatever, that leaves $800 per month for rent or mortgage.  I don't think that's super hard to find in Duluth.  The problem is when you're way on the low income end of the spectrum - then there's no way to rent for under 1/3 of your income.  It gets to be closer to half, and that leaves so very little for groceries and gas.  I'm really lucky to not be *there* anymore - but with two kids in full-time daycare, housing is no longer my biggest expense.  It seems like no matter what you bring home, it all gets soaked up somewhere.


about 12 years ago

Rent has fallen a bit with housing prices since the crash.  But witness the frantic efforts of the past couple of years to keep housing prices artificially high. (first-time buyers credit, etc.) These efforts help people who own homes at the expense of those who would like to buy and those who rent. 

The fact remains in recent decades the discretionary portion of household budgets has been squeezed by housing and transportation.


about 12 years ago

Work more. Eat out less.  Blow up your TV.  Problem solved.

Jeff P

about 12 years ago

I think this is a case of the grass being greener. I am constantly looking at real estate in Duluth for when I can convince my wife to move back there. I live in a 250k house that has taxes on it in the range of 6k a year. That equates to about $2,200 a month for the roof. $1,900 for the 2 kids in a daycare. $700 for the cars.  I could move back to Duluth and buy a 4-bedroom house in Morgan park and make 15 bucks an hour and my wife could stay home with the kids. We would survive and maybe even thrive a little more than here in New Hampshire. Now if we could just sell our house here...


about 12 years ago

Remember that job listing from a few days ago:

Minimum of a Bachelors Degree in Social Work or an applicable field (MSW preferred) or 4 years of equivalent work experience

Pay: $12.50-14 per hour

Good luck.


about 12 years ago

Duluth is great place to live if you can make a living.


about 12 years ago

Rental housing is up for inspection every 4 years, at which time the landlord has to do a walk through with an inspector from the city to make sure everything is to code. It costs around $250 to do, depending on how many units are in the house. They have 30 days to bring the property into compliance, or they lose their license. 

To put it into perspective, if a landlord owns one duplex with 2 bedroom units, they average around $1,600 a month in income. Subtract a mortgage payment of approx $600 a month for every $100,000 on a 30-year mortgage, a monthly utility bill (usually water, sewer, shared electric, and in many cases gas or oil), house insurance, taxes, and yearly maintenance costs -- sometimes thousands of dollars in unexpected bills due to a broken water line or furnace. Then you get douchebag tenants who never pay their rent on time, flush mountains of tampons down the toilet, and get into drunken fist fights with their boyfriends, breaking windows and smashing in doors. 

You should try being a landlord before you go off on your whiny rants about how it sucks to pay for your housing. Or move to the cities if you think the grass is greener, but everyone I know tells me it's way more expensive.


about 12 years ago

We rented for a few months when we first moved here, then bought a house and paid the same in our monthly mortgage payment as we'd been paying in rent. If you intend to stay here for a while... definitely buy. And in terms of cell phone, I use my cell as my business line, so I pay top dollar and get lots of minutes, but my husband has one of those no-contract phones, he loads $20 into it every three months and it's fine for him. Look around, you can find deals on cell phones. Good luck.

Wes Scott

about 12 years ago

Charter Cable is the devil! Digital over the air TV is FREE! By a antenna they work just great. I have done so. Rent is too high compared to incomes. A problem all across the Northland. Three schools in Duluth force the rents up plain and simple. I think choices have to be made as the bills have all come due.

For the price of cable, a cell phone and other things people think as needed you can pay your rent or most of it. It's not the 1970s anymore.


about 12 years ago

I bought a house here just because I had to see what it felt like to kick my own ass in a major rehab.  I guess I was tired of renting, and with familial obligations locking me into Minnesota, felt this was the least worst option, sort of like Knockwurst, but different.  It's been real. I'm glad there's lively discourse on PDD to vent.  When it all becomes too much to bear, I'll simply wander into the lake never to be seen again.

Barrett Chase

about 12 years ago

If I get rid of cable, how am I supposed to watch Bait Car?


about 12 years ago

Wife's car will be paid off in March.  I just sold my '03 Audi, on which I was paying $200/month, and bought a 15-year-old Subaru, and dropped comp insurance.  

This will free up $750/month for us.



about 12 years ago

The house that we purchased two years ago will be paid off by the end of the decade ... primarily because we put more than we have to toward the mortgage. I pay two extra mortgage payments a year toward the interest and principle on the place, or something to the tune of just over $1,800 extra per year. In the past two years, I've managed to knock 10 years off the life of a 30-year mortgage.

We've been conditioned to believe that credit and debt is no big deal (Remember Darth Cheney's "Deficits don't matter?" quip?), but what we've failed to learn is that the people we owe money to don't give two shits about who we are, what kind of people we are or even our employment situation and the vicissitudes of our bank accounts. The people we owe money to only care about one thing: money. By the time we realize the trouble we're in, it's often too late to fix what's wrong.

Having lived in a few other, much larger cities than here (Minneapolis, St. Paul, Tacoma, Seattle), I can say that pound for pound it's far cheaper to live here than in larger cities. Food costs more in general. It's more expensive and time consuming to get around, and even if you are lucky enough to find a house for cheaper, your house is more likely to be located farther away from where you work/play/entertain. Then again, it's all about what you're comfortable ponying up for what you need and/or want.


about 12 years ago

Virgin Mobile, $9.95 for the phone (JAX), $30 a month for tons of minutes, no contract.

No landline for me anymore.

Bad Cat!

about 12 years ago

Ditto on the Virgin mobile. They are by far the cheapest for a pay per use phone. Most companies require you to buy more minutes once a month, Virgin was once every three (or at least was when I had my phone with them).

Wes Scott

about 12 years ago

I make it a hobby to live cheap. I'm proud of my thrift. And because of it I can take trips around the big lake and see the wonder of it all. I'd rather drive around Lake Superior then watch the Housewives of Atlanta or whatever other crap is on TV. I get PBS on the over the air antenna and that is all you need. Or just listen to KUMD and then of course there is the Internet. What a bargain! You can download anything and free if you are clever about it.


about 12 years ago long as your free downloading is legal, I heartily agree!


about 12 years ago

If your gripe is about credit card debt and not feeling like you have enough at the end of the month to pay everyone, maybe its time to switch to the envelope system. Get paid and put cash in a series of envelopes: food, rent, beer, etc. When the $$ is gone you can't spend any more until payday.

Personally I think Duluth is pretty affordable: my husband and I have two kids and we bought a nice house while we were both in grad school. 

The library has loads of dvds -- perhaps give up cable and switch to dvds. Or do the 10 bucks a month deal for netflix and stream movies.


about 12 years ago

That's a pretty good salary...for Duluth.


about 12 years ago

Dave Ramsey

Serious financial advice on how to live within your means (and what that literally means).  I "drank the Kool-aid" about a year and a half ago.  If you want lower rent, pay it early, be a good tenant and negotiate with your landlord.


about 12 years ago

I drank some Kool Aid 20 years ago, but I don't think we're talking about the same thing.

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