St. Paul Chapter August Meeting

The August St. Paul MICAH Chapter meeting was a bit out of the ordinary – and it was great!

To begin with, a wedding scheduling at First Lutheran, who hosts the MICAH office and every-other chapter meeting, meant the building was full on our regular night. Fortunately, the Goat Coffeehouse, just a block away, has a meeting room that easily sits 12. But what happens when you get over 20?

As it turns out – a lot.

As we shuffled in more and more chairs, John Slade, our East Metro organizer, gave a faith reflection based on an ISAIAH training, “In politics we have basic worldview choices – will we believe we live in a world of ABUNDANCE or SCARCITY, a world organized by COMMUNITY or ISOLATION, and finally, will we approach each day and each other with HOPE or FEAR? We at MICAH choose abundance, community, and hope! And with that in mind, we moved on – to VICTORY!”

At our July meeting, we had just discovered that an important part of family shelter in Ramsey County was under threat. The Project Home shelter system, which provides overnight beds in two sites (often church basements and fellowship halls) that rotate through the year, has had a day shelter facility that the families can visit during the day. The Family Place had been the day shelter, but at the beginning of July that shelter was not funded past August 31st and might even be closing. This would mean 40 people – many of them children – would have no place to go right at the beginning of the school year.

Needless to say, this is not the outcome we need! Since part of the problem was that the Request for Proposal (RFP) from Ramsey County (the primary funder of the shelter) did not fully fund the hours and meals needed, and since our elected Ramsey County Commissioners are decision makers we could access, we decided to call and write them to let them know!

We sent out an action alert for people to call their Commissioners. This alert spread, and every Commissioner got at least some contact. One church, St. Matthew’s, got in so many calls to Commissioner Toni Carter that she called the church back to let them know she was hearing them! In quick order, the procurement office had a new RFP, and by early August a 7 month extension contract had been signed! A victory to celebrate!

We then broke our meeting up into two sections – one to deal with youth homelessness and one to deal with Fair Housing, as the City of St. Paul needed feedback on the Fair Housing Agenda they are putting together.

The Youth Homelessness breakout discussed the enormity of St. Paul School District having 2,100 homeless students over the school year and only 2 social workers to cover their needs. Everything from naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) to rent subsidies provide some assistance but much more will be needed, including more landlords willing to keep rents steady in exchange for property tax reductions, and careful targeting of Mayor Carter’s $10 million allocation for affordable housing. All of the ideas will be summarized to share with the group in September. In addition, a number of ideas to help teens get summer jobs to learn skills and help support their families were discussed. In the near future, we will contact TPT to encourage them to air the St. Paul City Council meeting where homeless families shared their stories as a way to move more people to action.

The Fair Housing breakout section drafted a list of priorities that we felt the City’s Fair Housing Agenda should address. In brief, those are:

  • Section 8 – we need more landlords accepting it, use carrots and sticks to get there, and the City should prioritize this in their communications on the Federal level

  • Tenant screening – Eviction actions, credit scores, and criminal records are all part of systems with deep structural racism in them. We need to limit the damage these racist reports can do. Minneapolis is looking at a list of tenant screening minimums, we need to look at things like that, perhaps universal applications, and definitely support expungements

  • Housing for the poorest must be prioritized. In the federal housing world, that means targeting those at or below 30% of the Area Median Income. Since subsidy at that level is so needed we need to look at new sources of income – Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or progressive City income tax. Presidential candidates Harris and Booker are both talking about a renter’s tax rebate for people spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

  • City development assistance must not go to projects with no affordable housing in them. From the Penfield to the new towers on the river, market rate housing does not need subsidy.

  • Fair Housing testing – we need to send people out to find out how racism, sexism, discrimination against those with disability, etc. are impacting the housing market

  • Rent Control – we need to have this tool to protect renters in a number of situations. The City can pass enabling language via referendum, and we must lobby our state legislators to overturn the state level ban.

All in all, a great meeting! Looking forward to a bus tour and our next Chapter meeting Thursday September 19th at St. Anthony Park Lutheran at 5 PM.