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Minot should be ashamed of housing crisis
October 14, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
The next time you stand in a long line at one of the local department stores or are annoyed when your favorite restaurant is closed, take a moment to think about why that might be.
Most sources I've seen say that rent should be no more than about about 25 percent of a person's income. In western North Dakota many families are spending 50 to 75 percent of their household income on rent. At those prices, no one can afford to work at a local fast food joint even for the exalted salary of $15 per hour.
Landlords jack up the rent to $1,200, $1,500 or $2,000 a month on a place that has had no improvements made to it in years. All over town four or five people, some of them displaced by this summer's flood, are crammed into two or three bedroom apartments.
Their cars are parked three to a space in an apartment parking lot. Children play in neighborhoods where there are too many cars whizzing up and down the street or in and out of parking lots. All too often those children are probably going without something they need – food, winter clothing, adequate supervision – because their single mother or father or grandparent, who works two or three part-time jobs, must direct every penny to the rent. Three salaries from three part-time jobs is probably barely enough to pay that outrageous rent.
People who work with the homeless tell me that conditions have worsened for people who were already living on the edge before the flood, particularly for those who don't have family or any kind of a support system to turn to when they lose their job or the landlord doubles or triples their rent.
Landlords can undoubtedly make a lot of money from forcing these people out of their apartments and renting the same places to people who have larger salaries from the ongoing oil boom. That's probably the ultimate goal.
None of this is new, of course.
It is what has happened in San Francisco, which I visited a number of years ago, where the great unwashed live in towns far outside the big city and have to take the train into work each day.
It is what has happened in Aspen, Colorado and in some parts of Montana, where locals have been displaced by imports from out of state who have turned the resort towns into a playground for the well-heeled.
Those aren't places I'd care to live or people I'd care to live among. I've always thought the true measure of a man is how he treats those with less power than himself. Forcing people out of a city isn't a great commentary on the character of the people who live in those locations.
Now it is happening here and people will begin to see the effects, if they haven't already, in the shortage of clerks at department stores and waiters at restaurants; in the shortage of CNAs at nursing homes or deputies in small town sheriff's departments.
The solutions are probably going to be varied, whether it involves grants for low income housing projects, assistance from the state for all flood victims, including renters; or some type of rent control by the city or the state that prevents a landlord from raising the rent more than 10 or 20 percent per year. Wiser heads than mine are hopefully working on a solution because if one doesn't come soon the whole city will suffer.
At some point quality of life will suffer enough to make oil company executives and workers hesitate about coming here and the community as a whole will lose some of its prosperity. Hopefully a solution will not come too late.
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