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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Monday July 22nd 2024

Senior renters are Struggling; Problems at Bii Di Gain are the Tip of the Iceberg


A longer version of this piece first appeared in Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom covering Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color. You can access it at

Signs posted on the gate of the Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi affordable housing apartment complex in south Minneapolis on May 1, 2024, demand better living conditions. PHOTO: Katelyn Vue, Sahan Journal

On May 1, protesters and residents rallied at Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi in south Minneapolis to draw attention to the poor living conditions and lack of maintenance at the affordable housing complex. The unfortunate reality is these elders are not not alone in struggling to feel safe and secure in their homes.
I am an AmeriCorps VISTA member, working as a tenant organizer with Home Line and the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). I have spent a significant amount of time organizing renters in buildings either marketed or designated for seniors, and it has become clear to me that we need to work together to find new solutions for senior renters, the majority of whom are dealing with housing instability.
According to MHP’s recently released 2024 State of the State’s Housing Profile, 66% of all senior renters in Minnesota are cost-burdened, which means they pay more than 30% of their monthly income towards rent. Cost-burdened families face the tough choice between paying for housing and other basic needs like food and medicine. And the number rises as rents go up: Today over 75,000 seniors in Minnesota are cost-burdened, 12,000 more than two years ago.
The MHP report also shows that senior renters are cost-burdened at a rate 16% higher than the average Minnesotan. Many of the senior renters I talk to are retired, with Social Security as their sole source of income. Some are losing 60% to 70% of their checks just to keep a roof over their heads, prioritizing rent and choosing to ration food instead. As a result, it is common to find small tenant-organized food pantries in supposedly “affordable” senior apartment buildings. Senior tenants see their neighbors go hungry to cover the rent, so they pool their resources to help one another.
Others are forced out of retirement to pay their rent or face eviction. Katherine Banbury, tenant organizer and resident at Cambric Senior Apartments in St. Paul, described watching her senior neighbors being evicted: “It’s a revolving door. You get into the building, but rent doesn’t stay affordable. People are either priced out of the building or evicted. We had 70- to 80-year-old women with nowhere to go living on our couches.”
Our senior housing problem is made worse by Minnesota’s racial homeownership gap, the fourth

largest in the nation. According to Minnesota Housing’s 2022 Disparities Report, the rate for white/non-Latino households was 77.3%, and just 48.6% for BIPOC households. This disparity has a compounding effect over time as homeownership is an essential vehicle for both generational wealth and housing affordability. Minnesota’s racial homeownership gap is a systematic problem that ensures senior renters of color bear an undue burden of precarity.

We are already failing to meet the needs of senior renters, and this need is only going to increase. In 2010 Minnesota had a ratio of one retired adult for every five in the workforce, according to Minnesota Compass. By 2030, this ratio is expected to shrink to one older adult per three who are working age. 

Whether we’re digging each other out of the snow or sharing a meal, Minnesota is a place where we look out for each other. Let’s make sure that seniors, whether our loved ones or complete strangers, have a safe place to lay their heads at night and age with dignity.

Austin Fleming is a Minneapolis resident and AmeriCorps VISTA tenant organizer.

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