It’s easy to be disturbed by all the bullets flying around the Twin Cities, many of which are hitting innocent bystanders. The expectation is strong that more, not less, law enforcement will be forthcoming.

Don’t hold your breath. The defund-the-police movement endorsed by most of the Minneapolis City Council continues. No candidate for Minneapolis mayor in this November’s election has been labeled the law-and-order candidate.

That said, it may be time to look at other ways to restore the peace in the Twin Cities. If one really wants to become depressed about the situation, I recommend reading “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. His book, about how Milwaukee’s homeless ended up that way, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.

What happens in Milwaukee is undoubtedly similar to what happens in Minneapolis. Yes, drugs can play a role, but not always. Some homeless are also devoted church-goers. Most of the people characterized are single mothers. Their mates are often incarcerated. They may have two or three children by age 21, and may themselves have grown up in abusive, poverty-stricken homes.

Regardless, they need a place to live. In Minneapolis the average monthly rent is about $1,559. For a one-bedroom unit, the average is $1,195. One may be able to get an apartment for something less than that. In 2019, the median rent (different from the average) was $1,016.

If they understand real estate economics, the poor would know that spending more than 30% of their income on rent can doom them to be “house poor.” Desmond reports that in Milwaukee, it was not unusual for poor people to spend 70 to 80% of their income on housing. Many had only $100-$200 per month left over for things like food, medical co-pays, bus fare, etc. If you have a $12 per hour job at, say, 35 hours per week, that’s $21,840 per year. Do the math, and that poor person can afford to pay rent of $546 per month (30% of their income) and that’s assuming their work hours aren’t cut, that they don’t have large medical bills for any family member or that they do no damage to the property.

All too often, however, something goes wrong, and they fall behind on their rent. Desmond writes that in general the poor don’t call the city housing inspector if a landlord is slow to make repairs because, being behind on the rent, the landlord will then move to evict them instead of working with them to get caught up. An eviction on one’s record makes it extra difficult to find another rental.

Last summer, you may recall, a number of Minneapolis parks were taken over by the homeless. If you think the homeless are only a metro phenomenon, you would be mistaken. The homeless are becoming a challenge everywhere. With real estate prices soaring during the current boom, you can expect that homelessness will also grow when the economy slows.

As it was, a study by HOME Line on Minnesota evictions between 2015-17 found that while the eviction rate was 3.3% in the metro Twin Cities, it was still 1.6% in Greater Minnesota. That was about 16,000 evictions statewide, with 7,750 outstate and 8,250 in the metro. In 13 Central Minnesota counties, the eviction rates were as follows: Wright, 3.53%; Sherburne, 3.27%; Benton, 3.05%; Mille Lacs, 2.82%; Crow Wing, 2.77%; Morrison, 2.41%; Meeker, 2.39%; Stearns, 1.83%; Kandiyohi, 1.72%; Cass, 1.54%; Wadena, 1.31%; Todd, 1.12%; and Pope, 0.80%. In those 14 counties combined, an average of 1,460 evictions were undertaken each year.

Do you ever think about where those people go or do you just chalk it up to, “They made bad decisions and are suffering the consequences?”

For over a year, Gov. Tim Walz has had an eviction moratorium in place because of the pandemic. In January, the Minnesota Department of Commerce estimated that almost 70,000 Minnesotans were behind on their rent. Adjunct University of Minnesota law professor Lawrence McDonough estimates that once the moratorium is lifted, 13,330 eviction notices will be served in the first month. The homeless issue is about to become much larger.

As Desmond puts it, a nation is only a collection of cities and towns. A city or town is only a collection of neighborhoods. And a neighborhood is only a collection of homes. He writes, “America is supposed to be a place where you can better yourself, your family and your community. But this is only possible if you have a stable home.”

Eviction takes a toll on the human spirit, driving many people into depression and even suicide. One mother in Milwaukee moved seven times in two years; is it any wonder her children fell behind in school? Desmond writes, “Losing your home and possessions and often your job; being stamped with an eviction record and denied government housing assistance; relocating to degrading housing in poor and dangerous neighborhoods; and suffering from increased material hardship, homelessness, depression and illness – this is eviction’s fallout.”

I’m not saying here that we should have no evictions. Landlords need to make their investments in housing work, too. However, when you wonder why crime is spiking, take a look at the housing situations from which these criminals were spawned.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at westwords.mcr@gmail.com.

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