The Future of Low-Income Housing

Ben Waltz and Cathy Lawrence, 2021
Cathy Lawrence and Ben Waltz (ThreeSixty Journalism/Christine Nguyen)

Minneapolis may have the biggest racial home-ownership gap in the U.S., according to those doing housing equity work. But, two nonprofits are working toward bridging this divide and changing the way they deal with low-income people by asking them what they need. 

Representatives from Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cathy Lawrence and Ben Waltz, met with students on the University of St. Thomas campus to talk about their plans for the future of low-income housing. Lawrence is the leader of resource development at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She said that her organization has historically worked with mostly East-African immigrant families.  

“Who we’ve left behind are what we refer to as foundational Black families,” Lawrence said. Foundational Black families are often people descended from African slaves. That group has been most heavily impacted by home ownership disparity. This not only affects day-to-day need for shelter, but health, rates of employment and much more. 

Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and its partner Blue Cross Blue Shield have been working to supply housing for the families who need it. After the murder of George Floyd last summer, they changed their strategy. 

“We’ve got to stop going into communities and saying to you, ‘I can solve your problem.’ We need to go in and listen and say, ‘How can we partner with you, what would you like to see in your community, what kind of housing do you want,’” Lawrence said.  

Habitat for Humanity and Blue Cross and Blue Shield want to make sure that low-income residents have all they need to be healthy, and homeownership is an important piece of that puzzle. According to recent health studies, nearly 80% of health should be cared for outside the clinic, including diet, exercise and general well-being.  

Lawrence told a story about a single mother and her sons’ experiences with their housing: “All of them were on the inhalers because they suffered from asthma. … She would tell stories about how she would have to take her sons from the apartment and go into urgent care or to the emergency room and get help.”  

With dust and spores posing a huge risk to her family because of their asthma, being in a clean and stable home was vital to staying well. This family found relief in low-income housing units supplied to them by Habitat for Humanity.  

“They were not in that home for long before their symptoms disappeared,” Lawrence said.  

Through listening to perspectives of the communities living in the low-income housing units, Habitat for Humanity is slowly growing stronger bonds with community leaders and helping trust grow.  

Though Waltz, Lawrence and their respective organizations face an uphill battle, this new way of considering low-income housing work promises to yield much more connection and communication than could be previously established.

These reports on health equity were created by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2021 News Reporter Academy high school students. The Academy and its theme of racism as a public health crisis were supported by Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield, which connected students with story topics and sources.