Forum for affordable housing in Olmsted County held at Rochester church

(ABC 6 News) – Saturday afternoon, dozens of people gathered at Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester for a forum on the lack of affordable housing in Olmsted County.

The Minnesota Legislature approved one-billion-dollars to be used for housing through its omnibus bill this last spring.

The bill passed a number of housing assistance programs, including homelessness prevention and rental assistance.

People at the forum say that Olmsted County is severely lacking affordable housing units.

Man gathered to discuss challenges to finding housing to local politicians.

Dennis Siggers, one of the people speaking at the forum, says that he has had numerous problems finding somewhere affordable to live since being released from prison in March.

“I have been previously denied housing based solely on my prior criminal convictions. Today I am asking elected officials to work together to end discrimination based on former incarceration,” Siggers said. “We are seeking the same opportunities to access housing as those from well to do or privileged households.”

Many say this crisis has grown into a community problem as well and that it is driving people out of Olmsted County.

“Unfortunately, some families make the choice of leaving this are and moving to another area or different area within the state that’s more affordable. We don’t want that because we want a young work force here that’s able to be a part of this community,” said Abdullahi Adan, a board member of the Rochester Islamic Center.

According to a report from the Coalition for Rochester Area Housing, in 2020 it shows that 77% of white residents in Rochester are homeowners. When it comes to Black and African American residents, that number dwindles to 22%.

That same report showed the median income for white households sits at $91,359 while Black and African American households’ median income is only $31,786.

With such a gap in ownership and income, Adan hopes that the one-billion-dollar investment in housing from the state can help keep Muslim families interested in being Olmsted County homeowners.

“It’s every American Dream, it’s a cornerstone of being a part of this community to own a home,” Adan said.

Elected officials want to make sure that community members know how to access the resources from this investment to make their homeowning dream a reality.

“We need to make sure that’s implemented well and that communities know how to access the resources,” said Mike Howard, the chair of Minnesota Housing Committee. “More than ever, we’ll be making sure that as those resources are invested and communities know how to access it.”

Many are hoping the state’s investment will increase the number of affordable housing units within Rochester and throughout Olmsted County.