Here are facts about where we live:

• Rice County is the third most expensive place to live in Minnesota. This is according to the 2018 Rice County Housing study commissioned by the Rice County HRA. We are third to Rochester and the Twin Cities.

• HUD (Housing and Urban Development) designates what fair market rent (FMR) is for communities. In Rice County the FMR for a three-bedroom is $1,178.

• To afford that 3 bedroom for $1,178 your household income needs to be $47,840 annually. It’s considered affordable if you pay no more than 30% of your gross income on housing. Let’s do the math on that – if your annual income is $47,840 your monthly income is $3,986. Thirty percent of that is $1,195.

• The rental vacancy rate in our county is low – extremely low. According to various housing studies, Faribault has a vacancy rate of .8% and Northfield is .3%. A healthy vacancy rate is 5%. This means that rental units are simply not available.

Do any of these facts surprise you? As I talk with people about these facts here are some responses:

• “I knew it was expensive to live here but I didn’t know it was THAT expensive.” Right, it’s THAT expensive.

• “Wow, 47K sounds pretty good to me.” Yes, it does sound like a big number to some, but when you do the math it paints a different picture.

• “I see yard signs all the time saying apartment for rent.” Yes, that’s true, but most likely that’s for studios, one- or two-bedroom apartments. There are many, many families that need a three- or four-bedroom apartment and they are not available.

Here’s what I hear from the people who know it best – the people who are looking for housing:

• “I have a family of nine children and myself and my spouse. I’m getting kicked out of my apartment because they say I’m over occupancy. Where do I go?” (I must share a common response I get when I tell people about large families and their need for housing – they say, “Why do they have so many kids?” In short, there are religious and cultural differences all around us. And, really, does it matter? The kids are HERE and they need a safe place to live).

• “Fair market rent might be $1,178 for a three bedroom, but I can’t find any available. All the three-bedroom apartments or houses are more like $1,400 or $1,500/month. I can’t afford that!”

• “I was looking for a three-bedroom apartment in Northfield and every apartment building told me there was a two-year waiting list.”

• “I’m on Social Security. I can only afford $550/month and there’s nothing available. My only option is to live in my car.”

• “I get military disability and Social Security which totals $1,585/month. I have no where to go.”

The FACTS and the anecdotes lead to the same conclusion: We need builders, developers and neighborhoods to start saying YES to building affordable housing in our community.

Dayna Norvold is the executive director of Rice County Habitat for Humanity.

Load comments