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Nonprofits see boarding house as affordable housing solution

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Some Minnesota nonprofits are embracing communal housing as a way to address affordable housing shortages despite the model being long rejected as contributing to urban blight.
Alliance Housing has been trying to get Minneapolis officials to rethink rooming houses as a solution to the affordable housing crisis, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
The nonprofit has been unsuccessful in its efforts to lift the city’s 1980s rule that prohibits new licenses for rooming and boarding houses. The prohibition reflects Minneapolis’ stance that boarding houses contributed to blight and undermined neighborhoods with single- and two-family homes.
Alliance runs one of the city’s remaining boarding homes, where 25 single men and two women live together. The nonprofit spent about $55,500 per unit to acquire and rehab the house, which is about a fifth of the typical cost to build an apartment in a low-income housing development.
Tenant Craig Spivey said the boarding house offers decent housing for people who can’t afford an apartment on their own.
Tenants each pay around $350 rent a month. They share a laundry, kitchen and bathrooms.
“Man, this is a $1 million mansion to me,” said Gregory Maurice Mure, 56.
Mure was homeless before he moved into the boarding house a decade ago. He said he loves the safety and stability that the home provides.
Communal housing was popular from the 1820s to the 1900s, according to Wendy Gamber, who authored “The Boardinghouse in Nineteenth-Century America.”
“Some historians have estimated that between a third and a half of all urban residents either took in boarders or were boarders themselves,” she said.
But by the 1950s, communal housing gained a reputation as being where the poorest residents lived. They became less popular as the number of apartment homes increased.
Gamber said the destruction of the housing option in the 1970s and 1980s contributed to a rise in homelessness.
Cities and policymakers have been starting to reimagine communal housing recently, said Matt Murphy, executive director of New York University’s Furman Center. The center promotes research and conversation around housing policy.
He said the model limits “the amount of public subsidy” needed to make affordable housing.
“You not only are getting more people, you’re also getting more rent into a building,” Murphy said.
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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org