CLUES Work Improves Access to Safe, Affordable Housing for Minnesota’s Latinx Community

At best, a tenant is somewhat at the mercy of their landlord. But when the tenant is undocumented, the power imbalance can be disastrous, explains Ruby Azurdia-Lee, president of Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES), a nonprofit organization that promotes economic equity and the well-being of Latinxes living in Minnesota, and is a member of the Kresge Foundation’s Advancing Health Equity Through Housing grantee cohort. “Social workers from our staff have reported insects in the apartments of clients and children with asthma due to poor housing conditions. The owners did nothing when families complained because some family members were undocumented and the owners knew the families would not report them.

CLUES staff encouraged tenants to take action. “We engaged them in conversations about how they could be better informed and empowered to create change for themselves, and how CLUES could be a resource for them,” says Azurdia-Lee.

From these conversations came the idea of ​​a housing resource center that would act as an intermediary between tenants and landlords to ensure housing security. The Center would monitor the state’s inventory of safe and affordable housing and develop a network of landlords committed to ensuring access to housing for all, regardless of immigration status, maintain a repository of translated standard rental documents in Spanish for landlords and educate tenants. on their rights, including training tailored to meet the unique realities of undocumented people. Additionally, in keeping with CLUES ‘long-standing practice of providing one-on-one coaching and support, staff advisers would be available to answer customer calls and help resolve complex housing cases requiring immediate resolution.

The CLUES Housing Resource Center was launched just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and it has evolved very quickly into a rapid response and emergency relief center.

“In Minnesota, the Latinx community has been disproportionately affected by COVID for several reasons,” says Aliana Letran, director of economic empowerment at CLUES. “Many in our community are in the service industry and have mixed immigration statuses. When they lost their jobs due to COVID, they couldn’t apply for unemployment or emergency relief. Additionally, many Latinx households are multigenerational as it is very common for us to take care of our elders. Because many people live in the same household, many have been infected. People were afraid to ask for help because of their immigration status or did not know how to find it. And even though the governor has rules in place to ban evictions, some landlords have threatened to report our clients to immigration officials if they don’t keep paying.

After consulting with lawyers, “we realized we had to think outside the box, so we decided to approach the owners to work together. We would ask them if they needed our help getting forbearance from their mortgage lender for the loan on their rental property, and if we got it for them, then we would ask them to pass some of that help on to our clients. also, ”Letran explains.

At the same time the center was helping tenants, CLUES staff were also getting calls from Latinx landlords who had fallen behind on their mortgage payments but were unsure how to get help from their lender. In response, some of CLUES ‘housing counselors have been trained in foreclosure prevention and have helped clients obtain forbearances, loan modifications and other relief. The Center has grown from a staff of five rapid response advisers at the start of the pandemic to 15 advisers to meet the huge demand.

As Letran explains, “While serving the extreme needs of people already with health problems, we were also faced with the fact that many of our clients live in the neighborhood, in some cases even on the same street, where George Floyd was murdered, and a lot of those neighborhoods were destroyed after his murder. So it devastated our community, in addition to COVID. After the turmoil in the Twin Cities, most of our customers need a safe place to go. living and housing that will not worsen their health.

Over and over again, CLUES staff have heard stories from customers about a system that just isn’t designed to meet the needs of the Latinx community, says Azurdia-Lee. As an example, she cites the process for applying for housing assistance funding for clients. “I spoke with a county official who assured me that it would only take our staff fifteen minutes to complete the paperwork necessary to assist each client. But then I spoke with the staff and they told me they needed to track down the owner and get a copy of the W-9 from them, and that was a process of at least two days. And it’s for our staff who know how to navigate the system. Imagine being someone who doesn’t speak the language or understand the system. Some of these officials simply have no idea how unrealistic their expectations are. “

In response, Azurdia-Lee and her team are actively working to overcome institutional barriers limiting access to safe and affordable housing for the Latinx community in Minnesota. “Because we hear the real stories from our community, we as a nonprofit become the city and county communicator and translator to help them understand the issues and align with the industry. nonprofit to make change. This includes working with local and state officials to ensure that all necessary forms are available in Spanish, which is currently not the case, and fighting for equity in the state budget for the Latinx community.

“There’s this traditional approach of hiring someone who speaks Spanish and assuming that’s all that’s needed. But being bilingual is not the same as being bicultural, ”explains Azurdia-Lee. “Some of our clients have experienced social and economic trauma, and we have trauma-informed counselors who can work with them, who understand how their mental health is affected by their fear of deportation, and can support them through. that. We know that the voices of our community are not being heard, and just being invited to meetings is not enough. That’s why we need to sit on boards and educate our clients about their rights, so we can help influence the kind of housing our communities need.

About Bradley J. Bridges

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