Affordable housing is out of reach for many residents across Minnesota. “Duluth is the least-affordable housing market in the state and has been for many, many years,” reflects Joel Kilgour, an advocate for people experiencing homelessness and a member of Loaves and Fishes, an organization that provides free meals to the hungry. To respond to the lack of affordable housing, Duluth built as a prototype for homeless housing a 336-square foot single family structure co-located as an “Accessory Dwelling Unit” per building code standards. The single bedroom, full bath, apartment-size micro house is energy efficient and was completed in Fall 2015 by mostly retired volunteers, putting in practice the principle of sustainable development for all (Dale & Newman, 2009). Center City Housing Corp. is the owner of this project, the pro-bono design was done by Wagner-Zaun Architecture and equipment support was provided by Johnson-Wilson Constructors.
Micro House Prototype
Photo credit: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
One Roof Community Housing is a non-profit organization committed to building and sustaining affordable homes and creating healthy neighborhoods. Their mission and programs aim to make it as easy as possible for people in Duluth and the surrounding communities to purchase, renovate, maintain and keep a home as long as they like. Mayor Emily Larson praises One Roof, articulating, “They are national leaders in what they’re doing. They just really know what they’re doing and the thing that’s fun about Duluth…is that it’s…big enough to matter. It matters what we do here, but it’s actually small enough to get stuff done.” One Roof Community Housing offers a range of services, including affordable homeownership opportunities, homeownership counseling, home and rental rehab lending & down payment assistance, resources and support for positive tenant landlord relations, and a tool-lending library.
The Lincoln Park business district is located in a predominantly poor, minority area of Duluth and yet city parking meters line the street of shops. Mayor Emily Larson is working to eliminate meters which she sees as an unnecessary financial burden on the poor and one that sends the message that this is a place to get in and out. She hopes that the city will reinvest in this neighborhood with the basic services its population needs like laundromats, salons, and coffee shops, important facets of local economic development and ways to emphasize a city’s uniqueness, both as an overall “branding” strategy and to attract visitors to downtown (Grodach & Loukaitou‐Sideris, 2007). The Mayor states that the city has the opportunity to provide, “the stuff that a commerce-based business district [needs], but that maintains the values of a working neighborhood.”
Duluth’s Mayor Larson holds informal one-on-one meetings with indigenous, homeless, LGBTQ, youth, poor, and otherwise disenfranchised community members as a way to have dialogues about their needs. “It is really just intended to say, you know ‘What’s it like for you to live in this city? What feels safe? What doesn’t feel safe? What’s working? What’s not working?’”, says Mayor Larson. The press is not invited. Instead, the word is spread through community leaders and the meetings are held in spaces that are comfortable and easy to access for those communities.
“City Hall in the City”
Photo credit: Alicia Kozlowski from City of Duluth