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Message from Rick Nelson, AHI Board President

Alliance Housing Names Barbara Jeanetta as Executive Director

Herb Frey, long time Executive Director of Alliance Housing, decided that it was time to step down and retired at the end of this past December. Herb’s tireless and creative work providing real solutions to improve the lives of poor and homeless individuals and families has created an organization that improves lives and builds stronger communities by providing housing stability.

After a long, careful process, the Alliance Housing Board of Directors is thrilled to have selected Barbara Jeanetta as Herb’s successor. She comes with a great heart and years of experience, having spent 20-plus years in management positions in local government and the nonprofit world, most recently with Twin Cities LISC and Better Futures MN. We look forward to where Barb's leadership will take Alliance Housing.

While Herb was the heart and soul of Alliance Housing and could never be truly replaced, he leaves behind a strong and sustainable organization. Our mission will continue to be carried out by our dedicated staff and extraordinarily talented leadership team. Bob Bono leads our South Minneapolis property management and resident support. Troy Kester leads our development efforts and North Minneapolis property management. Sue Roedl leads our efforts with families in North Minneapolis.

AHI will keep doing what it has always done: Providing poor and homeless individuals and families with housing they can afford; helping them hang onto their housing in spite of personal and economic difficulties; creating new beautiful workforce housing for low wage workers; and helping formerly homeless working families acquire the life skills and training they need to succeed in today’s economy.

We are particularly encouraged by the early success of this last program, which is featured below in Herb’s article from our most recent annual report.

From Our Current Annual Report

 

AHIs North Minneapolis Program for Homeless Families

By Herb Frey, AHI Executive Director

For Alliance Housing, this past year has been all about completing the rehab of eight scattered site properties in North Minneapolis and leasing them to 18 homeless families and seven singles. Suffice it to say, the pace of the rehab has been v e r y s l o w, but after more than a year, the rehabs are done and the apartments are beautiful. Now comes the tricky part, running them as affordable housing that changes people’s lives.

Long ago Alliance learned you cannot just place a homeless single or family in a unit. You have got to work with most of them, keep after them, cut them breaks, insist that they respect the property and the neighbors. If you do this, most of them succeed in housing.

Now, Alliance has raised the bar. For the homeless families moving into its units in north Minneapolis, Alliance expects the adults to work and/or get more training. If they do this, Alliance lowers the household rent as much as $300 a month. This is the reverse of how housing subsidies usually work. They raise your rent if you work. Result: many people don’t work so they get the full subsidy. Makes sense?

It may make sense if the household is disabled, mentally ill, or unable to work. It doesn’t make sense for families where you need the structure, routine, focus, self- pride, and money that come with work. Granted this is hard for families with young children, but many of these families are eligible for free child care, and some even have relatives who can care for the children. The data are in: where the adults work, the children do better in school

Unfortunately, most of the families entering Alliance Housing can only access low- wage, part-time work, usually with irregular hours: nights, weekends, split shifts. That is, jobs at WalMart, McDonalds, CVS the jobs the U.S. specializes in growing. But at least these places will hire people with little or no work history.

Most of our adults start at this level, $8 to $9 an hour. Many don’t hang onto their first job. They will get mad and quit, go off on somebody, show up late. Not good. If they lose their job, the rent goes up the next month. They get another job, things may improve, some get still another job and others keep a job they don’t like because they want to keep their subsidy. They show up on time, take more initiative. Their confidence improves. Gradually they move up to better jobs, better hours, more pay, more responsibility. Maybe $10 to $12 an hour. Not enough to live on, but a huge start.

Over time they develop better work habits, and their motivation is less about the subsidy and more about finding a career. The next step is to get more training at a community or technical college so they qualify for better-paying work, the kind that will support a family, at least $15 an hour, better $18 to $20 an hour. The best way to do this is to work part-time and go to school part-time. AHI encourages this by giving parents the full housing subsidy for doing work and education at the same time. We also offer small subsidies for completion of financial management, parenting, and stress management classes.

Financial incentives are important motivators, but by themselves they are rarely enough. Adults also need to learn to set goals for themselves and figure out how they are going to meet their goals. They work on this in weekly individual sessions with Sue Roedl, the program director and life coach. Initially, most residents struggle with goal setting and planning because they don’t prioritize their goals or make good plans. "Something came up" is the most frequent reason that tenants fail to meet their goals. The something is often a forgotten appointment or a mini-crisis of a friend or a relative. Instead of planning their life, most participants exhaust themselves by constantly reacting to the current crisis in their life. Week after week with Sue, they uncover what’s keeping them from completing their goals. One resident finally got it. Breaking into tears she opened up: "I plan to fail so I won’t be disappointed when things don’t work out because I always fail."

They talk about their finances, their housekeeping, day care, getting their GED, schooling for them and their kids, hanging onto their jobs, paying off their student loan debts, getting credit, getting a car, being proactive rather than always reactive. In some cases Alliance offers them small subsidies to attend classes on financial management or parenting and for their children’s near perfect attendance at school. And now that there are more families, Sue plans to start having stress groups and regular get-togethers where residents’ achievements can be recognized and celebrated.

Truth be told, it has taken over two long years to get this program up to speed, which allowed time to try the program out, use this, forget that, find out what was really going on with people, figure out what could help. What has not changed is the emphasis on work, on planning and thinking things through, on holding residents strictly accountable.

These two years have taught us a lot about what kind of skills and support tenants need to be successful. The families that moved into the units that opened this spring are all making progress on at least one goal. Despite the tough job market all are employed, one has gotten his GED and two are in community college.

Best of all, the families are excited about the new challenges instead of being overwhelmed by them. We look forward to another year of learning and growing with our tenants.