In order to engage in conversation about “affordable housing,” it’s important that we first understand the standard for housing cost measured against household earnings. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “[Since 1981], the 30 percent threshold [has become] the standard for owner-occupied housing, and it remains the indicator of affordability for housing in the United States. Keeping housing costs below 30 percent of income is intended to ensure that households have enough money to pay for other non-discretionary costs; therefore, policymakers consider households who spend more than 30 percent of income on housing costs to be housing cost burdened.” 1
Each year, thousands of AmeriCorps members across the country relocate to a new place, start a new job, and build a new community, a tall order in any year, and particularly challenging in the midst of a pandemic. Many of our AmeriCorps members moved from all over the country in order to apply their unique set of skills and experiences to issues within the Duluth community such as food insecurity, opioid abuse, energy poverty, affordable housing, disaster resiliency, and mental health. In August of 2020, 20 individuals of a total cohort of 24 individuals relocated at least 50 miles from their home of record in order to serve, meaning over 83% of our AmeriCorps members were tasked with finding housing in Duluth.
Navigating the rental market in Duluth and relocating to a region in which there is a shortage of affordable housing options poses a challenge to prospective AmeriCorps members, given that each member currently receives a $13,362.44 stipend annually before tax, the equivalent of $1,027.88 per month and $36.71 per day. According to the City of Duluth’s Planning and Development Division, the average cost of rent in Duluth in 2019 was $630 for a studio apartment, $937 for a 1-bedroom apartment, $1,200 for a 2-bedroom apartment, $1,212 for a 3-bedroom apartment, and $1,439 for a 4-bedroom apartment.2 In other words, given an AmeriCorp member in Duluth’s monthly stipend of $1,027.88 and the average cost of rent in Duluth, our members are potentially looking at contributing 61% of their stipend toward rent for a studio apartment, a whopping 91% toward a 1-bedroom apartment, and 58% toward a 2-bedroom apartment. Though opting for living situations with more cohabitants helps members approach the standard of 30% of income designated toward housing costs, no matter the living situation, our members can effectively be classified as housing cost burdened.
The goal of Legacy House is to provide affordable housing designated for future AmeriCorps members while reducing blight and restoring a condemned building within the Lincoln Park community. In order to support the ongoing work of the community volunteers who have dedicated and continue to devote their time, efforts, and livelihoods to the betterment of local communities like Duluth, we ask that you consider donating to the AmeriCorps Legacy House Project on GiveMN.