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Is “Affordable Housing Crisis” Driving Somalis Out of Eden Prairie?

This morning the Star Tribune featured an article titled “Affordable housing crisis hits Eden Prairie families.” While the title referred to families generally, the entire article was about Somalis who live, or formerly lived, in Eden Prairie:

[A]s demand for apartments soars metrowide, Somali families say they’re being forced out of Eden Prairie in waves by a shortage of affordable housing and the rejection by landlords of Section 8 vouchers.

Does an inability to live in a community at government expense via Section 8 vouchers really constitute being “forced out”?

Residents’ increasing frustration culminated last week at a community forum, following similar events in Golden Valley and St. Louis Park.

“Housing is about human rights,” said Asad Aliweyd, a resident and executive director of the New American Development Center. “Everyone should have the right to a place to live.”

At government expense? In a city of the individual’s choice?

“We work here, our kids were born here,” Aliweyd said about Eden Prairie, known for its safe streets, schools and jobs. “We love to live in this city.”

But in the last four years, he estimated that a third of the East African community in the city has moved out and that nine apartment buildings have stopped taking Section 8 vouchers.

There is more along the same lines. And the Strib notes that Eden Prairie is taking steps to procure more “affordable housing,” i.e., housing that can be paid for at government expense with Section 8 vouchers.

What strikes me about the Strib’s reporting on Somalis being “forced out” of Eden Prairie is that the reporter who wrote the article, and every single person quoted in the article, apparently takes it for granted that there is no way a Somali could live in Eden Prairie without government-provided housing.

Why is that? Previous waves of immigrants and refugees have paid for their own housing by finding employment. Granted, the housing they could afford initially was generally not in the most desirable suburbs or neighborhoods. But they worked their way up.

Is that happening with the Somali refugees and immigrants who settle in Minnesota? Our state demographer has offered some troubling statistics. The demographer found that only 41% of foreign-born Somali males had jobs of any sort. (The percentage was a little higher for Somali women.) Not only that, 30% of Somali men neither had a job nor were looking for one.

It strikes me that the issue here is not how we can come up with more government money so that Somali refugees and their descendants can live in the most desirable Twin Cities suburbs at government expense. Rather, the issue is how we can help more Somalis to become productive, gainfully employed residents and citizens.

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