New report highlights key housing issues facing immigrant communities in the Twin Cities

For many Twin Cities immigrants even today, the dream of securing a safe, healthy affordable home is out of reach.

A new study reveals that the three largest immigrant populations in the Twin Cities — the Hmong, Latino, and Somali communities — carry a heavier burden and specific challenges when it comes to securing safe, stable housing in the communities that benefit from their essential contributions.

The Twin Cities immigrant population has grown rapidly in recent decades. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of foreign-born residents living in the region spiked by 74 percent, rising from 206,500 to 359,500. Today, 12 percent of all Twin Cities metropolitan area residents are foreign-born. Immigrants play an increasingly significant role in the Twin Cities community — but too many face significant and systemic barriers to finding and maintaining adequate and affordable housing.

Given the urgent need to identify lasting solutions for the growing immigrant community so that all of our region’s residents can thrive, the Minnesota Housing Partnership, Minnesota Budget Project and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs conducted interviews with more than a dozen leaders from the Hmong, Latino, and Somali communities to explore not only what barriers exist, but also what resources and community engagement strategies are needed to remedy their constituents’ housing challenges.

Key takeaways from the report:

Barriers to safe, healthy, affordable housing

  • Barriers to securing quality housing include cost, a lack of credit history, discrimination, displacement, and immigration status.
  • Immigrant groups — such as the Hmong, Latino, and Somali communities — bear some of the greatest burden when it comes to affordable housing shortages. Almost 40 percent of immigrant households in the Twin Cities pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
  • Immigrants are often forced to occupy substandard housing. Additionally, a shortage of affordable units and units that can accommodate large families regularly leads to overcrowding.

Existing resources within immigrant communities

  • Even in the midst of settling in a new country, many immigrant families are able to reestablish themselves because of the strong support from their communities. Often, immigrants rely upon family members and word of mouth and for information and accommodations upon arrival.
  • Many immigrant families secure support from community organizations to provide housing supports such as financial assistance with rent, Section 8 applications, moving expenses, and legal services.

Solutions suggested by community leaders

  • Establish and enforce a more fair housing market, create and enforce policies that provide for landlord accountability, and reallocate housing funds to invest in historically disinvested neighborhoods.
  • Provide more culturally sensitive housing programs and services, encourage housing authorities and building contractors to build more houses and apartments to accommodate larger household sizes, and invest in community organizations that already offer customized housing services to immigrant communities.
  • Promote and provide more educational workshops to immigrant families, and develop a reference guide or a directory of affordable housing units that can be easily accessible to immigrant communities.
  • Increase the agency of immigrant populations by establishing more grassroots efforts that encourage immigrant families to be involved in the political process where housing decisions are made and by expanding opportunities for immigrants to secure and maintain employment and achieve financial stability.

Strategies for responsive community engagement

  • As advocates and agencies seek feedback, they must put the priorities of immigrant communities first rather than “pushing their own agenda.” They must also approach communities with the goal of building power rather than extracting information. Authentic community engagement, leaders emphasized, is predicated on trust — and in many communities trust has not been developed between housing advocates or agencies and immigrant populations.
  • Leaders in the Somali, Hmong and Latino communities stressed that verbal communication is critical. Their community engagement typically includes face-to-face dialogue, including networking, door knocking and frequent in-person gatherings at places populations typically congregate, like apartment buildings, religious and cultural institutions.
  • Meaningful engagement approaches are grounded in the understanding that community members are experts of their own lived experiences and that there are distinctions not only between immigrant groups but also within broad cultural communities.
  • The depth of relationships can change the nature of the work, dramatically shifting the priorities and perspectives on the true problems and possible solutions. Transparency and accountability are crucial.

Download the report here and the infographic here

Organizations interviewed

ACER — African Career and Education Resources, Inc

African Immigrants Community Service


CAPM — Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans

CLUES — Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio

HACER — Hispanic Advocacy and Community

Empowerment through Research

Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia

Neighborhood House

Somali American Parent Association

Tapestry (Bi-lingual Spanish church)

Voices for Racial Justice