Earlier this year, my partner and I left Tucson—where I had lived for over a decade—to move to Duluth. We chose it for a lot of reasons, including its size, the natural environment, being closer to family, a change of scenery, and the fact Mali had lived here as a young adult. When I got a job grantwriting with CHUM, the only thing left to do to finalize Duluth as the place we would be for the next chapter of our lives was to secure a place to rent.
Based on what I had heard from friends across the country, as well as national reports about the housing market, I knew finding housing within our budget would not be particularly easy. I’d always been a renter, first because of being young and having a moderate case of wanderlust, and then because the housing market in Arizona had rapidly grown beyond my ability to afford it as a humanitarian aid worker and educator. But I still figured that finding a decent place to rent upon landing in Duluth would not be a significant challenge, given that we were both employed more than full-time and had no debt. This turned out to be overly optimistic.
We flew up from Tucson to look for a rental, and had set aside a full four days for the search. We scoured Zillow, Craigslist, and Trulia prior to our arrival, contacted property management companies, and asked a network of friends for any leads. The results in our price range—up to about $2,000 per month—were dismal. The places we looked at ranged from what felt like student housing to places where the heating barely worked to a place where we saw rodents running in and out of the attic to places with boarded up windows. We’re not particularly precious—our houses in Tucson were deep in the Sonoran desert, and we lived alongside plenty of critters, and even without air conditioning—but what we found in Duluth was a confluence of dilapidation and a high price point.
The search became so challenging that I was growing worried we’d have to rethink our decision to move to Duluth and choose another place on our list: Lawrence or Ames or maybe northern New Mexico. (All lovely places in their own rights, but not quite where we had decided to be.) Our final day here, we were so short for viable options to rent that we decided to meet with a realtor to see if we might have better luck buying, even in the infamously inflated housing market that has defined most of the U.S. of the past several years. Ultimately, though, buying felt like too big of a commitment before living here for a year, and also the timing was far from optimal to buy.
Just as we were about to return to the airport, faced with the need to figure out what our options were (search online before moving? Come for a return trip before moving? Having a conversation about whether or not Duluth was viable after all?), we got a call from a landlord. The last place we looked was both affordable and in good repair, and we knew there was extensive demand for it. We were lucky to have our application selected, but the reality is that dozens of other people in the city who were similarly searching for something affordable and not substandard would be back to what was an extremely limited pool of options.
It doesn’t need to be this way; people should be able to have housing that is safe and dignified without sacrificing other aspects of their well-being. I’m increasingly concerned that such housing is becoming a privilege and out of reach for too many, in Duluth and around the country.
After six months, Duluth has begun to work its magic on me with its extraordinary natural beauty, the community of people who are committed to supporting one another, and the feeling of safety and well-being I enjoy here. It’s also been uplifting to learn about the work and mission of Green New Deal Housing, in part because it reminds me that there may be options in my own life that reflect my needs, realities, and values. Even more than that, though, I’m so glad to know of work that is challenging some of the more corrosive habits of our society, such as hyper-individualism, overconsumption, racism, and classism. I’m inspired by the ways that Green New Deal Housing is thinking broadly and acting creatively about our interconnectedness to one another, our communities, and the planet.