Crookston is currently facing two significant challenges that threaten social equity and long-term economic viability for the community – systemic, entrenched poverty overall (and especially in the Hispanic population) and a lack of affordable, quality housing. The city lags both behind the state and the nation.

    For maximum efficiency and effectiveness, policy options to address those challenges should consider both public awareness and public support. A survey was recently developed for those who live and/or work in Crookston to determine perception in several key areas.

    The survey asked questions regarding perceptions of the poverty problem and the housing shortage, their own financial situation, the root causes of both poverty and their own financial situation, current and potential solutions to poverty and the affordable housing crisis, and pressing social issues of the city today.

    The survey proved quite enlightening. The respondents overall expressed a lack of confidence in the city government and in the effectiveness of government programmes and subsidies to alleviate poverty and the housing shortage. There was also a perception that some government programmes actually make problems worse.

    This underscores a possible key reason for the persistent nature of both local poverty and the housing shortage. It is often difficult for government policy to be effective or even to be adopted in the first place without public support.

    Fortunately there was an overall belief in the effectiveness of education, though there was less agreement on what could be done about the housing shortage. Respondents also exhibited an overall aversion to increased taxes, both to alleviate poverty and to improve the availability of affordable, quality housing. Furthermore, both health and crime were perceived by respondents to be associated with poverty.

    Several policy options exist to help solve each of the two local challenges. To help alleviate poverty, a local-area strength can be leveraged, namely, two programmes at the University of Minnesota Crookston targeted at improving opportunities for high school students – specifically the Post-Secondary Education Opportunity and the Minority STEM Programme.      

   Another key element of the education-based solutions to poverty alleviation is the continuation of the Student Success Coach programme and Crookston city schools.

    To help with improved access to affordable housing, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and new housing initiatives from the state of Minnesota can be aggressively implemented, specifically focused on the most problematic neighbourhoods in the city.

    Since Crookston neighbourhoods are already largely mixed, which is considered an LIHTC best practice, that trend should be continued.

    Additionally, it is likely useful to maintain a task force to develop a long-term comprehensive plan for affordable housing, particularly centred on capitalisation, with an additional focus on issues of zoning, permitting processes, and housing ordinances.                Collaboration with local and regional financial institutions to develop a long-term sustainable revenue stream for housing projects must be a priority, which can then strengthen community development projects of local non-profits, making government, banking, and non-profits partners in solving the affordable housing problem.

    Another point to consider is that poverty alleviation and affordable housing programmes both should be implemented with coordinated efforts to improve health and reduce crime.

    Yet, given the negative public perception of government effectiveness according to the survey, it is essential that the city government engage in an active campaign to regain and maintain local confidence, with an ongoing public relations campaign regarding programme necessity, effectiveness, and benefit.

    The author is a clergyman, author, and educator, and also is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and holds a graduate certificate in Social Justice from the Harvard University Extension School.