River Center and Roy Wilkins during the pandemic

xcel center

There is some life in downtown St. Paul these days as people use the large testing site and the new vaccination site at River Center and Roy Wilkins. Yesterday there were so many people out in the area it almost looked like the before time.

Normally in the spring, there are high school tournaments and in the winter there is hockey. I have noticed that the restaurants and bars along West 7th street have been getting a lot more traffic too.

I was worried that the vaccine would not come to St. Paul. There isn’t a Walmart or a Hyvee in the city limits. None of the local Walgreens or CVS stores were giving vaccinations the last time I checked.

Employment one year after the start of the pandemic

A year ago we were looking at a sharp dip in the employment numbers. I thought it would be fun to look at general employment data for Minnesota a year later.  Here is a screenshot from the US Bureau of labor statistics for non-farm employment in Minnesota.

Employment data for Minnesota – according to the BLS

The unemployment rate for the state is around 4.4% The unemployment rate in the Twin Cities is currently closer to 5%. After having survived an unemployment rate of just over 11% the year I graduated from college the number doesn’t sound bad yet there is a lot of pain. I know people who can not find work in their field and businesses that have closed.

It does look like we are better off jobs-wise than we were during the great recession. I recall that last year after the big dip increases in employment were parlayed as economic grown and they were but I think it is important to look at a couple of year’s worth of data rather than just a 90 day period to get a more accurate view of where we are at.

Today marks the last day of the first quarter of 2021. There should be a slew of employment numbers at the end of the week.

Fair housing and love letters

Fair housing is a huge issue in the Twin Cities and everywhere else. There are disparities in homeownership rates caused by racism.

We have had a few listings that have gotten multiple offers. Some of the buyers making an offer send ‘love letters” along with the offer. The letters say how much the buyers loved the house and how they plan to fill it with children. Buyers include pictures of themselves and of their children.

They also include information about the buyer’s marital and familial status. Sometimes the letter will mention a local church or parish school that the family plans to attend.

There isn’t any rule against buyers writing letters to the seller but I always advise sellers to ignore the letter until after they have chosen an offer or to consult their attorney. It is against the law to favor one offer over another based on the race, religion, or familial status of the offerer. It is best to choose the offer that has the best terms and is the most likely to close.

If the seller accepts the offer because they like the buyers the best and it wasn’t the best offer that could lead to a fair housing complaint. Sometimes the offers are similar but one offer has a letter with it that includes pictures. It is tempting to use the letter as a tiebreaker but a coin flip is a better way to go.

Sometimes homeowners believe that they have an obligation to sell their house to someone the neighbors might like. Neighbors come and go and it is illegal for the homeowner or the neighbors to help “choose” a buyer based upon Race (age in St. Paul), family status, disability, religion, ethnicity, etc.

It is important to look at selling a home as a business transaction and to look at the terms in the offers and what kind of financing the buyers are using.

It is also possible to write a letter that is about the house and maybe about interests in common with the owners without including demographic information. Sometimes buyers will want to let the seller know that they will take good care of the garden or that they will also use the shop to work on old cars. It is not considered a fair housing violation to sell a house to someone who likes to garden.

Love letters are a slippery slope and homeowners can say no to them or let the buyers know that they won’t be read until an offer is chosen.

Sellers view love letters with caution

Save the pollinators

Now that the weather is warmer and we are enjoying a fake spring it can be tempting to start cleaning up the yard and garden. Those stalks and dead leaves are where the pollinators and other insects hibernate. Cleaning up will kill bees and butterflies too.

It will get cold again and we will get more snow. The average for March is around 10 inches and for April we can expect 2 to 7 inches. Pollinators will need a place to hibernate for a couple more months. Enjoy the day, go for a walk, ride your bike, leave your rake in storage.

butterfly and cone flower

Know where your water shutoff is

As I watch the news from Texas I keep seeing water freely flowing through houses after the pipes burst. People were shooting videos of water gushing down hallways and falling out of windows. I couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t shutting off the water.

Pipes don’t burst when they freeze they burst when they thaw because water expands as it gets warmer but that is the subject for a future blog post.

If your pipes do freeze consider turning off the water before the pipes burst. Acting quickly and shutting off the water can save thousands of dollars in repairs.

There is a lever or one of those old-school round valve wheels right next to the water meter. It might be in a crawl space or enclosed, make sure you know where it is.  If you close the valve by moving the lever or turning the handle you can shut all of the water in the house.

The power can be turned off too. There is a switch or level right inside the breaker or fuse box in most homes. Learn how to turn off the power.

For your own safety, you should know how to turn off the water and electricity in your home. If you don’t today is a good day to figure it out.

If you are buying a house ask your inspector to show you how to turn off the water. Some inspectors label the valves and put tags on them.


Reconnecting the Rondo neighborhood

I have been struggling with ideas for what to write about during Black History Month.  There are huge disparities in homeownership between white people and people of color. 

For people in the middle class or who wish to move up to the middle-class homeownership is a must. People who own homes have a higher net worth and there are many other benefits to owning a home. People who do not own homes do not enjoy the wealth and other benefits for generations.

Back in the 1960s, a freeway was built right through the center of the Rondo neighborhood, which was a mostly African American neighborhood.

Seven hundred homes and three hundred businesses were removed to make room for the freeway and with them the wealth of generations, and splitting the neighborhood in half.

Buiding roadways through the Black neighborhood is common all over the country.

There is a project with a vision to build a land bridge over part of the freeway to reconnect the Rondo neighborhood. The plan includes building housing and making room for businesses. It is an attempt to restore the community to what it was before I94 was built through it.

The project will be Minnesota’s first African American Cultural District connected by a land bridge.  A land bridge is a “cap” or a “lid” over a freeway, recreating land that was once lost. The Rondo land bridge would cap Interstate 94 for several blocks, between Chatsworth Street and Grotto Street.

Visit the Reconnect Rondo web site to see the plans and learn more about the project.