- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A new report by the Metropolitan Council says more residents are living in poverty in metro-area suburbs than in the inner cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, putting a strain on communities that are now struggling to maintain housing, build transportation infrastructure and provide social services that poor residents need.

More than 385,000 people live in poverty in the suburbs and rural areas across the seven-county metro, compared with 259,000 in Minneapolis and St. Paul combined, Minnesota Public Radio News reported (https://bit.ly/1HEq2w4 ). The report defines poverty as 185 percent of the federal poverty line, which is about $44,000 a year for a family of four.

Maplewood Mayor Nora Slawik said the increased poverty can be seen on her city’s north side, and that the community is trying to keep property values up by creating a pool of money that residents can access for home repairs.

“Our housing stock is getting older, and people are having trouble keeping up with payments, which cause some of the foreclosure issues,” Slawik said. “We also have some issues with rehabbing.”

She also supports more transportation infrastructure that poor residents rely on to get to work. One proposal includes a possible bus rapid transit line from downtown St. Paul to Woodbury and Lake Elmo.

In 2000, the number of poor people in suburban and rural areas was about the same as in Minneapolis and St. Paul combined. But poverty in the suburbs increased by 92 percent by 2013.

It a reflection of what’s happening nationwide, according to Libby Starling, manager of Regional Policy and Research at the Metropolitan Council. She said people who have been living in the suburbs are finding their economic circumstances change, and that some other poor people are moving to suburbs as city living becomes more desirable and more expensive.

Social service agencies are trying to find ways to serve even more poor families.

Second Harvest Heartland chief executive Rob Zeaske says food support groups have known about more poverty in the suburbs for some time, and food banks are stretched.

“Getting a little more creative and strategic with how we get to where these neighbors in need are is a very big challenge,” Zeaske said.

The report said slightly more than one in five Metro area residents, or about 645,000 people, live in poverty.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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