The Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Profit in North Minneapolis

Center for Urban and Regional Affairs   (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

May 2019

Single Black mothers face the highest risk of evictions in the United States. In Hennepin County, close to 50% of all eviction filings take place in two zip codes in North Minneapolis, despite the fact that they contain just 8% of all rental units in the city. Driven by community feedback, The Illusion of Choice: Evictions & Profit in North Minneapolis project aims to answer the question of why and how evictions are taking place from the perspectives of tenants and landlords themselves. CURA believes answering these questions is central to the successful development of public policy solutions and new programmatic interventions for those tenants negatively affected by evictions, as well as landlords who value sustaining positive relationships with the communities in which they are investors. This project leverages Community-Engaged Action Research to build community power, assist local grassroots campaigns, and produce community-centered public policy solutions. 

Project Takeaways


  • Motivations for becoming a landlord: The most common reasons cited for becoming a property manager or landlord were that they “fell into the work” because of a lack of professional experience or for investment for retirement purposes.
  • Strategies for mitigating loss: The most common approaches used to mitigate loss were cash for keys and mutual termination of lease by nonrenewal.
  • Perceptions of tenants: Landlords typically described their tenants using deficit-based language (e.g., references to high rates of unemployment, getting pregnant at a young age, and drugs). Due to these perceptions, landlords attribute any challenges they have with tenants to these presumed deficits. 
  • Relationship with the city and the state: Almost all landlords described city inspections as a biased system, stating that code enforcement differed based on the inspector assigned.


  • Illusion of choice: Tenants expressed having to constantly make decisions under extreme distress. The “choices” that they had available to them were constrained by the context under which they were forced to move into the property they were evicted from and the economics of maintaining a household with limited resources.
  • Multiple filings: Living in the place you were evicted from: 71% of eviction action filings filed between 2015-2017 resulted in paid rent with the tenant remaining in place.
  • Barriers to attaining safe and affordable quality housing: 62% of tenants said they faced barriers to securing safe and affordable quality housing due their identity (including race, nationality, or criminal background) or family structure. 

The Social Service Run Around

Tenants describe their experience of applying for Hennepin County emergency assistance as “dehumanizing” and they felt they were given the “runaround.” 

Policy Recommendations

  • Policy Recommendation #1: Lengthening of Evictions Process
  • Policy Recommendation #2: A Human-Centered Timely Approach to Emergency Assistance
  • Policy Recommendation #3: Ending Self-Pay at County Shelters