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Watch: Neighbours save elderly woman from eviction by buying her home for her

The Powderhorn Park community decided it would not allow their neighbour to be displaced. Picture: Dewald Van Rensburg/Pixabay

The Powderhorn Park community decided it would not allow their neighbour to be displaced. Picture: Dewald Van Rensburg/Pixabay

Published Jun 14, 2022

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Minnesota, United States - A 70-year-old woman was given two months' notice from her landlord to vacate the Minneapolis house she has proudly called home for nearly two decades.

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“My house means everything to me,” says Linda Taylor.

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“It felt like the world had been pulled from under me.”

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Taylor initially owned the house, but sold it after falling prey to a real estate deal she says she did not understand. She then rented the home.

Earlier this year, she received an unexpected notice from her landlord to leave her white stucco home in the Powderhorn Park neighbourhood, just a few miles south of downtown, by April 1. Her landlord wanted to sell the house and was asking for US$299 000 (R4.8m) – a sum Taylor could not afford.

"I could not sleep, I could not eat," says Taylor, who lives alone in the two-bedroom house. "I felt really defeated."

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She worked at a local non-profit organization for nearly three years before she was laid off during the Coronavirus pandemic. Although she lost her salary, Taylor continued paying rent – about US$1 400 (R22 500) a month – using her savings, money from family, and government subsidies.

When Taylor's landlord, Greg Berendt, told her to vacate, it was like “a stone had just dropped on me”.

He said he would evict her if she did not either buy the home or leave. Berendt declined an interview request from The Washington Post when reached by phone.

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Taylor says that, despite her distress, she was determined to stay.

"I'm going to do something about it," she remembers telling herself. "This is my house."

She decided to share her struggle with Andrew Fahlstrom, 41, who lives across the street and works professionally as a housing rights organiser. Since he moved to the neighbourhood six years ago with his partner, he and Taylor have built a strong rapport.

“She has always been the one in the neighbourhood who greets everyone," Fahlstrom says.

He contacted neighbours to see what they could do to help. Given his line of work, Fahlstrom knew Taylor's story was not unique, particularly as the local housing market has sky-rocketed in recent years.

“So many people are losing housing right now,” he says.

“If we actually believe housing is a right, then we need to act like it, because the next stop is homelessness."

As word of the grass-roots campaign to save Taylor's home spread around the block, neighbours were eager to help.

“People listened to what Miss Linda was saying and wanted to do something," Fahlstrom says.

"It was just such a clear and compelling story that everyone rallied for her."

Taylor explains that she originally bought the house in 2004, but started falling behind on payments and felt she was tricked into signing the house back over to the previous owner, who allowed her to stay on as a tenant. In 2006, after her landlord was caught in a mortgage fraud scheme – which affected more than 45 homes, including hers, Berendt purchased the house.

He raised her rent twice during the pandemic, Taylor says, and let repairs and maintenance issues linger.

Several times over the years, Taylor – who has five children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren – went to social services and applied for programs and grants geared toward renters who want to buy their homes.

“Every time I tried to buy it, I ran into a ton of different walls," she says, adding that, although she knew her children “would always support me”, they were not in a position to offer significant financial help.

Her neighbours empathised with her predicament.

“This is a person who has been paying for housing for 18 years. Her rent has gone to pay the property taxes, other people's mortgages, the insurance, and supposedly repairs, too," Fahlstrom says.

"There needs to be more systemic intervention so that people can stay in their homes."

The Powderhorn Park community decided it would not allow their neighbour to be displaced, and the group was well equipped to mobilise on Taylor's behalf.

"We have an active local neighbourhood group because we're within two blocks of George Floyd Square," Fahlstrom says, noting too that the 2020 protests over Floyd's murder by a police officer brought the community closer.

“The infrastructure was there, the communication line was there, the neighbourhood relationships were there.”

Organisers sent a letter to the landlord, urging him to wait on eviction and start negotiations with Taylor so she could buy the house. It was signed by about 400 neighbours and hand-delivered to Berendt in February.

The plea worked. Berendt said Taylor could continue renting with an opportunity to purchase the home by June 31. He lowered the sale price to US$250 000 (R4m), which was, however, still out of reach for his tenant.

"Then it became a fundraising effort instead of an eviction defence effort," Fahlstrom says.

Neighbour Julia Eagles was at the forefront of the initiative.

“I don't want anyone getting displaced or priced out of the community,” Eagles says.

“We all believed collectively that we were going to do what it takes to keep Miss Linda here. So many people know and love this woman."

Taylor is known for the little free library on her front lawn, which she keeps brimming with books, as well as her regular volunteer work around the community.

"They call me the mayor," Taylor jokes.

Community members organised fundraising efforts, including a block party, social media campaigns, and an art show – in which Taylor, who enjoys painting, sold some of her artwork. Local media covered the story, drawing more attention.

Organisers created a campaign site and a fundraising page, bringing in donations in amounts of US$5 (R80) to US$15 000 (R241 000). A local church gave the largest sum – US$200 000 (R3.2m) – carrying the effort to the finish line.

"When that came through, my faith grew bigger than a mountain," Taylor says.

In just four months, the people of Powderhorn Park raised US$275 000 (R4.4m) for Taylor – enough to buy her home and cover repairs. Any additional funds will go toward utility payments.

Taylor says she is stunned by the support.

"I knew my neighbours loved me, but I didn't know how much.”

By May 31, one month ahead of her landlord's deadline, Taylor closed on her home. After nearly 20 years, the house is finally hers.

"When it's yours, it gives you a different type of feeling. I'm safe, I'm secure, and I have a home.”

Taylor plans to continue hosting backyard barbecues, movie nights, and lemonade stands with her grandchildren, and she is determined to pay the kindness forward.

"I'm here to help the next person and the next person and the next person.”

To celebrate the neighbourhood-wide win, there will be a block party on June 25.

“It's been an amazing journey, and it continues on,” Taylor says.

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