'I knew my neighbors loved me, but I didn't know how much,' the 70-year-old shared.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 15, 2022. It has since been updated.
Linda Taylor was devastated when her landlord told her she had two months to vacate the Minneapolis house she had proudly called home for nearly two decades. "It felt like the world had been pulled from under me," the 70-year-old told The Washington Post. "My house means everything to me," Taylor revealed that although she originally bought the house in 2004, she signed it back over to the previous owner when she started falling behind on payments, falling prey to a real estate deal she didn't understand. She has rented the home for about 15 years since then.
At the beginning of 2022, Taylor's landlord, Greg Berendt—who purchased the white stucco home in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood in 2006 after the previous landlord was caught in a mortgage fraud scheme that affected more than 45 homes, including hers—sent her an unexpected notice, asking her to move out of the house by April 1, 2022. He planned to sell the property and asked for $299,000, a sum Taylor could not afford. "I could not sleep, I could not eat," she said. "I felt really defeated." Taylor, who lived alone in the two-bedroom house, worked at a local nonprofit organization for nearly three years before she was laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, Berendt reportedly raised her rent twice and let repairs and maintenance issues linger.
Despite losing her paycheck, she continued paying rent—about $1,400 a month—using her savings, money from family and government subsidies like RentHelpMN, a program launched during the pandemic to help Minnesotans at risk of losing housing. So when Berendt told her he would evict her if she didn't buy the home or leave, it was like "a stone had just dropped on me," Taylor said. Despite her distress, she was determined to fight for her home. "I'm going to do something about it," Taylor remembered telling herself. "This is my house."
Taylor shared her troubles with her neighbor, Andrew Fahlstrom, who worked professionally as a housing rights organizer. The two had built a strong rapport since he moved to the neighborhood six years ago with his partner. "She has always been the one in the neighborhood who greets everyone," Fahlstrom said. Given his line of work, the 41-year-old knew Taylor's struggle was not a one-off case. "So many people are losing housing right now," he said, referring to how the local housing market has skyrocketed in recent years. "If we actually believe housing is a right, then we need to act like it because the next stop is homelessness."
Right now off 10th Ave s and 36th: the community is gathered in a block party to raise awareness for miss Linda Taylor, whose landlord wants to sell the house she's loved in for 18 years. pic.twitter.com/PFZhFUXRZB— Twin Cities Citizens' Report (@TwinCityReports) April 2, 2022
Fahlstrom got in touch with other neighbors to see what they could do to help Taylor. News of their grass-roots campaign soon spread around the block and people were eager to help. "People listened to what Miss Linda was saying and wanted to do something," Fahlstrom said. "It was just such a clear and compelling story that everyone rallied for her... 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. There needs to be more systemic intervention so that people can stay in their homes."
Powderhorn residents intervene in popular neighbor’s near eviction.— Sigrid Ellis (@sigridellis) April 9, 2022
No heroes, no protagonists. Only each other.
The Powderhorn Park community—which was well equipped to mobilize on Taylor's behalf—was determined not to allow their neighbor to be displaced. "We have an active local neighborhood group because we're within two blocks of George Floyd Square," Fahlstrom explained, adding 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 neighborhood relationships were there." In February, organizers sent a letter to Berendt, signed by about 400 neighbors, urging him to wait on eviction and start negotiations with Taylor so she could buy the house.
Their efforts saw some results as Berendt said Taylor could continue renting with an opportunity to purchase the home by June 30, 2022. He also lowered the sale price to $250,000—which, unfortunately, was still out of reach for his tenant. "Then it became a fundraising effort instead of an eviction defense effort," Fahlstrom said. Julia Eagles, another one of Taylor's neighbors, took the lead in raising funds for the house. "I don't want anyone getting displaced or priced out of the community," Eagles said. "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."
Community members tried every avenue to raise enough money for Taylor to be able to purchase her home. From organizing a block party, an art show—in which Taylor, who enjoyed painting, sold some of her artwork—and setting up social media campaigns and a fundraising page, they left no stone unturned. The largest donation of $200,000 came from a local church, carrying the effort to the finish line. "When that came through, my faith grew bigger than a mountain," Taylor said. In just four months, the community raised $275,000 for Taylor, which was enough to buy her home, cover repairs and maybe even went towards some utility payments.
"I knew my neighbors loved me, but I didn't know how much," said Taylor, who was known for the little free library on her front lawn and regular volunteer work around the community. By May 31—a month ahead of her landlord's deadline—Taylor closed on her home, making the house finally hers after nearly two decades. "When it's yours, it gives you a different type of feeling," Taylor said. "I'm safe, I'm secure, and I have a home... I'm here to help the next person and the next person and the next person."