Addressing housing crisis demands urgent action
From the Minneapolis Labor Review, October 16, 2020
By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor
MINNEAPOLIS — For longtime tenant advocate Esther Agbaje, the affordable housing crisis demands urgent action. Unfortunately, she says, “across the country our answer… is we’re going to throw you out on the street because you can’t pay rent.” She adds, “there are so many things that flow from having a safe, stable place to live.”
That sense of urgency, Agbaje says, led her to run for the Minnesota House District 59B seat in Minneapolis, which includes part of north Minneapolis and downtown neighborhoods.
Running against DFL incumbent Ray Dehn, she won the DFL endorsement and then defeated AFL-CIO endorsed Dehn in the August 11 primary election. Following the primary, Agbaje won the endorsement of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Agbaje was born in St. Paul and grew up in Brainerd and Faribault. She graduated from George Washington University in the nation’s capital with a degree in political science, later earning a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Harvard University. She currently works as an attorney in Minneapolis.
During her time as an undergraduate student in Washington, D.C., Agbaje had a two-year internship with the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center — which works to support worker organizing and unions across the globe. “It was my first entrée into the labor world,” she says. From that experience, she learned “when fighting for human rights, you’re fighting for workers’ rights, too.”
In addition to her concern for affordable housing and advocacy for tenant rights, Agbaje supports investing in public transit — and, prior to COVID, she says “I rode transit all the time.”
“I want to make sure we have a reliable, consistent Metro Transit system so it becomes a first choice,” she says. Bus routes, she continues, need to connect neighborhoods and not just move people in and out of downtown. And workers commuting to nighttime jobs need to be able to count on transit.
Redrawing the route for the Blue Line light rail, she says, offers the opportunity for economic development “to make the north side a destination, not just a pass-through.”
We need more legislators “who understand how transit intersects with economic growth, housing, and the environment,” she says.
Agbaje adds: “I definitely look forward to a future where more jobs are union and more people have an opportunity to be in a union.”