Linda Taylor received two months’ notice from her landlord that she must vacate the Minneapolis house she had proudly called home for almost two decades.
“I felt like the whole world fell out from under me,” said 70-year-old Taylor. “My home means everything to me.”
She originally owned the house, but sold it when she fell victim to a real estate deal she said she didn’t understand and rented the house for about 15 years.
Earlier this year, Taylor received a surprise notice from her landlord that she must vacate her white stucco home in Powderhorn Park, just a few miles south of downtown, by April 1st. Her landlord wanted to sell the house and asked for $299,000. an amount that Taylor could not afford.
“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,” said Taylor, who lives alone in a two-bedroom house. “I felt really defeated.”
She worked for a local non-profit organization for almost three years before she was laid off during the coronavirus pandemic.
She lost her paycheck but continued to pay her rent — about $1,400 a month — using her savings, family money, and government subsidies, including RentHelpMN, a program launched during the pandemic to help Minnesotans facing homelessness.
When Taylor’s landlord, Greg Behrendt, told her to vacate the apartment, it was like “a rock just fell on me,” she said.
He said he would evict her if she didn’t buy a house or move out, she said. Berendt turned down an interview request from The Washington Post when he was contacted by phone.
Taylor said that despite her suffering, she was determined to stay.
I’m going to do something about it, Taylor thought to herself. “This is my home.”
She decided to share her struggles with Andrew Fahlstrom, 41, who lives across the street and works professionally as a housing rights organizer. Since he moved to the area six years ago with his partner, he and Taylor have developed a strong relationship.
“She has always been the one who welcomes everyone in the neighborhood,” said Fahlström.
He contacted the neighbors to see how they could help Taylor. Given his line of work, Fahlstrom knew that Taylor’s story was not unique, especially given that the local housing market has exploded in recent years.
“There are so many people losing their homes right now,” he said. “If we truly believe housing is a right, then we need to act accordingly because the next stop is homelessness.”
As word of the massive campaign to save Taylor’s home spread throughout the block, neighbors rushed to help.
“People listened to what Miss Linda had to say and wanted to do something,” Fahlström said. “It was such a clear and compelling story that everyone rallied behind it.”
According to Taylor, she originally bought the house in 2004 but began to delay payments and felt she was being tricked into returning the house to the previous owner, who allowed her to remain as a tenant. In 2006, after her landlord was convicted of a mortgage fraud that affected over 45 homes, including hers, Berendt bought the house.
Taylor said he raised her rent twice during the pandemic, and problems with repairs and maintenance remained.
Several times over the years, Taylor, who has five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, has approached social services and applied for programs and grants designed for tenants who want to buy their own home.
“Every time I tried to buy it, I ran into a lot of different walls,” Taylor said, adding that while she knew “my kids would always support me,” they couldn’t offer significant financial help.
Neighbors sympathized with her predicament.
“This is a person who has been paying rent for 18 years. Her rent went towards property taxes, other people’s mortgages, insurance, and presumably repairs, Fahlström said. “More systemic intervention is needed to enable people to stay in their homes.”
The Powderhorn Park community decided they would not allow their neighbor to be evicted. The group was well equipped to mobilize on Taylor’s behalf.
“We have an active local neighborhood group because we are two blocks from George Floyd Square,” Fahlström said, adding that the 2020 protests over the police killing of Floyd brought the community closer. “There was infrastructure, there was a line of communication, there were neighborly relations.”
The organizers sent a letter to the landlord urging him to wait with the eviction and start negotiations with Taylor so she could buy the house. It was signed by some 400 neighbors and handed over to Berendt in February.
The application worked. Behrendt said Taylor could continue the lease with an option to buy the house by June 31st. He lowered the sale price to $250,000, which is still out of reach for his tenant.
“Then it became a fundraising effort rather than an eviction defense,” Fahlström said.
Neighbor Julia Eagles was at the forefront of the initiative.
“I don’t want anyone to be forced out or fired from the community,” Eagles said. “We all collectively believed that we would do everything we could to keep Miss Linda here. So many people know and love this woman.”
Taylor is known for her small free library on her front lawn, which she constantly stocks with books, as well as her regular volunteer work in the community.
“They call me mayor,” Taylor joked.
Community members organized fundraising events including a party, social media campaigns and an art exhibit where Taylor, who loves to draw, sold some of her work. The local media covered the story, drawing more attention.
Organizers set up a campaign website and fundraising page, raising donations ranging from $5 to $15,000. The local church donated the largest amount—$200,000—to drive the effort to completion.
“When that happened, my faith became bigger than a mountain,” Taylor said.
In just four months, the people of Powderhorn Park raised $275,000 for Taylor, enough to buy her a house and cover the cost of repairs. All additional funds will be used to pay utility bills.
Taylor said she was overwhelmed by the support.
“I knew my neighbors loved me, but I didn’t know how much,” she said.
By May 31, a month ahead of the landlord’s deadline, Taylor closed her home. After almost 20 years, the house finally became hers.
“When it’s yours, it gives you a different feeling,” Taylor said. “I’m safe, I’m safe, and I have a home.”
She plans to continue hosting backyard barbecues, movie nights, and lemonade stands with her grandchildren. And she is determined to repay the kindness in advance.
“I’m here to help the next person, the next person, and the next person,” she said.
To celebrate the victory in the district, a party will be held on June 25th.
“It has been an amazing journey and it continues,” Taylor said.