“People can get somewhere if they have some help. Subsidized housing is not a handout, it is a hand up.”
- Patti Fritz, Minnesota representative
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Today, Patti Fritz is a success by any definition: a licensed practical nurse, a proud mom of five and grandmother of 16, and a representative for District 26B in the Minnesota House. She is known for being a tireless voice for the economically disadvantaged. Thirty years ago, however, she was in a very different place.
A child’s medical bills create disaster
After Patti gave birth to her fifth child, who needed extensive medical care, she and her husband Jim discovered that they were beyond broke. The trucking company Jim worked for had never deposited the funds it withheld from his paycheck for health insurance, so the Fritzes had to pay all the baby’s medical bills. “We couldn’t pay the rent and couldn’t afford to feed the kids - I had to sell my engagement ring to buy food,” Patti remembers.
CommonBond home provides a hand up
When the Fritzes heard about Greenvale Place, a new CommonBond housing community that had opened in Northfield, they jumped at the opportunity to get back on their feet.
“The idea of ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ is bunk,” says Patti in her characteristically straightforward way. “People can get somewhere if they have some help. Subsidized housing is not a handout, it is a hand up.”
A steppingstone to success
During the year the Fritzes lived at Greenvale Place, Patti was able to get back to work as an LPN and the family started repairing their finances. “Things turned around for us after we found out what help was available,” she says.
Out of affordable housing and into politics
One of the people who helped was the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, who knocked on her door at Greenvale Place one day during canvassing. That knock was the start to Patti’s career as a political activist. With Wellstone, she helped start Organization for a Better Rice County (OBRC), a grassroots organization for the rural poor. She was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2004.
Patti is proud of her experience and says, “I have no shame about telling my story, because it could happen to anyone. It’s happening today, more often than we know, and we simply have to stop finding fault and shaming people for encountering hardship. That’s why we need organizations like CommonBond: People must have the dignity and the help they deserve.”