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Jeremy Speaks out on Housing

March 24, 2017

There's plenty of discussion lately about the housing crunch in Minneapolis. It's time for our leaders to take bold and decisive action to preserve affordable housing and encourage smart development. My housing policy expertise positions me well to make meaningful improvements. Here is what I envision for our friends and neighbors. Take a look below or over at The Wedge Live!

 

 

Question: How do you think the market rate housing development of the last several years has impacted Minneapolis?

 

 

We need city policies that spur expansion in all segments of the housing market. Market-rate housing development has fueled recent growth in Minneapolis. However, without policies that reinforce the importance of affordable housing, the kind of growth we’ve seen at the high end of the market squeezes out the affordable units that keep our city accessible to residents at all income levels. We need diverse housing stock and mixed-income communities, and part of that is ensuring we have policies and resources in place to support the preservation of the existing -- and shrinking -- supply of naturally occurring affordable housing. In addition, an inclusionary zoning policy would go a long way toward mitigating the negative effects of future higher-end development booms, while unwinding some of the damage done to our housing stock by the most recent one. 

We’ve seen a huge increase in number of residents in the city, reinforcing a tax base that can support initiatives citywide. However, a large portion of our housing is not accessible for people at all income levels and existing city efforts have not encouraged investment in all areas of the city. There is higher-end investment and then low-end housing that benefits from tax breaks, but Minneapolis needs to deepen its focus on the space between, in all neighborhoods. Our city must make sure the city encourages sensible housing development across the city, so that we are proactively building mixed income communities.

Question: What policies will you pursue to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing in Minneapolis? Since state financing for affordable housing is limited, what additional funding sources would you seek? What are some alternative policies you’d pursue to remove barriers to housing affordability which would compensate for this lack of funding?

 

Any tax or fee increases on housing growth should go toward housing. Right now, there is a notable opportunity to capture this potential because policymakers are recognizing the importance of affordable housing. This attention to affordable housing needs to translate into greater financial resources, including through a tax increase. The City Council must be a good steward of all Minneapolitans’ money, which means ensuring communities citywide see a net benefit of dedicating more money to housing. One of the biggest gains from promoting housing this way comes in the form of more tax income, driven up by additional residents moving to the city. 

The city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is an important piece of my strategy for increasing our supply of affordable housing. While city leaders have taken steps in recent years to expand this important funding pool, closing the significant gaps in our local housing economy will require bolder action and deeper reserves. I am also supportive of innovative efforts like Hennepin County’s multimillion-dollar fund formed specifically to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing, which is particularly vulnerable in today’s market. 

I also believe inclusionary zoning would be an important addition to Minneapolis’ toolbox and would function well with current city laws. Additionally, Minneapolis zoning laws need to be modernized to allow more housing density, particularly to accommodate the ever-growing population of seniors and more retail in Ward 11. 

Beyond that, Minneapolis could more aggressively support the land trust model, which sets aside permanently affordable housing for homeownership. The city is in a position to help scale up pools like these, and expand their impact -- in fact, these tools could help bridge the racial and economic gaps holding Minneapolis back. To date, land trusts have generally been restricted to foreclosure properties in certain pockets of Minneapolis, and have not taken root citywide. But the model becomes more powerful when it promotes homeownership across the entire city, a strategy pioneered elsewhere in the U.S. 

Finally, we need to innovate ways to reduce the cost of building more affordable housing, such as awarding bonuses -- for example, reducing parking requirements -- to projects that increase density.

Question: The vast majority of Minneapolis is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, while most of the units we currently build are in large apartment buildings in or near downtown. Single-family homes and large apartment buildings tend to be more expensive per unit than missing middle housing (for example, a fourplex). How do we use the currently ongoing update to the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan to allow a mix of housing types across Minneapolis that are less expensive to rent, own, and build? 

The Comprehensive Plan process presents a unique and essential opportunity to square the city’s development priorities with changing demographics and evolving needs. In many cases, what worked for Minneapolis decades ago is not compatible with our communities as they exist today. Rising property prices in Minneapolis, driving up rents and at the same time putting homeownership out of reach for many, underscore the need for a strategic overhaul. The city needs to be proactive in this discussion and guarantee broad community engagement to achieve meaningful results. 

Though Minneapolis’ population is roughly half renters, much of the existing zoning code is used to advance the interests of single-family homeowners. While those voices have historically been the loudest, they do not necessarily reflect the best interests of our communities. Updating our zoning code is a key step toward fostering an inclusive, vibrant, and diverse community with opportunities for all residents. 

City leaders can seed and nurture more flexibility in zoning code. Many of the conversations around zoning today concern setbacks, door locations, and building height. While these are real considerations, better rules could enable Minneapolis to be more proactive in encouraging the kind of development that benefits our communities. As an example, this shift could include more flexible zoning designations and making density the standard in order to promote more types of housing. 

Land use is a central piece of the conversation over our city’s future. We should consider moving our code in the direction of a form-based zoning rather than Euclidian zoning. Doing this, we create more flexibility, becoming less prescriptive. Land use policy should be about more than dictating “a house goes here and a commercial structure goes here.” Smart policies require us to be more creative and more nimble. 

We need to focus on balancing community participation, which can sometimes result in a desire to maintain status quo, with the demand for more people to live in the city. Population growth expands the city’s tax base, results in more people supporting local businesses, and increases biking and transit use -- all things we need to strive for. Increased density supports communities that give residents freedom from driving everywhere , an important consideration when we think about how our residents can best interact with each other and their community. We need to constantly consider the long-term possibilities and impact of the decisions we make today as it relates to zoning and planning while ensuring adequate time for community input and participation.

Question: Do you think there’s a place for light commercial spaces like small cafes and corner stores in neighborhood interiors? Do you believe there are other areas where restrictive zoning has led to worse outcomes for neighborhoods?

It is essential to include light commercial spaces, like small cafes and corner stores, in neighborhood interiors. There are some particularly good examples planted throughout the city, including in the Seward neighborhood, but our communities, including Ward 11, would absolutely benefit from more of this. Minneapolis should be able to trust its leaders to focus on reforming the zoning code in a way that promotes and nurtures these community amenities. 

Ward 11 faces a particular challenge due to its large number of single-family homes. This low-density makeup makes it difficult to support businesses outside of our existing commercial nodes. But this is changing, and we can and should be more proactive and creative about improving what our community looks like. Especially as we look into a future defined by multimodal transportation, we must shift our paradigm to explicitly prioritize development easily accessible by foot and bike, and near transit lines. Policies that favor commercial development on interior corridors foster vibrancy and walkability, encouraging people to get around on two feet or two wheels rather than in a car. We see this in pedestrian overlay districts, which only serve to improve neighborhoods. Multifamily housing with first-floor retail is another pathway. As a bonus, embracing this type of development can increase our tax base.

Question: Are there any other issues related to housing or zoning that you believe are important enough to address as a city council member? What specific policy goals would you pursue in this area?

Minneapolis is already fertile ground for impactful solutions to our affordable housing crisis, and for ideas that support smart urban development. Many of these policies, including inclusionary zoning, are already on the city’s to-do list. Still, our communities need decision makers that can grapple with competing interests to serve the city as a whole. There will be tough decisions ahead, but I look forward to supporting short- and long-term investments that will make Minneapolis more inclusive, vibrant, and durable in the face of shifting demographics and development trends. Some of this work won’t be very sexy, but that does not mean it won’t be crucial. For example, ensuring consistent, fair, and equitable building inspections and code enforcement across the city will ensure our important stock of older rentals remain safe, stable places to live. In addition, particularly as the market drives up rental prices, stronger tenant rights enforcement by the city is an important step toward ensuring renters are treated fairly. 

Adjacent to zoning, we need to design streets in a way that makes them safe for all users, prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists. We should embrace street design as a way to support neighborhood economies. This work involves a number of factors, including traffic flow and pedestrian safety, as well as street parking. There is an economic impact of street design, and we need to be mindful of that as we plan, promoting to the extent we can the small town in the big city feel of Ward 11 by developing our business nodes including outdoor cafes, slower traffic, and available parking to promote the economic productivity of a place. 

Minneapolis ought to invest more in transit as a city. Right now the city of Minneapolis, aside from building streets, is not a major participant in mass transit in funding, but we should be a vocal presence at the table and engaged in related discussions. 

I also support exploring two-rate taxation to encourage people to use land more efficiently and promote density. Two-rate taxation would shift and change how we build, and could be less of a burden on commercial properties, which now face a larger share of property taxes that can inhibit their ability to thrive.

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