The cost of rent is increasing at a rate that is unsustainable for residents. We’re already seeing a shortage of beds in homeless shelters, and growing wait lists for affordable housing and public housing. We need to build more housing in areas that can support higher density to ease demand, we need to insist that affordable units are included in new development, and we need to protect the housing that’s still affordable in our neighborhoods. Assuring safe, stable, affordable housing is also one of the most impactful things we can do as a city for safety, education, health, and environmental sustainability.
Affordable housing is an issue I’ve worked on for years, and I care deeply about making this a city where everyone has safe, stable, affordable housing. I’ve seen firsthand how our affordable housing shortage hurts vulnerable residents. I’ve visited homes with obviously unsafe conditions, and had the families living in them beg me: “Don’t tell the city.” They’d love to stand up to the landlord who is failing to maintain their home, but if the city slaps a condemned sticker on their door, they know they’ll be out on the street, and back on the waiting lists for housing that is in too short supply. So tonight, and every night until we build adequate affordable housing for our residents, some of our neighbors are making the terrible choice between staying in unsafe housing, or facing homelessness.
Leaving our neighbors with that impossible choice is morally wrong, and we need to approach our affordable housing shortage with real urgency and commitment. There is no one magic solution, but there a few categories of work that will all need to be part of our approach.
Preserve the affordable housing we already have.
Preserving affordable housing will include foreclosure prevention for homeowners, and programs for renters that encourage or require landlords to repair affordable housing for the current tenants rather than the evict/remodel/flip process that often follows failed rental inspections. By subsidizing repairs and renovations aimed at livability and maintenance of affordable rents, we can discourage the superficial, aesthetic improvements that gentrify and displace.
Strengthen renter protections.
People who choose to make a living by providing housing to others are doing important work on which our city relies, and also taking on a serious responsibility that requires regulation. It's by definition a relationship with an imbalance of power that, handled poorly, lends itself to exploitation and neglect that can be devastating to families who rent and have very limited housing options in a tight housing market. The city has an important role in ensuring tenants are treated fairly, that anyone paying rent in the city is getting safe, properly maintained housing for their rent, and that rental practices aren't exacerbating existing social inequalities by creating further instability.
Our city can also provide better support to landlords, particularly around managing the complexity of affordable housing eligibility, and by providing timely and consistent inspections that provide more useful guidance on maintenance.
As a city, we have an interest in stable, fair, affordable housing, as do property owners in the long run, and the city has a role in regulating the rental market accordingly. Minneapolis does less than many other cities to empower tenants, and should look to other cities both for inspiration and to learn from unintended consequences where regulations protect tenants from unjust evictions or sudden, steep rent increases.
Increase the supply of all kinds of housing.
We need to build more housing to meet demand, and make sure scarcity doesn’t drive prices up for everyone. In particular, we should focus on the development of walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly neighborhoods close to jobs and activity centers. Building smart density decreases our reliance on cars and – along with more energy-efficient construction – lowers our per-capita carbon footprint to make us a more sustainable city.
Increased density should mean different things in different neighborhoods, ranging from new high rises near transit corridors and activity centers, to more efficient use of existing single family homes that could house multiple families in other neighborhoods. The City’s Comprehensive Plan should include neighborhood-appropriate upzoning to allow for increased density across the city as a whole to meet our housing need.
When single-family housing was built in earlier eras, a single family was likely multi-generational. The shift away from multi-generational living has decreased the density of our city, and we should address it by allowing more 2 - 8 unit buildings - the ‘missing middle’ in housing options – to be either newly constructed, or developed in existing re-purposed single family homes. That’s a way to increase the density of a neighborhood with lower construction costs, and without radically changing the traffic patterns and experience of the neighborhood. It’s also a way to create more affordable family housing – especially 3 and 4 bedroom units for families with children.
Some of this new density is causing real conflict, and that’s not going to just go away. Residents are feeling the pressure of change – reduced parking, increased traffic – and not always seeing the benefits of our increased tax base and the increased positive neighborhood activity that follows. Managing that tension, and minimizing the short-term inconveniences along the way as we move toward our vision, will be a major part of the work of the next City Council.
One of the things we most need to do is to capture clearer community input in advance of development proposals, so that we’re not just reacting to developers’ ideas. By engaging the community more directly and explicitly about how each neighborhood is going to contribute to our city’s goals to add more housing, we can align our zoning with our community vision for growth in a way that makes life easier for developers who want to build the housing our community wants.
Build new affordable housing.
The market isn't going to solve our affordable housing crisis. We need to use a combination of incentives and requirements to get affordable units included in new development proposals, and get new affordable proposals into construction. Most of the recent new market-rate construction is very expensive, and has created new pockets of economic and racial housing segregation in an already very segregated city. Historic high market rents are also placing an added student debt burden on college student renters.
We're going to need to use a combination of incentives, investment, and regulation to get more affordable units included in private development plans. I support inclusionary zoning that compels a percentage of new construction to include affordable units. I also support height bonuses for proposed development that help the city achieve our affordable housing goals. A lot of the development we want is more likely to come to fruition with financial support, and I believe that we can do more to redirect the wealth of our new property tax base to directly subsidize more construction of affordable housing units. If we get creative in our public-private partnerships with private developers and non-profits, we’ll be able to direct some of the private investment in residential construction into housing that most meets our needs.
We also need to keep public housing on the table, starting with a firm, clear commitment to maintain the public housing we already provide. We can’t afford to build everything ourselves, but public housing should be part of a complete solution to affordable housing.