A little bit about travel and A LOT about Minneapolis Affordable Housing Policy

First, I want to apologize for anyone reading this specific post looking to find much travel worthy info. For those who might not know me, this post may give a glimpse of who I am and what has and continues to drive much of who I am. Over the past 20 years, I’ve been pretty focused on affordable housing implementation and housing policy in the Twin Cities and specifically in Minneapolis.  While much of this post is Minneapolis focused, I think much of the comments could be applicable to many larger cities across the United States.  Here we go….

Once we started to travel, I wanted to know how long it would take for me to not be jolted out of bed at 3 a.m. in the morning thinking about work. I knew the stresses I was increasingly experiencing associated with my job were getting worse prior to our travel. Work was eating me up and I had assumed it would take at least a month for my first waking thoughts to not be those tied to my work. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to let go of the stress and after 2 weeks traveling my first thoughts every day weren’t that of the CLCLT. I also wondered if, once we started traveling, I would stop thinking about the stuff (organizational mission, staffing, fundraising, policy, governance, etc.) that consumed just about every waking hour of the past 14 years of my life. If so, it was going to be a clear sign that I needed to do something else upon our return. I was glad to see that the gut-wrenching organizational worries subsided quickly, but the passion for what I was doing hasn’t. I’ve found that I continue to think about housing policy each place we visit, taking note of construction, design, density, regulatory codes and enforcement (or lack thereof), homelessness, multigenerational living, race, culture, and relative levels of wealth. Affordable housing and housing policy is now in my DNA and think I would be hard pressed to not think about it on a regular basis. Travel has allowed me to be more attentive and focused. It’s also allowed me to step back and try to gain some perspective that I was unable to achieve while buried prior to leaving. I continue to read facebook posts, Minneapolis StarTribune articles, and CNN news to quickly get caught up while traveling. After filtering out presidential election and World Series posts, I’ve been able to observe some themes tied to Minneapolis Housing Policy that I might not have noticed with the chaos of life that I knew prior to traveling:

Housing for all is an infrastructure investment for local government.

I’ve been repeatedly told by Minneapolis elected (past/current Mayors and Council Members) that the role of local government is public infrastructure (streets, sewers, snow plowing, water, etc.) and public safety (police and fire departments). It does make me wonder how those same elected can tell me that our city shouldn’t be investing in housing (and specifically long-term affordable, supportive homeownership) while at the same time investing sports facilities, education, employment initiatives, parks, museums, and businesses. These are all things a city has the right to invest in, but question why homeownership isn’t and shouldn’t be also seen as an equally important investment. I’m not saying homeownership is in anyway more important than jobs or education, but do believe housing needs to have at least equal importance to them as it relates to moving the less fortunate in our community forward. That stated, I do believe that long-term affordable homeownership should be considered much more of a locally-benefitting, public infrastructure-like investment than education or employment for the following reasons:

  1. The feds are not going to solve our affordable housing and homeownership challenges in Minneapolis. The federal housing tap has been increasingly been turned off over the past 15 years. Each year, each appropriation, just a bit less than the previous. Despite the economic disparities growing, less and less of our federal funds are distributed equally. The increased pain that our communities feel is significant, but not significant enough to impact the shrinking middle-class. The very real path chosen by the President-elect will certainly further stifle any future federal assistance. Minneapolis, we are increasingly on our own. It sure seems like federal funding to housing will suffer more than that to education or employment readiness. I may be wrong, but perhaps someone can provide evidence otherwise.
  2. We can invest in a training program or an individual to take advantage of an employment opportunity, but that benefit to the city is lost the moment that individual takes a job outside of Minneapolis or moves away. I’m all for making investments in underserved individuals, but we need to be realistic about the long-term benefit to the city of Minneapolis.
  3. Similarly, I believe we all need to be doing more to improve the likelihood that underserved children in Minneapolis have all the benefits as possible through education. Likewise, what are the long-term benefits to the City of Minneapolis as families move, seek schooling in another district, or the kids ultimately grow up and move out of the city?
  4. Perpetually affordable homeownership models (like that of the City of Lakes Community Land Trust) take a one-time public investment and ensure the home(s) will remain permanently affordable for future generations of buyers even when the market-rate homes are increasing in the city.

We invest in roads, water treatment and sewer service for the long-term. We know that it’s better to do it well the first-time or it will cost the city more into the future. Likewise, cut policing or firefighting support and the short and long-term negative impact(s) could be huge. Why wouldn’t we want to think longer-term about our stock of affordable homes?  Over the past 10 years, the city of Minneapolis has not invested a single discretionary dollar into long-term affordable homeownership. Sure, federal funds pass through the city to create affordable homeownership in Minneapolis, but those dollars would be forfeited if not used for this purpose. Per #1 above, if our current President-elect has his way, there will be even fewer federal dollars flowing into Minneapolis. We are increasingly on our own to choose the path we are going to take in Minneapolis. We will no longer be able to take credit for the federal investments made, but nor will we be able to shed blame as easily as we had in the past because it rests on us to solve.

Again, and I feel I need to be clear here….this isn’t about not funding education or employment initiatives, it’s about increasing the prominence of the need for affordable housing and homeownership in Minneapolis.  Affordable housing and homeownership are lost in the “solution” discussion and we somehow begin ranking education or employment as more important to the viability of our city.  What I’m attempting to say is that if are looking to the long-term success of our city, we need to be looking at long-term housing solutions and see those investments as equally important as public infrastructure.

Who gets to live in Minneapolis?

Two great articles caught my attention on the same day a couple of weeks ago. They both stated things a number of us in the Minneapolis affordable housing sector have been saying for several years now, but it was great to see them catching national attention while articulating the challenges and opportunities so well. This first covered by The Atlantic states that unless we figure out how to decrease the racial disparities (housing, employment) that exist in the Twin Cities, the region will economically suffer in the future. It specifically calls out that homeownership rates for whites are double that of African Americans in the Twin Cities. While no suggestions were made and we’ve been only losing ground on this disparity figure over the past decade, it was good to see it called out. Simply put, we need to evaluate what is moving the dial on this front (not just getting household of color into homeownership at disproportionate rates, but also ensuring long-term success of the households) and double, triple, quadruple down on these initiatives.

The second article speaks to the resurgence of urban cores across the United States and the desire for many urban cities to attract and keep the millennials, but housing costs have run wild and it’s increasingly proving to be economically possible. The City of Minneapolis is specifically called out as one of these desired urban cores that will soon price out millennials. http://reinvent.net/the-rise-of-cities-and-the-fall-of-affordable-housing/

While Minneapolis and Minnesota are seen as progressive from outsiders, what they don’t realize is that the City of Minneapolis is years behind on the implementation of progressive affordable housing policies and investments as related to Portland, Denver, Seattle, Chicago, or Los Angeles. The city of Minneapolis has so many unused “affordable housing tools in its toolbox” that it literally could put any of them to work to make significantly more impact on adding affordable housing. Value capture and inclusionary housing through in-lieu fees, inclusionary zoning, impact fees, and tax increment financing are all examples of such tools. Additionally, the straight forward levy or bonding authority could also create dedicated source funding for affordable housing in Minneapolis.  Any one of these tools or combination of them (preferable, in my opinion) would make a huge difference in setting our city up to be more successful in the future.  We need to work on creating the public to ensure the necessary pressure on local electeds to make this happen.

Housing must be in the equity equation

Yes, education is needed to get a job….a job is needed to make money, but supportive and permanent housing build equity and create sense of stability and confidence for those looking to do better for themselves and their families. A recent study concluded that it would take the average African American household 228 years to equal the wealth of the average White household today. That’s three to four generations away! By that time, the same equity marker will be even further down the road…we’ll be forever chasing parity unless something radically changes. Two of the top contributors to the wealth disparity between Whites and the majority of People of Color populations is due to federal housing priorities established earlier the previous century. The creation of the Federal Housing Authority and the GI Bill created incentives for Americans to achieve homeownership affordably in the United States. What it didn’t do was create an equal opportunity for all Americans to take advantage of those incentives and certain populations were left behind….most notably African Americans. We should continue to invest in education and jobs for underserved and discriminated populations in the United States, but we should also look at vehicles that have proven to lessen the wealth disparity. Homeownership and stability provided by it has proven to achieve an end better than just investing in education and/or a job. The change needed isn’t happening fast enough by primarily investing in only education and employment initiatives. Important and as critical as they are to equity change, they are not going to allow us to decrease the wealth disparities that exist on their own.

https://www.thenation.com/article/the-average-black-family-would-need-228-years-to-build-the-wealth-of-a-white-family-today/

http://www.ips-dc.org/report-ever-growing-gap/

Multi-million dollar home proposed to be torn down to make way for high-end condos.

http://www.citypages.com/news/would-you-bulldoze-this-million-dollar-minneapolis-home-for-condos/398676701

Here we go again. There are dozens examples of this script we only know too well. Let’s play this out: Wealthy residents (mostly homeowners) living in some of the more affluent neighborhoods of Minneapolis express concerns about density, parking, environmental, solar access, and height restrictions. The zoning commission will approve the development…. with a few minor concessions and the wealthy residents will go ape-shit. Because the wealthy residents almost certainly have an attorney or two in their ranks, they will make sure to file an appeal. It then occurs to them that it’s worth including a “hail mary” pass in their playbook and invoke the need for the development to include affordable housing (mostly in the form of suggested “safer” senior or artist housing, which they cite a huge need in their community). This is when the affordable housing specialists/experts are pulled in as the pawns in the chess match. We come to the table, often assuming there truly is a genuine interest in affordable housing, to talk about the real need in the community. Organizational resources are expended, time is wasted, and affordable housing is typically negatively polarized even more at the end of the day. The project moves forward, despite resident anger, and there are no affordable units. Here’s the frickin’ reality: the city is changing and the overwhelming current forces are in favor of greater density. The development(s) will happen, but we are missing a critical opportunity to take advantage of adding housing units for all the residents of Minneapolis through the use of inclusionary housing policies. Inclusionary housing zoning requirements (numerous larger cities), in-lieu fees (San Fran), and linkage fees (Seattle and Boston) have to be part of our Minneapolis solution. Minneapolis (and the Twin Cities Metro) need to compete with other larger metro areas or our future may be dismal. What we haven’t come to grips with is that our region will be at a huge disadvantage if we are unable to be economically, culturally, and racially diverse. That means we need to make sure we have housing options and rights to ownership for all our residents. This article provides why is it is so very important to have inclusionary housing policies in place (we should have had them in place over 10 years ago!).

Clearly, the recent election results are demonstrating American people are disenfranchised by the current system(s) and want change. The City of Minneapolis Mayoral and 13 City Council seats are all up for election in November 2017. I’m increasingly committed to call out missed opportunities and forward thinking affordable homeownership approaches for current electeds and future candidates to consider.  I’m also committed to raising the profile of the affordable housing needs and challenges in Minneapolis over the next year to increase the public and media pressure for practical, positive change on this front.

In closing….and if anyone made it this far through these ramblings…I promise my next posts will include the following topics: Incredible Espana!, Observations about all types of biking in Europe, and reflections on running while here.

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “A little bit about travel and A LOT about Minneapolis Affordable Housing Policy

  1. Lots of food for thought. While I was recently in Italy (albeit 1 week), I thought of much baser things like food, wine and language. Bravo for you and a sabbatical.

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  2. What a powerful, sound and fundamental statement Jeff. You are so very thoughtful and clear on the issues. I can see that the distance of this trip has been a benefit in articulating the problem. If people want to be here but don’t have a safe stable place to reside they won’t stay. I hope the city of Minneapolis is paying attention. Could you do a letter to the editor and get the issue out there?
    Steve

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  3. Hi Jeff,

    I enjoyed reading and re-reading your post. You’ve been doing some good deep thinking, which I imagine as a primary benefit of your trip. Travel, leisure and freedom yields great re-tooling for the three of you collectively and individually. And your creative insights are informative for me.

    Housing infrastructure is not so much of a no-brainer, but the way you frame it is brilliant. I’d say Minneapolis is fortunate to have you. As I let my imagination play I think you might be on a good track to function as a small consulting firm. If you had an executive secretary, an intelligent progressive attorney nearby, you’d probably find yourself in demand with enough freedom to follow your personal interests as they ebb an flow.

    There’s some great news from Detroit. I say Congratulations to All and Thanks to McKnight! Can we clone this initiative a couple hundred times? http://www.knightfoundation.org/articles/meet-the-winning-ideas-in-detroit-s-knight-arts-challenge

    It’s another sunny mild day in Paradise. Once again it froze hard last night, but I expect high 50’s or 60 today. Somehow the seasons move along despite the warmth. And the Super Moon, like the others of the last few months, has given me a few nice midnight strolls through the gardens and bees.

    Knowing your broad spectrum of interests, I’m looking forward to your next posts. Big hugs all around please. Take care. David >

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  4. Hey Jeff

    I appreciate you sharing your nuanced insights on the affordable housing situation in Minneapolis. Too often people just rant and complain without taking the time or effort to see a more holistic view. I’m no expert, but it seems right that increasing home ownership would positively impact many of the other socioeconomic issues the city faces. So does the notion that Minneapolis should take charge of and responsibility for it’s long-term housing success. Thanks for the post…now get back to your vacation!

    -andy

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