Amid protest, Minneapolis takes on low-income housing FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 16 Jun 1998 16:06:35 -0700 (PDT)


For background on affordable housing issues, find this article at
http://www.startribune.com/metro and follow the links to a three-part
series, ''Housing of Last Resort.''

FWD  Star Tribune Metro/Region - Tuesday, June 16, 1998


     AMID PROTEST, MINNEAPOLIS TAKES ON LOW-INCOME HOUSING

     Kevin Diaz / Star Tribune


Amid a chorus of protesters chanting "save our homes," the Minneapolis City
Council embarked on an unprecedented debate Monday over a goal of creating
1,000 units of affordable housing a year for the next 15 years.

The proposed policy, the result of a grass-roots advocacy campaign by
low-income tenants and homeless people, would probably require that the
city find some $70 million to $90 million a year for affordable housing, or
$1.3 billion over the life of the program.

The council's all-DFL Community Development Committee approved the new
housing goals at the end of a packed, two-hour public meeting at Hennepin
Avenue United Methodist Church. While the policy calls for the creation of
an affordable housing trust fund administered by the Minneapolis Community
Development Agency (MCDA), the committee didn't identify a source for the
money.

The dollars and cents are expected to be worked out over the coming month
as the proposal is forwarded to the rest of the council, where it is almost
certain to be pared down.

"It's easy to grandstand on an issue like this," said Council Member Joe
Biernat, who abstained from voting Monday night, along with Council Member
Barb Johnson. "But nobody knows where the money will come from." The money
would be spent on such things as preserving existing housing, building new
housing and providing rental assistance.

To be sure, the problem extends beyond the Twin Cities. A report released
Sunday by the Wilder Research Center found that the number of homeless
people in Minnesota jumped 25 percent between 1994 and 1997.

The Minneapolis proposal, championed by committee chairman Jim Niland, also
would require that at least 20 percent of all publicly assisted new housing
developments of 10 units or more in Minneapolis be set aside for low-income
people.

Other details of the proposal, including a one-for-one replacement policy
for low-income housing that's torn down for urban renewal, also are likely
to receive further scrutiny by elected and MCDA officials.

Scaled-back proposal  

An alternate proposal sponsored by Council Member Joan Campbell has been
circulated among council members but wasn't brought up in Monday's
committee meeting. Though some of the language is similar to Niland's
proposal, it doesn't contain the 1,000-unit-a-year goal for affordable
housing.

In the near term, some city officials said the only concrete action that's
likely to come out of the current council discussion is the establishment
of a new affordable housing task force to develop specific strategies. It
would be expected to report the the council by Dec. 1, which falls at the
end of council budget deliberations for 1999.

The council's new debate on housing policy, still in its infancy, was
framed Monday night by a succession of civic and community activists
testifying about the critical shortage of low-cost housing and the wretched
conditions for many of the estimated 15,000 families in the city who pay
more than they can afford for shelter.

They were cheered on by more than 200 demonstrators, some accompanied by
children, some holding signs and banners, and many offering up their own
tales of hardship.

Their message: Robust economic growth and a 2 percent rental vacancy rate
in the city have driven up housing costs, while the minimum wage has lagged
behind.

Working poor  

"I've heard the cliche that the best affordable housing policy is a job,"
said Anne Ray of the Family Housing Fund, one of the nonprofits involved in
the rally. "But more and more people who are working can't afford housing."

But also framing the council's discussion are the efforts of the MCDA to
tear down blighted housing, along with efforts by the Minneapolis Public
Housing Authority (MPHA) to demolish aging housing projects and break up
historic concentrations of poverty.

The MCDA tears down between 180 and 200 boarded houses a year, most of them
in areas where the market value of homes doesn't justify the cost of
renovation.

Nevertheless, MCDA Executive Director Rebecca Yanisch said the agency has
provided funding for the preservation or production of some 828 units of
low-income housing a year, a net increase of more than 600. "The truth is,"
she acknowledged, "it's not enough."

Minneapolis also is in the fourth year of a the Hollman federal consent
decree, which set city housing officials on the course of tearing down its
oldest housing projects and relocating their residents. Under the Hollman
decree, which was sought by Legal Aid Society lawyers representing public
housing tenants, Minneapolis has lost 604 units of public housing in the
Sumner Field, Olson and Bryant highrise projects.

Most of the lost public housing units are slated to be replaced in the
suburbs and other parts of the city. But acceptance of public housing in
other parts of the metro region has been slow, and only a handful of former
public housing residents have been relocated outside the city.

Several city officials emphasized Monday that they see the affordable
housing crunch as a regional problem, not one that the city can solve by
itself.

But that view does not wash with Niland and many of his supporters at the
meeting, who argued that Minneapolis must take the lead and take care of
its own. "We're trying to solve the housing crisis in Minneapolis," Niland
said, "not in Woodbury."

END FORWARD

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