Communities tackle new approaches to housing affordability

Communities tackle new approaches to housing affordability
© The Hill Events

Elected officials and housing advocates tackled ways to encourage more affordable housing at "Building the Dream," an event hosted by The Hill in Minneapolis on Monday.

The event brought together experts and policymakers with a wide range of approaches to addressing a complicated issue that has challenged communities across the country. But all those participating in the event, sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders, highlighted the need for novel ways of approaching the problem.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) touted the city's Minneapolis 2040 plan, a comprehensive set of reforms being implemented by the Minneapolis City Council to tackle a housing shortage and to correct racial injustices in housing.

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Frey said Minneapolis 2040 would lead to more perspectives and diversity within communities, which in turn would help these communities become hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

“We are believers in beautiful socioeconomic and housing diversity in every corner of the city,” Frey said.

“That’s when great entrepreneurship takes place and that’s when our city is going to really rock. In order to get that socioeconomic diversity throughout the city you have to allow for it. But for generations and generations we didn’t allow for it,” Frey continued.

The impacts of these challenges are being seen across the nation.

Greg Ugalde, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, said his group is focused on creating affordable housing in an ever-changing market.

“Over the last 15 years the average age of a first-time buyer has increased by five years so instead of being 25, 26 years old, we’re up to 30-31,” Ugalde said. “It has changed the whole dynamic of the American dream and the things we strive for.”

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While there was broad and bipartisan agreement over the need for more affordable housing, there were also stark differences over how best to achieve that from the event's participants.

One important element of Minneapolis 2040 is ending single-family zoning to increase housing density and lower prices. 

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said that a radical change was needed to fix the system that created racial disparities in housing.

“We have inherited a system that for decades has privileged those with the most and forgotten the people that we have left behind. And housing is linked to income and all of the other systems that are failing, especially in Minnesota, people of color,” Bender said.

But there was criticism of the plan as well. Lisa McDonald, who founded an organization that opposes Minneapolis 2040, said the plan does not do enough to create home ownership opportunities for the minority communities it says it is trying to help.

“Homeownership is a way, particularly for low-income, people of color and immigrants to really create real generational wealth and both council member Bender and planning director Heather Worthington said that we are not addressing homeownership in this plan because we don’t believe that it creates generational wealth,” McDonald said.

At the event, two Minnesota state representatives, minority leader Rep. Kurt Daudt (R) and Rep. Mohamud Noor (D), addressed the regulatory burdens they said play a role in blocking the creation of more affordable housing.

Daudt said environmental and water permitting for building a home can involve up to five separate agencies and mandate five separate permits. Daudt worried that such burdensome regulations are putting homeownership out of reach for many people.

“Ninety percent of Minnesotans want to own a home. We need to make that as accessible as possible so everybody can participate in that,” Daudt said. "Homeownership is a phenomenal thing for a community, for the stability of a community and the stability of a family."

While Noor agreed with Daudt that regulations that prevent people from owning a home should be rolled back, he also called for active measures, including new rules, to help those seeking housing, such as increasing the minimum wage and implementing rent control.

“We have to introduce rent control, which is really unfortunate but we have to step into that field. When you look at the situation right now we have got an emergency. People are spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing,” Noor said.