Freshman Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s first budget plan addresses several of the critical issues he campaigned on — including affordable housing, community-backed partnerships and more transparent city government.
Last week, Frey said his $1.55 billion proposed budget for 2019 would lay “a strong foundation for a stronger city.” The plan would increase city spending 9.8 percent, or $139 million a year, and the tax levy would rise 5.63 percent. If adopted, the budget would translate into an $88 increase on a median-priced $249,000 home.
The major emphasis on affordable housing is properly placed. Having a stable place to live can help residents with a multitude of other issues, including health, education and employment.
Frey used dozens of notes — each with stories about what stable housing can mean for a family or individuals — as a backdrop for his budget speech. Those personal accounts supported his plan to invest a record $40 million in affordable housing — more than triple any previous city commitment.
That funding, he said, would provide city help to those who want to build or preserve affordable- and mixed-income housing in the city. And it would expand a home-buyer assistance program designed to reduce racial disparities in homeownership.
Frey’s housing push is part of a regional and statewide effort to address Minnesota’s growing housing crunch. In his own recent budget address, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called for an additional $10 million for the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which would raise the combination of city and other funds to $70 million over three years.
A state task force report released this week confirmed that Minnesota needs thousands of additional homes per year to meet growing demand. The study recommended more than two dozen ideas for narrowing the housing supply-demand gap, including creating a permanent state funding source for affordable housing and offering incentives to apartment owners to keep rents low.
Frey is also emphasizing the importance of public-private and nonprofit partnerships to strengthen the city. For example, $3.3 million of his housing investment would fund a “Stable Homes, Stable Schools’’ initiative that would offer rapid assistance to help families experiencing homelessness or housing instability so that children can stay in school.
Taxpayers should note that $20 million, or 0.65 percent, of the levy increase will be spent on street maintenance under the 2016 20-year agreement between the city and the semi-independent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. That’s on top of the $53 million base budget amount for street paving and repair.
To bolster public safety and get more officers on the streets, the mayor’s budget proposal includes $1.1 million to convert eight non-policing positions now held by officers to civilian jobs. That would free up the eight sworn officers to return to patrol work. Frey’s budget also calls for a smart expansion of the city’s co-responder program, which pairs mental health professionals with police officers responding to mental health crisis calls.
Frey’s budget address is a step in a process that will include public hearings and more work by the City Council and city departments. Hopefully the final product will reflect the city’s most pressing needs while also keeping property taxes as low as possible.