Mayor Jacob Frey announced Monday that he wants to put $50 million in his 2019 budget toward making housing more affordable in Minneapolis — more than four times what the city appropriated last year.
Standing on the rainy fourth-story deck of Blue Line Flats, an income-limited apartment complex in south Minneapolis, the mayor detailed what he called the “bedrock” of his plan make the city more livable. The proposal focused on four areas: building more affordable housing units, making it easier to buy a house, preserving cheaper rentals and giving better protection to tenants.
“Our affordable housing agenda is aggressive, it’s ambitious, and it needs to be for good reason,” said Frey. “The city is growing faster than it has since 1950 and at the same time housing costs have gone up, incomes have stagnated or even decreased. All of this has made for an affordable housing crisis not seen since the Great Depression.”
Building and preserving affordable housing have rapidly emerged as major priorities in Minneapolis and across the Twin Cities region, and Frey, along with several City Council members, have been talking big about how they plan to keep the city from following the path of cities like Seattle, where the median home cost is nearly $820,000.
Coming less than six months into Frey’s first term, the announcement marked the mayor’s most detailed plan for delivering on his campaign promise.
His vision includes lifting a cap that currently allows the city to fund a maximum of $25,000 per affordable housing unit, which Frey says is arbitrary and restrictive. To make it easier to buy a house, he wants to double or triple the city’s development on vacant lots and create new down-payment assistance programs for buyers. He wants to hire more housing inspectors to protect renters from poor housing and make it harder for landlords to evict tenants without just cause.
“I think we’ll look back on this day and remember what a historic event this was,” said Tom Streitz, president of poverty-oriented nonprofit Twin Cities Rise. Streitz, former housing director for Minneapolis, helped lead the task force that met with community members, nonprofits and business leaders and made many of the recommendations Frey presented Monday.
But the mayor has a long way to go to put the plan into action.
For starters, Frey can’t yet guarantee that his budget proposal will include the $50 million to fund all these projects.
“We don’t know what the exact number on the allocation yet,” said Frey. “But a very high number is something that we’re going to be striving for. And, in fact, a historic number.”
He will also have to work with the 13 members of City Council to put these plans into action.
Council President Lisa Bender said she learned the details of Frey’s plan along with the public Monday. She was still digging into it, but said Frey’s goals appeared to match the council’s, though she had questions over how they would pay for some of what Frey proposed.
“The council is the body that passes these policies,” said Bender. “Going forward it’s going to be really important to have that relationship between the mayor’s office and the council.”
Discord among council
Last week, disagreements on how to address affordable housing began to break through the usual appearance of harmony kept up by the mayor and council.
On Wednesday, Frey came to the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting to defend moving a high-powered, $130,000 fundraising position for affordable housing into his office from the city coordinator’s office.
The personnel change passed the council 11-2 on Friday, but only after City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham openly criticized the move for lacking transparency in the job’s description and alleged that the position appears to be “earmarked” for a specific candidate.
Frey said the position will be key to building a regional coalition that will help solve what he’s called a crisis of affordable housing in Minneapolis. He denied that he’s already hand-picked a candidate.
“I’ve narrowed the pool to about three individuals,” he said. “But it hasn’t been offered, and it hasn’t been decided.”
A separate debate broke out last Friday among council members over whether the city should focus its affordable housing resources on areas of concentrated poverty or distribute them more widely to fill the need across Minneapolis.