Mike Webb listened for hours as the standing-room-only crowd packed into a gymnasium pleaded with him to turn away the scores of affordable apartments being proposed for their tiny, affluent exurb of Carver.
Near midnight, the mayor stared back at his constituents and described the monthslong battle over a 68-unit project as a “nightmare,” adding: “I have no idea what people are afraid of. None.”
When it became clear that his council agreed, the room erupted with shouts of “Recall! Recall! Give up!”
The fury in Carver — a city with the one of biggest income jumps in the state since 2000, partly because it has almost no rental housing — comes as the Metropolitan Council gets ready to announce proposed new goals for adding affordable housing in communities across the Twin Cities.
The Met Council sees a growing problem. Its own newly available data suggest that annual production of affordable housing has dropped by hundreds of units since 2010, even as market-rate housing has rebounded.
An advance peek at the Met Council’s proposed goals, to be released late Monday, shows that communities considered to be prime locations for adding affordable units include upper income suburbs, such as North Oaks and Eden Prairie, and cornfield’s-edge fringe communities such as Minnetrista and Lake Elmo.
By almost any measure, though, Carver ranks near the top as a priority for adding affordable housing.
In its pitch for a $1.2 million Met Council grant for the 68-unit workforce housing project, Carver stressed the value of targeting exurbs like itself — places it described as “on the edge” of the metro.
It turned out to be an apt phrase. But Carver’s council members recently told the hostile crowd that others, too, are feeling on edge.
Facing a gigantic scroll bearing the names of more than a thousand project opponents, council members this month delivered a stern message that the people who make your cappuccinos, and wait on you at Fleet Farm, cannot afford to live in what has become one of America’s wealthiest counties.
“Nine people working for me at Dunn Bros. [in nearby Chaska] don’t have a place to live in Carver” because housing costs too much, said Mayor Webb. “I have one of them living with me. She had no place to live until my wife and I opened our arms to her.”
Leah Oye, the first resident to speak at the meeting, said she was not impressed.
“What if I want to live in Bearpath, in Eden Prairie?” the North Dakota transplant said, referring to the gated, mansioned country club enclave. “Well, no, I can’t.”
The Met Council’s proposed goals cover the decade of the 2020s, which sounds like a long way off. But in planning terms, it’s not.
The target numbers — released this week for public comment, with adjustments possible from now to July — are part of a once-per-decade planning process that will begin in every city this fall. Each must start to figure out how to accommodate the additional units.
The Met Council is under heavy fire for allegedly pushing too much affordable housing into areas with plenty of it already, intensifying concentrations of poverty and perpetuating racial segregation in the Twin Cities.
And that makes a place like Carver a timely case study, along with other upper income areas in what’s been called the Golden Crescent of jobs-rich west metro suburbs.
The Met Council is proposing that the greatest number of affordable new units go to Minneapolis (3,368) and St. Paul (2,021), followed by Eden Prairie (1,518) and other large suburbs.
In proportion to size, however, the communities that may end up feeling the most heavily targeted for adding affordable units are those, like Carver, on the edge of the metro: smaller cities such as Minnetrista, Lake Elmo and Columbus.
From the Met Council’s vantage point, however, what really counts is the number of new affordable units as a share of all those added. In that sense, the most heavily targeted areas are bigger, affluent suburbs, such as North Oaks, Edina and Eden Prairie.
A new twist — and potentially the most incendiary — is a push to spread out units for families or individuals with extremely low incomes. Cities targeted in that category include Cottage Grove, Savage, Carver, Maple Grove, Andover, Champlin, Woodbury and Ramsey.
In the past, ambitious goals for establishing affordable housing have gone unmet. Met Council Member Jennifer Munt told colleagues after eyeing a map that targets her west-metro suburbs: “I’m frustrated by a process that creates anxiety over a quantity of housing that will never be built.”
But affordable housing advocates say that this Met Council, led until recently by a Habitat for Humanity executive, is devising a system that promises greater muscle. The mere fact that the council has its “first housing policy plan in three decades,” said Timothy Thompson, president of the St. Paul-based Housing Preservation Project, “was a big step.”
Another factor that could strengthen the push: concerns of civic leaders in suburbs throughout the metro, not just Carver, about a growing gap in affordability.
Days before the confrontation in Carver, City Council members in Woodbury, on the other end of the metro, listened soberly to warnings from their staff that once-surging building activity was beginning to falter, partly because the suburb is considered pricey given today’s home buyer. And that has long-range repercussions for a school system depending on a steady supply of new families for enrollment.
“Everyone’s building the same product, where historically there was more of a mix,” lamented development chief Dwight Picha. “It’s not just Woodbury but all of the metro. The price range is $350,000 and up: I’m not sure they’re hitting the right market.”
With much faster commutes thanks to the extension of Hwy. 212, the once sleepy rural town of Carver shot from 1,300 people at the turn of the century to 4,200 today. Carver’s incomes now have surpassed Edina’s — not because it’s full of millionaires, but because it’s so wall-to-wall comfortably well off.
City officials say there’s just a 2 percent rental rate — Carver is fourth lowest in that category, they say, in the entire metro.
Still, adding affordable housing concerns many residents. Some say they worry about crime, an influx of low-income students in schools, and a change to the character of a place they chose for its small-town charm.
Asked what she meant by posting on Facebook a comment that she and her husband “moved to Carver a year ago to get away from this kind of thing,” Laura Talvitie replied:
“I feel that Carver is a quaint, simple community. And that is its appeal. There is no ugly big block store, there’s no towering apartment buildings with cluttered parking lots, there’s not much traffic … There’s a ratty-tatty post office and some historical homes.
“The appeal of Carver as a unique little town will die with this project. It will be just like any other suburb.”
Added Oye: “We don’t want to be a Met Council experiment.”