Low-income homes must be built, but where?

  • Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2007 - 12:13 AM

The Met Council is requiring cities to build thousands of units while residents worry about crime, property values.

When Brooklyn Park city officials began considering a luxury apartment complex that would include 20 percent affordable housing units, residents quickly responded with outrage and concern for what might happen to their neighborhood.

After about 200 residents attended a community meeting this month and raised questions about what might happen to schools, traffic and crime after the apartments were built, city officials decided to slow down the process and the developer struck affordable housing from the plan. Even so, city officials began Monday to consider a yearlong halt to any high-density residential complexes, especially rental, so they can study how it might affect their city.

But even with the slowdown on this particular development, Brooklyn Park is in the same situation as several cities across the metro that have been told by the Metropolitan Council that they need to add thousands of new affordable housing units by 2020. While they try to incorporate these numbers into their comprehensive plans by the end of next year, some cities are having a difficult time convincing residents that people who move into affordable housing units aren't going to create problems for the community.

Isaac Bindert of Brooklyn Park immediately became concerned when he heard about the proposed apartments just blocks from the house he moved into a year ago.

About 52 of the 261 units in the development were originally proposed as affordable.

"I am still trying to decide how I feel," he said Thursday. "People need a place to live, but my biggest concerns are the effect on my property value and that crime will increase."

City Council Member Jeff Lunde said he thinks the city, which has been told to add 1,494 units by 2020, already has a lot of affordable housing, so officials need a plan to show where it will go in the future. He also wants to make sure that other communities are stepping up to meet their assigned number of new units from the Met Council so one city isn't overburdened.

"It's a shared burden or opportunity, however you look at it," he said.

Guy Peterson, the Met Council's community development division director, said the numbers were assigned to cities based on their overall growth capacity, their current number of affordable housing units, and access to low-wage jobs and public transportation. In Brooklyn Park, 27 percent of housing was affordable in 2000, according to the Met Council.

One of the cities that seems to come up often in the debate about where affordable housing should go is Maple Grove. In 2000, 7 percent of its housing was affordable, the most recent data available.

Maple Grove's Community Development Director Bob Waibel said the city has been doing its part to create zoning that allows high-density developments where affordable housing might be located. They also place affordability high on a checklist that developers must meet to get approval for their projects.

"Some have raised the issue of why doesn't Maple Grove have as much rental, but developers and investors want to place their projects where there is a market for rental units," Waibel said. "It's not there because the market didn't see it as the best area to develop rental."

Housing advocates emphasize to cities that there is an affordable housing shortage across the country.

Barb Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Minnesota Housing Partnership, said affordable housing needs to be addressed at the local level because cities know what their needs are. They also need to educate residents about who lives in affordable housing, she said.

"A lot of people don't realize that people who live in affordable housing are people you work with, people taking care of your kids and helping you in the hospital," she said. "On the East and West coasts, there are communities that can't afford to house their essential workers so we need to learn from that and acknowledge that these folks are important to the fabric of our communities."

But many cities say they question if they should have to follow guidelines laid out by the Met Council. Blaine needs the most number of new affordable units in Anoka County, according to the Met Council.

Blaine's Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said the city was assigned such a high number of needed units because it is one of the few areas where there is a lot of land available for development.

"I think it's a very aggressive goal," he said. "We just don't know how we're going to get there."

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