Woodbury bucks goals on affordable housing

  • Article by: JOY POWELL
  • Star Tribune
  • February 6, 2012 - 12:06 AM

Woodbury exceeded the Metropolitan Council's goals for building affordable housing from 1996 through 2010. But, given market conditions, city officials say there's no way Washington County's largest city can meet the agency's goals for building more affordable homes this decade.

They question what they call the Met Council's "invalid" and "out-of-date" growth projections, which are used to calculate how much low- and moderate-income housing cities and townships should build over a decade.

From 1996 through 2010, Woodbury was one of only six metro cities that met the affordable-housing goals.

The city added 2,237 affordable housing units; the goal was 1,784. With that, 18 percent of the city's overall housing construction was considered affordable.

By 2020, the Met Council wants Woodbury to build between 1,337 and 2,057 more affordable homes. City officials plan to discuss that with the Met Council when it releases new household-growth projections in 2013.

"We really want to still open up the system and re-examine everything and come to a number that we think is more appropriate," said Karl Batalden, a housing specialist for Woodbury.

If municipalities don't meet goals set by the regional agency, they can lose three-year Livable Communities grants that help cities create jobs, build affordable homes, clean up pollution and invest in other development.

Woodbury said the problem dates to 2006, when the Met Council projected growth for new households and how many affordable homes each city would need.

The projections didn't include the housing crash that followed, the ailing economy and changing demographics, Batalden said. Now, the Met Council should lower overall housing-growth projections and the number of low- or moderate-income houses the city will need, he and other city officials said.

"As everybody knows, the housing market's changed dramatically with the economy, as has affordability," said Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens.

"What we're asking is that the Met Council look at and reconsider those affordable housing goals," she said. "I'm not sure they're realistic, given the housing market and the price of houses now. A lot of the single-family homes and town homes, because the market has pushed those values down, have dropped into the more-affordable housing range."

Cities aren't building new houses at the rate seen when the goals were created in 2006, she added.

"It's time to re-examine the housing goals, the methodology that they use to create those goals, how they define what is affordable housing. What they have now is out of date. We're asking them to look at it afresh."

The Met Council will decide whether to revise its calculations after new forecasts for household growth are available next year, said agency spokeswoman Michelle Fure. Those formulas are based on the 2010 Census, along with new land use, economic and travel models, she said.

Higher median income

The agency sets affordable-housing goals based on median income in seven metro counties. But Woodbury's median income is higher and the city wants that considered, Batalden said.

"The median household income in Woodbury is $89,334, whereas the metro area median income is $83,900," he said.

Batalden said the Met Council changed its formula in 2011 for determining whether a new house is affordable. It's based on whether an owner earns 60 percent of median income, rather than 80 percent.

That reduction dropped the sales price that the Met Council considers affordable to $160,250.

But most of Woodbury's new homes cost more, making it hard to meet the Met Council goals, Batalden said.

After a boom in the late 1990s, Batalden said, most new construction will be in the city's southern portion, farther from transportation corridors and job centers.

It also will be lower density, with home values higher than what the Met Council considers affordable, he said.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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