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Farmington is a leader in affordable housing

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS
  • Star Tribune
  • November 20, 2012 - 6:57 AM

Farmington, the top suburb for adding affordable housing units last year, has had a history of providing low-income housing dating back to the mid 1990s, state reports show.

Last year, the city added 87 units of affordable rental housing, more than any other suburb in the seven-county area. It ranked behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to a report presented this month to the Metropolitan Council.

Council data show Farmington, population nearly 20,300, has been in the top 10 cities for providing affordable units from 1996 to 2010. During that period, the city added 1,692 units, only three less than Lakeville, population 56,440, which ranked seventh. Inver Grove Heights, population 34,175, was ninth with 1,444 units. Minneapolis topped the list with 5,188 units, followed by Shakopee, with 2,867, and St. Paul, 2,770.

"We made a conscious effort to get it to about 33 percent of our housing stock," recalled Mayor Todd Larson. He said he was on the planning commission, which reviews developments, about a dozen years from the mid-1990s until he joined the council in 2009.

The City Council in 2010 approved a Met Council goal for it to add from 345 to 492 affordable units by 2020, said Tony Wippler, assistant city planner. He said the city's comprehensive plan has zoned 210 acres for medium or high density housing, in which a developer could build up to 1,260 units of low-income housing.

Wippler noted that the 87 rental units added in 2011 were in two projects -- Twin Pond town homes and Vermillion Crossing senior housing -- developed in Farmington by Dakota County's Community Development Agency (CDA). In contrast, the city added 16 units of owner-occupied affordable homes in 2010.

Met Council records show that in the past decade, Farmington has built between 120 affordable units, in 2003, and 13 units in 2009. The city averaged 57 units a year.

Farmington was among five suburbs that exceeded a Met Council goal last year of building lower income housing units equal to at least 10 percent of its expected affordable housing needs through 2020.

For Farmington, that translates to an average from 34 to 49 units a year, based on its council set range of adding 345 to 492 units in the decade. So the city's 87 new units in 2011 far exceeded its annual goal.

"They are off to a good start for the decade," noted Libby Starling, a manager in the council's community development division.

The other four cities hitting the 10 percent goal were Minneapolis, Roseville, Oakdale and Hopkins, the council said. Minneapolis added 510 low income units last year, followed by St. Paul, with 212. Farmington was in third place, followed by Plymouth with 67 and Burnsville with 60.

Starling said that generally the annual number of low-income units a city adds is based on market demand, housing financing available from agencies like the CDA, and the city's commitment to providing residents with affordable housing.

Larson said it's been tough in a recovering economy to get developments with low-income housing because developers earn less profit on lower priced homes. "I don't think any city is real choosy in developments occurring right now," he said. "It's not like the boom times when you could pick and choose what you wanted."

Met Council's lower income housing costs are aimed at being affordable for lower and moderate income families. A family of four would be eligible for affordable housing if its household income is $50,340 or less. The council calculates the same family could afford a home priced at $171,500, or monthly rent of $1,091 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Jim Adams • 952-746-3283

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