St. Paul leaders say they want to build more housing to alleviate a citywide shortage, and there’s no time to wait. They just don’t know how they are going to do it.
Facing a need for 18,000 new housing units in the next 12 years, City Council members emphasized the need to expand the housing supply during a presentation Wednesday from the city’s Fair Housing Work Group. They seemed to leave the nearly two-hour meeting with more questions than answers.
Formed last year, the group produced a 39-page report that delved into homeownership, tenant protections and other issues, and made recommendations that ranged from creating an inventory of existing affordable housing to hiring someone to oversee the city’s fair housing work.
Council members acknowledged that they had given the work group a short timeline to complete the report, and that it will take time to craft a citywide housing strategy. In the meantime, they said, they want to act. “I want to know what’s next,” said Council President Amy Brendmoen.
As of 2016, there were 112,803 households in St. Paul, and by 2030 that will increase to 131,400, according to census and Metropolitan Council data compiled in the fair housing report.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker said the work group’s presentation seemed to focus more on preserving existing housing than on building more. “What concerns me, and what I hear most, is that we just don’t have enough affordable housing, period,” she said.
Council Member Jane Prince said historically, the city has responded to housing crises by setting construction goals and partnering with local nonprofits and philanthropic organizations to meet them.
“What we have to do is really set an aggressive goal for expanding supply, and then we will be able to start pulling together those resources,” she said. “Supply is not something that we can put off or wait until the money appears.”
Staff members who gave the presentation Wednesday pointed out work the city is already doing, such as landlord training, and suggested areas where it could do more. Travis Bistodeau, a deputy director of the Department of Safety and Inspections, said the department wants to explore ways to prevent tenants from becoming homeless when their landlord’s rental license is revoked.
“We need to acknowledge that we are making progress in some regards,” Brendmoen said. “I think that we are moving forward.”
Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher, who co-chaired the work group with Council Member Chris Tolbert, said they would need to come back to the council with specific steps. She suggested the council, mayor’s office and city staff members meet to identify goals, such as the number of new housing units city leaders want to see built, to inform the 2019 budget process.
Council members didn’t formally decide when the work group will report back, but agreed it should be in less than six months.
“We have a lot of work yet to do,” Tolbert said, “but I think we’re up to the challenge.”