Recently, the Star Tribune published multiple stories focused on affordable housing.

One story highlighted the Metropolitan Council’s Metro HRA leadership on building stronger relationships between residents and property owners for federal Section 8 vouchers. By using mobility counselors, Metro HRA is finding success in providing more opportunity and access to education and other communities for voucher holders, in partnership with apartment managers.

The other article detailed an ordinance advanced by Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. It would require every apartment building to accept federal vouchers that require additional inspections and bureaucracy. It would unfortunately lead to unintended consequences, making it harder to rent in Minneapolis.

The news coverage illustrates the complexity of trying to solve affordable housing challenges — with the right approach by the Met Council and the wrong approach by Council Member Glidden.

The Met Council is working in partnership with property owners and residents in a program called the Community Choice Housing Assistance Program. The program will offer training and other services to both residents and property owners.

The opposite is happening in Minneapolis. Glidden has insisted upon leading the charge on an ordinance without doing her homework.

As with most regulated industries, the regulation of housing is complex, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s programs are even more complex than local initiatives.

There are 100,000 units of rental housing in the city of Minneapolis, with more apartments being built. The Glidden effort would make participation mandatory for all Minneapolis properties. It would create longer wait times for residents looking for housing by imposing onerous bureaucratic inspections on an already-stretched staff. And it would further concentrate housing disparities that the Met Council aims to disperse throughout its new initiative.

While there has been improvement, the federal Section 8 program still includes cumbersome program restrictions, such as requiring a 22-page contract with the federal government, repetitive unit inspections and other regulatory paperwork. Delays in the inspection process can lead to a rental unit sitting vacant for weeks, creating a hardship for both the potential resident and owner. All of these program requirements make it more expensive to operate rental housing, which can cause rents to rise. (Just a reminder, this is a voluntary program.)

Since Section 8 is a federal program, many of the reforms have to start in Washington. Some reforms were supported unanimously by the U.S. House early this year — and we know that Washington can rarely agree on anything unanimously.

We do support the efforts that the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is exploring to streamline inspections and identify the best practices in affordable-housing programs from across the country and bring them to Minneapolis in partnership with the McKnight Foundation.

In the spirit of best practices, city leaders should consider the recommendations by the not-for-profit Family Housing Fund in a recently published report calling for “authentic” partnerships between property owners and public housing authorities.

That’s the key to the dozens of affordable-housing programs that property owners and managers throughout Minnesota participate in — voluntary and authentic partnerships. We invite the City Council to join us in partnership to work on a regional solution rather than an overbearing ordinance that will make renting even more challenging in Minneapolis. Working together we can find meaningful solutions without unintended consequences.

 

Mary Rippe is president of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association.