Minnesota’s two most racially diverse cities — Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park — plan to join a federal fair-housing complaint against the state of Minnesota alleging that its housing and planning policies have illegally intensified concentrations of poverty and perpetuated racial segregation in the Twin Cities.
At the same time, the cities allege, state agencies have looked the other way when some affluent, whiter suburbs haven’t done their fair share to increase their affordable-housing stock. A new draft housing plan now in front of the Metropolitan Council, the state-run regional planning body, could exacerbate the problem, forcing more affordable and low-income housing into the most diverse and impoverished neighborhoods, they allege.
The two cities, both with populations that are about 50 percent minority, are partnering with the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH) in claiming that the Met Council and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency have discriminated against minority residents. The administrative complaint will be filed this fall with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides housing funds to the two agencies.
The Brooklyn Center City Council voted this month to sign onto the federal complaint, and the Brooklyn Park City Council is expected to vote to do so on Monday.
“We are not opposed to affordable housing, but Brooklyn Park has done our share,” said Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde. “Other cities have not done their share. We think affordable housing needs to be more fairly and equitably distributed throughout the region.”
Met Council staff members said last week that they have not seen the complaint, but that existing and proposed policies do reward cities that prioritize affordable housing. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency declined to comment.
Lunde said the Met Council’s draft housing policy and its current practices would try to force his cities and others in the inner ring of suburbs to add even more affordable housing to already sound stocks while doing nothing when more affluent cities flout affordable-housing allocations.
A house or apartment is considered affordable if a family of four with an income of $64,000 can live there. About 63 percent of Brooklyn Park’s housing is classified as affordable. That number is 81 percent in Brooklyn Center, compared to the greater Twin Cities area, which is about 53 percent.
According to a Met Council allocation formula generated in 2006, Brooklyn Park needs 1,494 more affordable-housing units by the year 2020, while Brooklyn Center needs 163.
By contrast, Edina and Mendota Heights — two cities with much less affordable housing — need 211 and 43 more units, respectively.
Lunde said the formula is flawed. Instead of heaping demands onto Brooklyn Park and other inner-ring suburbs, he said, affordable housing should be spread across the metro area so the needs of a less prosperous population don’t overwhelm one community or school district.
According to Met Council staff, its allocation formula was based on a number of factors: future growth, level of transit service, the location of low-wage jobs relative to where low-wage workers live, and the amount of affordable housing already in a community. Cities expected to grow faster were projected to need more affordable housing than communities with lower growth forecasts.
Unfair inner-ring pressure?
MICAH, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are relying, in part, on the research of University of Minnesota Law Prof. Myron Orfield. He and Michael Allen, an attorney from Washington, D.C., will represent the nonprofit and cities in the complaint.
Orfield said inner-ring suburbs have worked toward their housing allocations, while many outer-ring cities have ignored them. The Met Council has responded by increasing goals for the former while decreasing them for the latter, he said.
Current Met Council and Minnesota Housing Finance Agency policies will further impoverish these communities, Orfield said.
“These older suburbs are wonderful places,” Orfield said. “They are a good model for metropolitan America. In a multiracial America, they are the only places integrated.
“Almost every first-ring suburb … is doing their fair share or more in terms of affordable housing,” he said. “They have been good citizens. The state’s goals is taking advantage of their good nature.”
Sue Watlov Phillips, executive director of MICAH, said she views the draft housing plan as just part of the problem. “We have the worst homeowner disparity between white and nonwhites in the country,” she said. “It’s an issue we need to be addressing.”
Phillips said the Met Council has the authority to hold up money for parks, water, sewer and transportation if cities don’t meet housing goals, and should do so, telling those communities, “If you are not doing your fair share, you are not going to get some of the goodies of our tax dollars — expansion of water and sewers, parks and transit.”
The council’s response
Met Council staff said the draft housing policy plan includes language rewarding communities that prioritize affordable housing.
“All things being equal, if a community is really moving ahead on affordable-housing issues, they are getting points for that,” said Libby Starling, the council’s manager of regional policy and research.
Since 1996, several outer-ring suburbs have built the most new affordable housing, the council says. Woodbury has built 2,282 units since 1996, Blaine has added 1,716, Maple Grove 2,296 and Farmington 1,692.
“Communities themselves care about having a range of affordable housing,” said Beth Reetz, the Met Council’s director of housing and livable communities.
But Aaron Parker, an architect and president of MICAH’s board, said the nonprofit has spent two years examining data and building its case.
“We’ve really vetted it and asked a lot of hard questions. We just needed to make certain what we were seeing was actually the case,” he said. “It’s clear to us that the Met Council is not doing all they could. We see this as a moral issue.”
Orfield said that the aggrieved cities and MICAH hope HUD will force the state agencies to redraft their policies. “The goal is to have a fair plan where everyone has a fair share and all the burden isn’t on the poorest places,” he said.