The most active candidates for mayor of Minneapolis agree that the city is suffering a severe shortage of affordable housing, but they offer sharply differing solutions.
Mayor Jacob Frey, who won office in 2017 with promises to increase housing density and drive down the cost, says that over the past four years he has increased and preserved more affordable housing than any mayor in the city's history.
Frey's major challengers accuse him of catering to wealthy private developers at the expense of tenants. They say the mayor hasn't been aggressive enough to keep housing costs from rising and hasn't created enough housing to meet a growing demand.
Those challengers — AJ Awed, Clint Conner, Kate Knuth, Sheila Nezhad and Jerrell Perry — also distinguish themselves from Frey by their support of rent control, the subject of Question 3 on the Minneapolis ballot. Frey says he'll vote for the charter amendment but opposes rent control, asserti
ng that capping a landlord's ability to raise rents won't solve the housing crisis and disadvantages future renters.
Of Minneapolis residents, more than half — the majority of whom are people of color and low-income — are renters. And more than half of those renters earn less than 60% of the area median income.
Frey's opponents argue that rent control is a critical tool in keeping housing affordable and preventing displacement. But they disagree on the kind of program Minneapolis should adopt.
Awed, a court mediator, wants "a strong rent control with the least amount of exemptions" that's pegged to inflation and that applies to landlords who own at least five properties.
Conner, an attorney who says he worked with low-income tenants and homeowners in Minneapolis on issues related to eviction, discrimination and affordable housing, wants a policy that gives exemptions to landlords with 20 units or less.
Knuth hasn't offered any specifics but wants a carefully designed policy that meets the needs of renters and small landlords without hindering the housing supply.
Nezhad, who has centered her campaign on "shifting more power to renters, working-class people, and those experiencing homelessness," favors capping annual rent increases at 3%, the same figure specified in St. Paul's rent control proposal on the ballot this fall.
Beyond rent control, the candidates have offered a variety of solutions to improve the supply of affordable housing.
Awed wants to tax renters of luxury apartments who make 100% or more of the state's area median income by up to 2% on their monthly rent. The new revenue would help spur more affordable housing, said Awed, who rents a luxury apartment in Marcy-Holmes.
Two of Frey's earliest challengers — Knuth, a homeowner in Bryn Mawr, and Nezhad, a renter in the Central neighborhood — say their plans for housing and public safety go hand in hand. Both say the increasing cost of payouts for excessive use of force as well as payouts for workers' compensation is putting a strain on spending for affordable housing and other needs.
Knuth and Nezhad support the use of a public housing tax levy as another source of money to construct and rehab public housing.
The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, the largest owner of residential properties in the city, serving more than 26,000 residents, has at least $152 million in deferred capital needs and owns a growing number of aging high-rises, one of which was the scene of a fire that killed five people in 2019.
"Our public housing right now has been around for a few decades, and so it needs investment to rehab it and get it up to standards and make it safe, healthy places to live," Knuth said. "If we don't get a handle on policing and public safety, the things that we really want to be investing in that truly create safety, like affordable housing, will be increasingly difficult to do."
Nezhad says she wants to explore every option to boost housing, including converting hotels into single-room-occupancy residences — which have recently been made legal to build in the city — and wants to increase investments for shelters that offer harm-reduction services to combat the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Conner, a homeowner in the Lowry Hill neighborhood, is "not a big fan of public housing" and doesn't have it in his plan to bolster it. He says he wants to see more affordable housing units built in the city, which he says requires "huge capital expenses and a long time to build." In the short term, Connor is proposing to create a supplemental voucher system to Section 8 at the city level, and he would tap Hennepin County and surrounding communities to help fund it.
Frey, a renter who lives in the Nicollet Island East Bank neighborhood, said a core piece of his platform has been removing zoning restrictions in single-family neighborhoods to spur more affordable housing and eliminate racial disparities.
He also cites several programs that he says have shown results. One initiative gives landlords up to a 40% break on their property taxes if they keep at least a fifth of their units affordable to people whose household income is less than 60% of the area median.
About 1,190 affordable housing units in more than 215 buildings across the city have been preserved under that program, he said.
Frey says his Stable Homes, Stable Schools program has served at least 3,100 homeless children and their families, 95% of whom are people of color. It gives rental assistance to homeless children and their families and provides incentives for landlords to provide affordable units.
Since 2019, he said, his administration has made permanent at least $115 million in funding for housing efforts that created 273 new units of "deeply" affordable housing. And since taking office, nearly 2,990 affordable housing units have been created or preserved, including 1,355 units for residents who make 30% or below the area median income, he said.
Earlier this year, Frey earmarked $28 million of American Rescue Plan money for affordable housing, with a big portion of that going toward addressing homelessness, which has disproportionately affected people of color.
Perry, a renter in the Powderhorn neighborhood who works as an advocate for people experiencing homelessness, said he wants to expand Frey's Stable Homes, Stable Schools program.
He also wants the city to buy buildings to increase public housing because he says many residents are burdened by soaring rents.
"Everyone should be able to afford decent, dignified housing," said Perry, who became homeless six years ago after he couldn't afford to pay the rising rent at his St. Paul apartment.
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203