The delicate task of reallocating how much affordable housing each Twin Cities city and suburb should provide won't be easy.

Over the next decade, an estimated 52,000 new low- and moderate-income homes and apartments will be needed in the metro area, and determining each city's share has become a lightning-rod issue, sparking accusations of institutional racism and spawning a federal fair-housing complaint alleging that state policies have illegally intensified concentrations of poverty.

The Metropolitan Council, along with city leaders, housing advocates and other stakeholders, will wade into the work of updating its allocation formula this week.

"That could be very good. It depends on how they go about doing it. … The devil is in the details," said Aaron Parker, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing, one of the parties in a federal fair-housing complaint against the state of Minnesota.

State law requires cities to plan for their fair share of regional affordable housing. The Met Council, the regional planning body whose members are appointed by the governor, is facing the once-in-a-decade process armed with new U.S. census data. This time, the agency says, it will change its allotment formula and open the process more to the public.

The allocation numbers are not mandates, but they help set regional planning priorities and resource distribution.

"We are hoping that [the process] will create a foundation for transparency," said Libby Starling, the Met Council's manager of regional policy and research. "We are also likely to change how it's done for no other reason than there is better data available to do it."

An affordable-housing allocation was last computed in 2006, for 2010 to 2020. The complex formula looked at household growth forecasts, then was adjusted for three factors — the ratio of low-wage jobs vs. low-wage workers, a community's existing affordable-housing stock, and access to transit. The new formula is likely to still weigh the first two in some way, Starling said.

The allocation issue has been so contentious that last fall, the two most racially diverse cities in Minnesota, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, joined by Richfield and the Interfaith Council, filed federal fair-housing complaints against the state.

Those complaints allege that the state's housing and planning policies have illegally piled more poor people into already impoverished areas and perpetuated racial segregation in the Twin Cities. Leaders of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, whose populations are both 50 percent minority, say they were given high allocations for affordable housing even though they have ample amounts of it, while whiter, more affluent suburbs got lower targets.

They also have argued that the Met Council has the authority to hold back money for parks, water, sewer and transportation projects if cities don't meet housing goals, and should do so more often.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A Met Council spokeswoman said that the agency was informed late last week that a HUD decision is pending.

New process applauded

Brooklyn Park and Interfaith Council leaders have applauded the revamped allocation process, including the new public-comment period.

"When people take a look at some of the stuff we were presenting them, those actions open people's eyes up," said Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde. "We felt like we are on the outside always trying to add our input."

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 has about 53 percent affordable housing.

According to the 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. Edina and Mendota Heights — two cities with much less affordable housing — need 211 and 43 more units, the formula said.

"We're happy to see the Met Council follow a modified approach to engagement related to the affordable-housing allocation formula," Brooklyn Park City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said in a written statement. "We're fully supportive of broader outreach on issues of regional significance and look forward to participating in the discussion."

Too much affordable housing lowers a city's tax base. Brooklyn Park's tax capacity per capita is about 50 percent of that of peer cities due to a combination of lower home values and less commercial and industrial development, according to city staff.

Interfaith Council activists also see the Met Council's reallocation work as a positive step.

"I am cautiously optimistic that this [HUD complaint] filing at least got some people's attention," the council's Parker said.

Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Richfield and the Interfaith Council are relying partly on the research of University of Minnesota Law Prof. Myron Orfield to shape their arguments. He and Michael Allen, an attorney from Washington, D.C., represent the cities and the Interfaith Council in the HUD complaint.

The problem with housing

Not only do more affluent suburbs generally get lower affordable-housing targets, they also seem to do less to meet those targets with little rebuke from the state, critics say.

Starling said cities are assigned housing performance scores that are factored into how federal and regional resources are allotted. The Met Council's control over housing is much more tenuous than its ability to structure and manage transportation, she said.

"All our transportation is owned by the public sector," Starling said. "This is not true in housing. The overwhelming majority of housing is privately owned and privately developed. Nearly all the decisions in the housing world are private-market decisions."

Still, the regional planning agency has an interest in housing. "Even though housing is not a metropolitan system, there are a lot of intersections of housing policy with the work of the council," Starling said.

No one is truly meeting the need, all agree. Of the 51,000 affordable-housing units needed from 2010 to 2020, less than 3,000 were built in the first three years of the decade.

"There are simply not enough resources," Starling said.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804