Metropolitan Council calls for affordable housing

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The Twin Cities metro and the University of Minnesota area need more housing — especially affordable units — to stave off a looming housing deficit, according to the Metropolitan Council’s long-term housing plan.

Citizens gathered to comment on the 2040 Housing Policy Plan, currently in its first public draft, at a hearing Monday in downtown St. Paul. The plan suggests measures that could provide students with more affordable housing options closer to campus, something experts say the area needs for an equitable environment.

“We are just so far behind in terms of the number of affordable housing units we need compared to the demand,” said Edward Goetz, director of the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

A swell of student apartment complexes has brought more than 900 units of luxury housing to the neighborhoods around campus in recent years.

But luxury housing might not run counter to providing affordable shelter around the University because the boom will dry up demand and drive prices down, said Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents parts of the University’s area.

Neighborhoods near campus could benefit from mixed-income housing initiatives, said Libby Starling, a member of the Met Council’s Community Development Division.

“Having that mix of income levels helps lead to the type of neighborhoods that people say they want to live in,” Starling said, adding that such neighborhoods are stronger communities.

She said today’s young adults bring different housing considerations than those who came before, like the weight of student loans and the tendency to have children later in life.

“We’re very interested in how those changing needs and processes will affect the housing market,” Starling said.

One option to incentivize affordable housing expansion would be to link transportation funding from the Met Council to communities’ performance in housing options. The council is also looking into appropriating funds from other amenities it administrates for the potential expansion.

Nelima Sitati Munene, who represented the Northwest Community Collaborative at Monday’s hearing, said she advocates for place-based spending, a practice that seeks to bring improvements like housing to impoverished neighborhoods rather than encouraging their residents to move elsewhere.

She said she thinks such policies will help to diversify schools like the University because they will strengthen primary and secondary education in those areas.

Housing deficit on the horizon

The Twin Cities region will face a housing deficit if production isn’t significantly accelerated in the coming decades, according to the Met Council’s report.

This is the council’s first such plan in almost 30 years.

“Our region does not have enough affordable housing opportunities for low and moderate income households, and those numbers are expected to continue to grow,” Starling said.

The report advocates for increased mixed-income housing around the metropolitan area, and Starling said it gives a wide-ranging view of areas instead of focusing on specific buildings.

Frey said that mixed-income housing should be one of the region’s top priorities and that it is at the top of his platform.

“A successful city is not just a diverse city but a desegregated city,” Frey said. “Affordable housing in middle- and upper-income areas is essential.”