Will the suburbs ever build enough affordable housing? Attendees at a November 20 Center for Urban and Regional Affairs forum seemed skeptical both about suburban plans for affordable housing and about the Met Council’s role in pushing the issue.
CURA’s monthly housing forum presented the Metropolitan Council’s projections for affordable housing needs in the Twin Cities metro over the next decade. Around 70 people gathered in the Honeywell Auditorium over their lunch breaks to listen to Guy Peterson of the Met Council, Jodi Nelson of the Metropolitan Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing (MICAH), and University of Minnesota professor, Ed Goetz, who specializes in housing and local community development planning and policy.
Peterson announced that while the review of each city’s plan is not yet complete, the council is optimistic that all the included cities will cumulatively surpass the council’s goal for creating 51,000 new units of high density housing. However, despite what the cities have proposed to the council, the forum attendees questioned whether these goals will ever come to fruition.
Since the Met Council’s main concern in their review process is quantity and regulatory policy, Goetz guided a review project with nine of his students that evaluated the plans from a qualitative perspective, going beyond basic compliance within the city proposals.
Goetz laid out three criteria by which the plans were evaluated including: Strong factual bases, clearly articulated goals, and appropriately directed policies. Geotz also scrutinized for what he calls “weasel words” like “may” instead of “will.” Cities scoring well on all three criteria of Goetz’s class evaluation included Forest Lake, East Bethel, and Woodbury.
Jack Cann of the Housing Preservation Project, who attended Friday’s forum, pointed out that a good score on the city proposals does not equate a good score on implementation.
“They didn’t say that they believed that many [units] would be produced,” says Cann.
Peterson admits that each decade, cities have failed to reach their projected goals, but he did not have exact percentages on the shortfalls.
“We’re telling them when they haven’t addressed their need when they’re running out of guided land,” says Peterson, but the Met Council doesn’t have any “policing” power over making sure that each city follows through on what they have proposed. He did add that larger shortfalls can affect the cities’ ability to receive council-awarded livable community grants.
Cann added that the Met Council “does have the authority to provide persistence and guidance.”
In addition to the weak authority granted to the Met Council, the authority of the “guided land” classification is also quite brittle. According to Guy Peterson, “guiding” is a planning term, which takes place before the legal act of “zoning” (specifying building materials, dimensions, and so on) and can be changed by a review of the municipal authority in a particular city. Guided land can be issued to a number of broad categories including: residential, industrial, parks, or commercial.
If too much land is guided toward a certain type of development (e.g. residential, commercial), or if developers propose alternate plans for an area that is already guided, the city can review the original plans and make changes to the guiding. Peterson said that this happens quite often.
In the case of land that is guided toward high density housing, costs of development can be a barrier to filling target affordable housing goals. Due to high development costs and low availability of government subsidies, it is not likely that the all high-density guided land will be developed with 100 percent high-density housing.
Because of these costs, Jack Cann says that if a city only guides enough land for high-density housing to fill the minimum need, then the city will ultimately fall short of their affordable housing goals. Cann adds that a reasonable projection would be that around 25 percent of new development would be go toward meeting the need, therefore he believes each city should probably be quadrupling the current allotments for affordable housing.
Cann, calls the Met Council’s efforts thus far “abysmal,” in the advance of securing adequate amounts of affordable housing developments.
“I understand [Cann’s] concept,” says Peterson, but “you don’t guide land for affordable housing, you guide it for high density … the law doesn’t say that they have to guide ‘x’ number of times the amount of land” needed for affordable housing goals.
Forum attendees also raised the issue that even if the Met Council did have the authority to mandate affordable housing development, there are not enough resources to go around for actual development. Affordable housing developers need tax credits and subsidies from the government in order to provide safe quality housing for low income families and those resources are of limited supply.
When the Daily Planet asked how metro area citizens could improve this stumbling progress, Peterson responded that more funding must come from the state and federal legislative bodies to cover the costs of the Met Council’s projections, because the Council’s plans are entirely dependent upon the willingness of private contractors to take on these affordable housing projects.