2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Aswar Rahman – Mayor

Aswar Rahman

(Click here to return to 2017 candidate survey main page)

Question: How do you think the market rate housing development of the last several years has impacted Minneapolis?

Our city’s housing development boom — besides helping increase population and density — sped up gentrification in all its forms, positive and negative.


  • a larger tax base
    – more social/cultural spaces (galleries, breweries, theaters, music festival, coffee shops) and corresponding economic activity
  • injection of wealth into certain parts of town
  • arguably nicer architecture than older developments.

It’s the negatives that concern me:

  • displacement of established communities due to dramatically increased rents
  • disproportionate impact on minority communities
  • increase in people made homeless (despite decade long “End Homelessness” plan)

On balance, I think this boom is a gift if managed properly, and I argue it hasn’t been.

Question: What policies will you pursue to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing in Minneapolis? Since state financing for affordable housing is limited, what additional funding sources would you seek? What are some alternative policies you’d pursue to remove barriers to housing affordability which would compensate for this lack of funding?

My first measure would be to freeze property tax hikes for four years and keep housing affordable in the first place. Landlords cite inflation, assessments, and tax hikes as the three main causes for raising rent on existing tenants. The first two are non-negotiable, but the third is where the city is dropping the ball year after year. Under this current administration, property taxes have been raised at twice the rate of city growth — no wonder landlords keep raising the rent and diminishing the number of affordable units.

For public housing, I will begin a mass conversion of units to the federal R.A.D program, opening up the route for private-public partnerships to rehabilitate deteriorating homes. Current portion of public housing that is on this program: 3%. I aim to bring that number close to 50% in four years.

For new constructions using public funds, I will include a “space efficiency clause” to ensure that designs are rewarded for compactness of design. With no such clause currently in place, the priorities get jumbled. Affordable Housing projects must do the most good for the largest possible number of those in need.

Funding for Affordable Housing will be redirected from the useless downtown vanity projects planned in the past four years, which I will end immediately.

Question: The vast majority of Minneapolis is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, while most of the units we currently build are in large apartment buildings in or near downtown. Single-family homes and large apartment buildings tend to be more expensive per unit than missing middle housing (for example, a fourplex). How do we use the currently ongoing update to the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan to allow a mix of housing types across Minneapolis that are less expensive to rent, own, and build? 

This movement towards multi-family homes is the way of the future. I believe part of Northeast Minneapolis’ success has been the fact that duplexes and fourplexes are common in this section of our city, allowing for renter mobility, while still not clogging up neighborhoods with massive complexes.

I am wholly in favor of rational zoning changes that allow single family homes to be converted to multi-family homes. Once they make it through City Council, I will sign it happily.

Do you think there’s a place for light commercial spaces like small cafes and corner stores in neighborhood interiors? Do you believe there are other areas where restrictive zoning has led to worse outcomes for neighborhoods?

There is absolutely a place for light commerce in residential neighborhoods, and of course we must recognize the case-by-case nature of these decisions.

In general, however, neighborhoods with light economic activity are healthier than those without it. A case in point, from my experience growing up in this city, is the condition in certain parts of North Minneapolis. Things are getting better, but there are large swaths of the area that have little-to-no business presence, making it harder to access healthy food, goods, and employment.

Areas without economic activity are also the most neglected for city planning.

For these reasons, I support more areas of light economic activity, pending case-specific analyses and consent from neighborhoods.

Are there any other issues related to housing or zoning that you believe are important enough to address as a city council member? What specific policy goals would you pursue in this area?

I want to address an issue that will be coming up (and misaddressed) throughout the year: homelessness.

We have to recognize two things: that it is not inevitable, and that it cannot be ended with an iron fist. The language of “ending homelessness” is what created the last ten year plan (that ended last year) and we now have more people suffering homelessness than when it started. This same mindset is being revived for the elections this year — some people love simple answers. There isn’t one for this.

What I propose as Mayor is to support the “housing first” efforts of organizations that are already doing the real work of helping families and individuals find stable housing (St. Stephen’s, Downtown Improvement District, et al). Shelter must be provided immediately, but to change the condition itself requires much more effort in connecting people to resources, then checking in with them, and repeating that process over and over.

We have to avoid the language of “ending” and “terminating” homelessness — it inevitably leads to criminalization, and I refuse to let my city criminalize an already excruciating situation.