2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Cam Gordon – City Council, Ward 2

Cam Gordon

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

It’s a good thing that more people want to move to Minneapolis, and that our city is thriving. However, our supply of housing has not kept up, which has led to a low vacancy rate and rising rents, even as wages have stayed stagnant or even declined for the lowest-wage workers since 2000. One of my concerns for the future of Minneapolis is that we may end up displacing poor people to the inner or even outer ring suburbs; one of the best ways to avoid that is to increase our supply of housing, as well as preserve and make better use of the affordable housing we have and find new ways to encourage more affordable housing to be built.

More market rate housing is good, and I’ve been glad to see hundreds of new dwelling units built in my ward during my time in office. My ward has been among the three or four fastest growing wards during my entire time on the Council, since 2006.

However, it’s clear that the market on its own gravitates towards certain kinds of housing. In my ward in the late 2000s, that meant an oversupply of expensive housing focused very narrowly on undergraduates – and built in a way that made those units hard for any other market segment to want to rent. In other parts of town, the market skews towards high-end apartments. I am concerned that we are losing too much affordable housing and the city in gentrifying. The City can and should play a bigger role in trying to ensure that the neighborhoods we’re building have a mix of housing types, for a mix of incomes, ages, and lifestyles.

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?

I would like to explore a number of different policy initiatives that have worked well in other places. One is inclusionary zoning, also known as a mixed-income housing policy. Inclusionary zoning would require that a certain percentage of units in new developments are affordable at a certain level (60% of AMI, for example) for a certain time period (30 years is common). It could start in the places where the market is currently hottest, including in the part of my ward near the U of M east bank campus, and move to other places over time. It’s important that the City signal this move years in advance, to give property developers the chance to build the cost of this new affordable housing into their land purchase prices.

I would also support a just cause eviction ordinance to prevent mass eviction of tenants (or targeted eviction of tenants organizing around better housing standards) without cause. This policy would fit nicely with a Right of First Refusal law which would compel property owners to make apartment buildings available to their tenants for a certain period of time before selling to a third party. Right of First Refusal ordinances have led to the formation of many housing cooperatives in cities like New York.

I support using Tax Increment Financing for affordable housing. I think that the way the City uses TIF has become less open and transparent than it should be, and I would support much clearer and less subjective guidelines, so that developers would know what to expect rather than having to convince certain influential people.

I support spending more through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. I also believe that the city should explore using its “housing levy” again to support public housing. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority provides stable housing for those most in need yet does not have the federal or state funding to keep up with current needs to maintain the housing or to build more housing needed to serve all those who qualify for it.

I support Council Vice President Glidden’s proposed Section 8 nondiscrimination ordinance. I believe that it strikes a good balance by exempting the smallest landlords, who would have trouble complying with HUD and MPHA rules.

One of the “hidden” costs of housing that I’d like to address is the cost of energy use in buildings. I support a proposed multifamily housing energy disclosure ordinance (modeled after the existing commercial building energy disclosure ordinance). My vision is for the City to ensure that all buildings in Minneapolis are as energy efficient as possible, through incentives, utility conservation improvement ordinances, and using the City’s regulatory levers. This would dovetail with existing work to address healthy housing issues within buildings like lead and asthma.

I know that some believe it did not go far enough, but I am proud to have authored the ordinance allowing intentional communities in Minneapolis, at the urging of people in the housing cooperative movement. I believe that this ordinance will allow greater use of existing housing stock, in a responsible way, thereby increasing affordability. I believe that if done correctly we can make much better use of our current housing stock using this tool to create more and better affordable and cooperatively owned and managed housing options.

I’m also proud to have authored, with Council Member Bender, new zoning regulations that dramatically increase the flexibility for siting new emergency homeless shelters. While our goal should be to prevent homelessness in the first place, we need to be realistic about the large (and, unfortunately, growing) unmet need out there for additional shelter beds, especially for particular populations like women, youth, and trans people. The creation of the emergency Housing model, that would allow emergency housing for up to 30 days, could be an important link we need to get homeless individuals the helps and support they need to find more permanent long term housing.

And lastly, I think it’s critically important not to lose sight of the income side of housing affordability. We should not be willing to accept a situation in which people working for minimum wage in Minneapolis can’t afford to live here. This is one of the reasons I strongly support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, with no exceptions for tipped workers.

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? 

I represent several neighborhoods in which there are quite a number of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes, including the West Bank, Seward and Prospect Park. These buildings play a very positive role in their neighborhoods. I have pushed for medium-density zoning in my ward, for example along the north side of the Midtown Greenway in Seward, where we changed the comprehensive plan to allow some of the current industrially-zoned land to transition to medium-density housing.

I am interested in the form-based code conversation that is just getting started in Minneapolis. Especially with the passage of the Intentional Community ordinance, we’ve shown that the important thing is not necessarily the number of people who live in a building. We may be able to regulate overall building bulk and setbacks without having to regulate the number of units.

Finally, I am concerned that the market pressures are making the fourplexes less desirable for developers. We are at risk for losing those that are currently serving a very important need. The city should monitor this and develop tools to preserve them.

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?

Yes. I think that the neighborhoods of my ward benefit greatly from the small commercial nodes and businesses in them. Much of my ward was built in the streetcar era, so there are many of these little nodes interspersed throughout the neighborhoods I represent and contribute greatly to creating the kind of “complete neighborhoods” so many people want and that are called for in our Climate Action Plan. Having small businesses interspersed throughout neighborhoods helps make neighborhoods walkable, bikeable and transit friendly, and I know that my constituents value the services they receive from these small businesses.

I have taken actions to support small commercial nodes. For example, I supported the rezoning of the Birchwood Cafe in Seward to allow a long-awaited (and very successful) expansion.

I am also interested in expanding this question beyond just commercial and residential. There are some cases in which the City’s rules inappropriately limited “production and processing” in commercial areas, which ended up making it difficult for small food manufacturers with great street presence to locate on commercial corridors. I authored the change to that ordinance. Prior to 2012, no commercial food growing was allowed in Minneapolis. I authored the change to that ordinance as well, opening up most zoning districts in the city to market gardens. When the previous Council forced me to limit the capacity of market and community gardeners to sell produce directly to their neighbors, I came back when I had a more supportive Council and removed those limitations.

I also think we have to reassess the way that industrial zoning and residential zoning can coexist. I’m very interested to find solutions in the Prospect North / Towerside area that will allow us to increase both “maker” jobs and residences. This new form of flexibility was one of the reasons I pushed forward the creation of the “Innovation District” designation, which I hope will let this and other areas with unique mixes of land uses to thrive under uniquely tailored regulations.

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’m interested in many ways to make housing and zoning policy more flexible. I’ve supported many of the housing initiatives brought forward by my colleagues this past term, including Accessory Dwelling Units and parking reform. Here are a few more of the ideas I’d like to pursue:

I believe that we could address parking reform again, both citywide and in the University overlay district. When CM Bender’s broad parking reform ordinance came through the Council, it was right after a similar parking reform ordinance of mine that was specific to the University overlay had passed the Council. For a brief time, we had more relaxed rules inside the University overlay than elsewhere in the city. Because that policy had just passed, I was not comfortable reopening it and making another change to something people had worked on for more than a year. But now that some time has passed, I would be willing to look at it again, as part of a broader new look at parking reform.

I am very interested in finding ways to increase the energy efficiency of new construction. There are currently limits on the City’s capacity to require more energy efficiency than the building code, but I’m very interested in exploring ways to change that preemption, either directly by getting permission to adopt a “green building code,” or through initiatives like energy benchmarking or putting energy use information in Truth in Sale of Housing reports.

I have long advocated for more local control and flexibility over both building code requirements, primarily to create more energy efficient, green and universally accessible housing. Even if the city lacks the authority to require certain practices in deems in the public interest we should explore more ways to encourage and support it. I would also like to see more local control in terms of rent control options for cities. There are examples of how this has helped in other cities and it is unfortunate that the State Legislature has taken this tool away from city government.

Lastly, I believe the City Council can, and should, take on a more active role in preserving and supporting the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority in its work to provide stable, quality public housing in Minneapolis. I support allowing them to apply for Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars and am ready to work on a plan to use out local levy authority to address their significant and critical capital needs.