2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Cordelia Pierson – City Council, Ward 3

Cordelia Pierson

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

Market rate housing development has been hard on renters. I’ve seen the negative effects of the construction of new/renovated apartments in Ward 3. I’m a landlord myself, and I‘ve witnessed the average rent price jump over the past couple years. There are two big reasons why it has proved difficult for the average renter –

  1. The housing crisis allowed less people to buy a house, and cautioned potential homeowners from purchasing a house. Both groups of people became renters, rather than homeowners
  2. Ward 3 has seen great growth in its economy, and with it, has brought many
    developers. We’ve had a spike in luxury apartment buildings, and newer
    buildings go up in trendy neighborhoods

These reasons – increasing demand coupled with housing development that goes at the market rate – means the overall rental market prices have drastically increased. This makes affordable apartments incredibly difficult to find. I’ve spoken to many students who find it difficult to navigate the rental market.

This rental process seems to be the norm – Craigslist is constantly monitored in hopes of new rentals, then contact to as many places as possible, attempts to be the first or second to respond (or you’re likely out of luck), and be prepared to pay a security deposit at the moment of the tour. This is the story I keep hearing, and this happens if people can afford to stay. This dynamic has favored catering to wealthier individuals, while further marginalizing low-income families and students. The gentrification of Ward 3 pushed out many low-income households, and effectively decreased diversity.

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?

There a few places who have also asked themselves these questions, and who we can draw from. For example, Edina. Edina was facing the issue of having a high number of housing unaffordable to families who fell into middle-class. The city proposed allowing developers to pay into a city fund, which would then be used to erect housing somewhere else in the city. This was very promising, and could theoretically provide more housing than the current policy.

Except, the city’s Human Rights and Relations Commission stood to oppose it. Their claim that it would only serve to cluster low-income renters is backed up by how this policy has played out in other cities. In Chicago, the Metropolitan Planning Council found the policy served to increase segregation. Development that was paid for via the city fund went to housing in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.

Edina’s proposal doesn’t work, but we can say it tried to find a solution within itself. Many new developments are going up and they’re not affordable to most renters; we ought to develop in an inclusive manner – good growth gives back. Except, the current state of national politics means Minneapolis will find no help from the federal government. We must continue to seek other sources of funding, while being aware of all the implications of these efforts, to prevent ending up further out from the goals we set.

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? 

Part of what can prevent middle housing from being developed has to do with zoning regulations. Zoning divides the city into clear sections – family homes, commercial centers, and high density buildings. These zones are not inclusive of middle housing.

We could change that though. We could highlight a section of the city where single-family homes shift into a large apartment building zone, and create a corridor plan for it. The corridor would now include middle housing in its approved zoning. Here’s where we bump into the second issue – density zoning.

Density zoning polices the maximum amount of units allowed in an area. Except, middle housing density varies so greatly that it doesn’t necessarily fit in the density requirements for single-family zones. If we attempt to fix this issue by raising the density ceiling, then the problem becomes that of developers choosing to build large, lucrative, units instead of opting for constructing middle housing.

To get developers to opt for middle housing could involve requiring a certain quantity of buildings along with the higher density threshold. This effort would help us figure out whether it is an effective solution, and whether we could implement this approach citywide.

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?

Absolutely. The economy for Ward 3 centers around small businesses – cafes, local shops, and small storefronts. Middle housing provides great spaces for businesses to exist, and do not go against the integrity of a neighborhood.

Preventing businesses from overlapping with family neighborhoods has negatively affected the economy of some neighborhoods. It is most clear in single-family communities on the border of the city. In seeking the closest commercial hubs, residents of these neighborhoods patronized businesses in other cities. Minneapolis loses economy stimulation, tax dollars, and further perpetuates the idea of disinterest of middle housing.

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?

Zoning for middle housing will require a lot of effort, and a lot of advocating. If the city is to reach its goals to increase housing options, this is a zoning issue which stand between that goal. Since it is so complex, it is important to ensure this solution is amenable and conducive to our growth. I would focus on gathering stakeholders to advise, guide, and shape the zoning change.