2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Erica Mauter – City Council, Ward 11

Erica Mauter

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

Given the low rental vacancy rates and rising housing prices we’ve been experiencing, it’s clear we need housing. Plain and simple. So it’s a positive thing from that standpoint. There’s been vigorous discussion about whether what is being built is “appropriate” for various neighborhoods; that obviously looks different in different parts of town. We know we have a longstanding problem with a lack of housing that is affordable; I’m not sure “trickle-down” affordability is actually happening (or at least we’re not building fast enough for the effect to show up), but also that tactic alone is not a just approach. It’s how we accommodate the growth we’re experiencing and encourage more. But everything else needs to come along with it. Does the neighborhood support it? Is there transit access? Are there necessities like a grocery store nearby? Engaging residents and guiding the particulars of a development is critical to preventing gentrification.

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?

We need an all of the above approach to preserve existing affordable housing, build new affordable housing, and build new market-rate housing. Inclusionary zoning is one tool, but it’s not a magic bullet; creating affordable units in an otherwise spendy neighborhood doesn’t magically make all the stores in the neighborhood affordable. I think that may be less of an issue in Ward 11, but is something we should be attentive to. I don’t expect we’ll be building any more new stadiums any time soon, but I’d consider attaching an affordable housing funding stream to projects of that type or scale. I’d look at making the regulatory path easier for the types of projects we want to build (again, that would look different in different neighborhoods), and that needs to be paired with robust community engagement to create buy-in. We could facilitate financing mechanisms that incent specific types of developments. We should relax or eliminate parking minimum requirements, which would reduce the cost of new construction.

Additionally, raising the minimum wage will have a significant impact on many residents’ ability to afford housing.

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? 

In Ward 11, I’m particularly intrigued by how zoning has enshrined the history of racial covenants in this part of town. “Change the zoning” is an easy answer to these questions, but in practice is hard to do. We really must reckon with this history, though. I expect that additional housing can and will be brought to Ward 11, but it’s incumbent upon the council member to fight for projects that achieve a just outcome, meet the needs of residents here, and also keep it possible for folks to move into the ward. We’re probably not going to build high rises in Ward 11, but I’d like to see projects focusing on seniors, communities like Spirit on Lake, and more cooperative housing.

The unique opportunities for a council member – and I view them as responsibilities – are to connect residents with opportunities to engage with the city, and to convene stakeholders and interested parties to move projects and inform decision-making. The city is conducting robust community engagement in the development of the Minneapolis 2040 plan; council members should be active in guiding residents towards opportunities to contribute and collecting feedback themselves. Council members could and should be canvassing their wards on this issue. Some of the feedback already collected on the Minneapolis 2040 plan indicates that Minneapolis residents do see the need for this missing middle housing.

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?

We have a lot of corners like that in Ward 11. I think of it as a defining characteristic of the ward. I’ve heard from Ward 11 residents who don’t have such a spot within walking distance who wish they did. I think these corners add a lot of value to neighborhoods, but it’s important that the businesses occupying such spaces are a good match for this type of location.

The adjacent areas to these types of corners would also be good first targets for upzoning. There are several examples in my immediate area of 3-unit condos and apartments replacing single family homes, with a footprint similar to the previous building. Guiding density towards these corners also helps create a critical mass of customers.

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?

My specific policy priorities are to adopt inclusionary zoning, and to upzone in Ward 11 where possible to create space for missing middle housing. We also need strong policy supporting renters’ rights (e.g., a just cause eviction ordinance, right-of-first refusal for renters to purchase from a landlord, adequate inspectors to enforce existing health and safety laws). That maintains safe and healthy housing for renters, and also prevents landlords from gouging renters with surprise, questionable rent hikes.