2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Gary Schiff – Ward 9

Gary Schiff

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

In the Ninth Ward, the only new units of market rate housing in the last several years are projects with city-assisted financing and/or subsidies. Often presented as “affordable” housing, these projects expand the supply of multifamily rental but rarely meet the level of affordability needed to achieve our racial equity goals or end homelessness.
For example, Blue Line Flats (opened 11/2016) at Hiawatha and 32nd Street features 2 bedroom units starting at $917 (before utilities). Nearly one out of four dollars in the $25.8 million project came from public sources. Yet out of 135 units in the building, there are only nine 1 bedroom units in the building that rent for $691. These nine units represent the only new units of truly affordable housing developed in the Ninth Ward in the last three and a half years. Additionally, because this project received federal housing dollars, a federal requirement of documented residency status keeps undocumented immigrants from being able to rent.

Today there are no​ housing projects in the financing stage, nothing breaking ground, and nothing under construction –affordable or market rate– in the Ninth Ward. This is a severe problem that will spur Ninth Ward gentrification as housing costs continue to rise. Minneapolis needs new housing construction to replace our aging housing stock and to meet the needs of a growing population that values urban living connected to Transit.

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?

With over 200 miles of bike lanes, and the third highest number of bike commuters per capita, Minneapolis should recognize that demand is slowly dropping for housing with two off-street parking spaces per unit. Parking requirements drive up the cost of housing, and don’t recognize growing trends in modern urban living.In the Ninth Ward, the problem isn’t necessarily a lack of good policy or tools to create affordable housing, but rather a complete lack of interest by the incumbent to engage nonprofit housing developers with the process of land assembly, land use approvals, and financing to create more affordable housing.

If elected, I would reach out and partner with private and nonprofit housing developers to meet our city’s affordable housing goals, as I did during my tenure on the City Council from 2002- 2013. During my three terms on the City Council, the Ninth Ward added 549 new units of affordable housing –more new units of affordable rental housing than any other area of the city– including housing with services for American Indian elders, people with disabilities, teen mothers, people with AIDS and LGBT seniors.

I helped create the American Indian Homeownership program, to reduce racial disparities in homeownership and stabilize the neighborhood near Little Earth of United Tribes. Even this initiative has stagnated under the incumbent and the land where new single family homes could be built for American Indian community members sits empty.

I support the ordinance by Council Members Glidden, Warsame and Goodman to prohibit Section 8 discrimination. I support restoring the Housing Redevelopment Authority at $4m annually and funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund at $10m annually. If elected, I would extend the 3% lodging tax to all AirBnB units and dedicate the revenue to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

If elected, I would also support creating affordable housing that doesn’t carry the federal requirement for residents to provide Social Security Numbers. Since federal dollars only comprise $2m of the $8m in our Affordable Housing Trust Fund today, careful accounting of the projects that receive federal dollars may address this issue. Raising the minimum wage to $15, phased in for small businesses, will also address housing affordability for many low wage 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? 

Unlike the vast majority of Minneapolis, the Ninth Ward is a mosaic of zoning diversity, with many areas zoned for multifamily and mixed use housing. We need not wait for the once-a-decade Comprehensive Plan update to conduct zoning studies, small area plans, or to restore nonconforming rights to multifamily buildings. Many of the ‘missing middle’ housing has been down-zoned and labeled ‘nonconforming’ over the years, making it difficult for buyers to finance necessary improvements.

Not so surprisingly, the neighborhoods that have embraced the benefits of density (more transit options, better accessibility to jobs, stronger social bonds) are the neighborhoods that have the highest levels of investment and are the drivers of economic growth.

As Ninth Ward Council Member, I authored the first minimum floor area ratio requirement in a zoning overlay district, to prevent one story commercial buildings being built in transit station areas (the result was the metro’s first mixed use Aldi with housing above). I also authored transit overlay districts in the Ninth Ward that reduced parking requirements (the result was more senior affordable housing) and zoning code amendments with density bonuses as an incentive to include affordable 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?

Restrictive zoning promotes racial segregation and creates auto-dependent communities. Neighborhoods thrive when locally owned businesses are able to take root and flourish and the housing remains affordable.

Intersections like 23rd Ave S & 35th Street are a great example of light commercial spaces in a neighborhood interior: The Chatterbox cafe, a yoga studio and the new locally-owned restaurant Vittles all enrich the economy and social fabric of the Corcoran Neighborhood.

Cities with flexible zoning are best positioned to reuse historic buildings, and meet the ever-changing needs of shifting family and social structures. I’m a huge fan of Cam Gordon’s ‘intentional community’ zoning code amendment. We need to continue to add flexibility for multi-use spaces, and eliminate unnecessary ‘conditional use permits’ that slow investment in aging buildings.

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?

It is critical that affordable housing be developed in all areas of the city to curb
gentrification and the displacement of low income people of color. The fact that there has been only nine new affordable housing units created in the Ninth Ward since 2013 is a travesty. Another barrier to affordable housing is documentation. Many undocumented immigrants are currently barred from affordable housing because they are unable to provide the identification that is needed to qualify. We need to find a way to remove that barrier so we can continually improve our Sanctuary City status.

Problem landlords are an ongoing racial equity issue in the Ninth Ward. We need to ensure that all renters are protected from mold, infestations and low/no heat complaints. Recently many low-quality apartment buildings in the Ninth Ward that rent almost exclusively to Latino immigrants, were given the highest rating (Tier 1) by the city. As InquilinXs UnidXs por Justicia (the renter group that recently sued Steve Frez) asked this year, “Why are buildings with many problems getting a tier one status? We need to value the lives of families more than profits for landlords.”

We need to ensure that buildings that are owned and managed by problem landlords are inspected often to protect renters. I’ve authored legislation to require 311 notices in Spanish and Somali to be posted in all rental housing, and I voted to create a firm deadline (October 1st) for landlords to provide heat.

The City of Minneapolis should expand the use of land trusts and land banks to
preserve long-term affordability. Preserving naturally occurring affordable housing by creating cooperative housing models must also be a priority.