2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Jacob Frey – Mayor

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

Density is a progressive issue. When done thoughtfully, it reduces per-capita carbon footprints, provides supply to keep up with demand (thus keeping prices in check), and contributes to walkable communities with successful small and local businesses. A coordinated push for density, including critical investments in low income housing, is essential for the vitality and affordability of our city.

While improvements can certainly be made, market rate housing development is a critical component of a thriving city, including affordable housing. Given the likely loss of 4% and 9% low-income tax credits, a consistent stream of funding for affordable housing must now come from cities and counties, and so, the increased tax revenue resulting from growth becomes all the more important.

Minneapolis has lost 10,000 units of affordable housing in the last 15 years alone, making all the more critical a separate pot of money specifically designated for affordable housing that does not compete with classic city issues. While I am proud to have raised the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to record levels, that $10.5 million figure is still insufficient to tackle the problem. The problem stems from the fact that when the city offers subsidies to develop affordable housing, it comes along with the requirement that housing remain affordable for 15-20 years. However, after that period lapses, the housing can be flipped to market-rate, putting us on a revolving treadmill of trying to build more affordable housing to keep up with that which we are losing. And, we are falling. Without critical investments and incentives to build and retain affordable housing for the long haul, our city will lose the socioeconomic diversity that makes us great.

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 a bold vision to work collaboratively with our public, private, and nonprofit partners to create a consistent stream of funding for new affordable housing and retention of naturally occurring affordable housing. One such policy is to set aside a percentage of the property tax revenue the city receives from any increase in the property values of homes valued at $300,000 or more for a special fund exclusively for affordable housing. For example, if a home valued at $400k goes up in value by $50 over the next 5 years, we could take a percentage of that growth to allocate exclusive to affordable housing. This could be carried out over the next several years, and would optimally include other municipalities and counties in the region.

I also believe that we should provide incentives to developers to include affordable housing in their development, especially during an RFP process when the city can determine outcomes. Policies that resemble inclusionary zoning can be used, especially in areas of high demand, and along developing transit corridors. We also need to look at affordable homeownership opportunities.

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? 

Diversity in housing stock is important for the economic vitality of neighborhoods. But there are two separate issues here. One is the affordability of single-family homes and units in large apartment buildings, the other is zoning that allows for more flexibility and creativity. The first goes back to question #2, in which the city invests in affordable housing. This includes investments in the missing middle housing. The second has to do with the rigid and uncoordinated way in which the city’s zoning currently operates. The city has been working toward using more of a form-based approach to zoning but so far this is being done piecemeal. The upcoming update to the comprehensive plan should move us closer to more form-based zoning which functions to integrate a diversity of uses and buildings while maintaining character and relation rather than keeping a focus on segregated parcel use.

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, there is a place for light commercial spaces in neighborhood interiors. For so long, our city has had a practice of segregating use – separating residential from business, business from entertainment and commercial, and entertainment and commercial from light industrial. I believe that diversity of use helps create vibrant and safe neighborhoods. When activity and schedules are uniform (for instance, in a business district with people arriving at 8:30 am and leaving at 5:30 pm), there is immense activity for short stints with dead time in between. Conversely, a diversity of use creates a constant in-flow and outflow of people, which puts eyes on the street throughout the day and night and improves safety. Additionally, a diversity of use creates interesting street life with excitement and vibrancy. So yes, there is definitely a place for small cafes and corner stores in neighborhood interiors. The answer to this can also be found, in part, in the answer to question #3.

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?

First, I believe that during transition of business tenancy or ownership, commercial units should be split up. As I previously wrote in a Star Tribune editorial, smaller spaces also allow for cheaper rent, giving upstart entrepreneurs an opportunity to open while preventing corporate franchises from setting up their boilerplate. This new model is working, as evidenced by record numbers of small, locally owned shops opening throughout the North Loop and along East Hennepin in the Third Ward.

This new, smaller mentality is not limited to retail. Restaurants, pizza joints and bars are seeing a similar trend. Larger restaurants like Rosa Mexicana with miles between tables are closing; more compact models like PinKU Japanese Street Food and Parlour are thriving. The fact that their success is not unique proves the point. The retail/restaurant world is changing and we must embrace it.

Picture your favorite city in the world to visit. Blocks overflow with a diversity of uses, people, activities, tastes, smells and sounds that could never be present if the whole block was occupied by one vanilla tenant. Walking by seven independent shops on a block is far more interesting than one uniform corporate storefront. Yes, space is tighter and sidewalks more crowded, and you may even hear the first-date conversation from the table next to yours. But, hey, that’s a city, and we shouldn’t be afraid to become one that is world-class.

Second, I am currently working on is related to maximum occupancy. Right now, both the housing and the zoning code define maximum occupancy, and these two definitions can conflict. I am working on an ordinance change that would put maximum occupancy in the housing code only and use floor area ratio to determine maximum occupancy. I believe this can substantially benefit affordability of our city’s housing stock.

Finally, I also believe that increasing the minimum wage – although not traditionally thought to be housing related – will have a big impact on the affordability of housing. The ongoing increases in housing costs have outpaced wages. We need to pass an increase in minimum wage so that the affordable housing investments we are making are opportunities for our residents to stabilize their housing situation.