2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Janne Flisrand – City Council, Ward 7

Janne Flisrand

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

Minneapolis renters are losing access to about 1,000 affordable apartments
every year, and have been for the last decade. That’s not because we are knocking buildings down, though. First, renters incomes are dropping, so even flat rents would reduce access. Second, thousands of people are moving to Minneapolis, and many of them have more money than people who already live here. They are able to pay more for the same housing currently occupied at lower rent. They are bidding up the cost of homes and apartments across the city. We welcome new people — they are supporting our local economy, bringing skills and filling jobs for local companies. We can’t (and don’t want) to tell them to go somewhere else, but without addressing this underlying fact that they need places to live, we cannot solve the problem of rising rents forcing people with less money out of our neighborhoods and city.

The market rate housing development of the last several years has offered
homes to many people who want to live in Minneapolis, and it has eased the pressure on existing more-affordable apartment rents. But even at this seemingly rapid pace of construction, it’s not enough to keep rents stable.

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?

My vision for Minneapolis is that everyone​ should have an affordable place to
live, whether they have a lot of money or very little, whether they rent or own.

But the City’s current approach to housing development works only for the
wealthy. Housing is expensive, and low-wage workers don’t earn enough to pay what it costs. Rents are increasing while renters’ incomes are actually going down. More people want to live in our city, yet the supply of housing isn’t keeping up. We’re losing 1,000 units of housing that’s affordable every year in Minneapolis. The City’s pathway for affordable housing projects is blocked by obstacles that make developing new projects unnecessarily difficult. Outdated zoning prevents more housing from being built, and the voices of politically-connected people who oppose growth outweigh the voices of renters who desperately need housing. The current council member actively opposes using tools that have worked in other cities, like inclusionary zoning.

As council member, I will work to keep Minneapolis affordable for everyone​, by:

  • Allowing and encouraging more housing to be built
  • Raising the minimum wage so that people can afford housing
  • Exploring new financing options to lock in rents on existing housing that’s affordable
  • Investing more money in affordable housing development projects and making those funds easier, more predictable and more transparent to use
  • Supporting proven strategies like inclusionary zoning
  • Recognizing that there’s no single solution, and that we need to use every option we have and be open to new ideas

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? 

Talking to the voters of Ward 7, I hear that like me, they love the traditional neighborhoods we live in. As I walk and bike the streets in all of Ward 7’s neighborhoods, I see a mix of single family homes, duplexes, and triplexes, homes that have apartments in them, four to 16-unit walk-up apartment buildings, and a few larger walk-up apartment buildings. They are full of “missing middle” homes. It’s that mix that creates the activity, that offers options that work for young people and old people, that welcomes varied experiences and incomes, that houses the diversity of people who make our neighborhoods vibrant and interesting. Current zoning policy doesn’t allow us to build the kind of varied housing that is the foundation of the neighborhoods we love so much today. We love our neighborhoods because that variety makes them work and has for more than 100 years. The most recent major zoning code update was written in 1963. It was what we thought was best, but in the last 50 years, we’ve learned a lot. Instead of doubling down on what we have, let’s copy what we have that works and let’s have policies that allow us to build more of what we love today.

The law requires that our zoning fits with the Comprehensive Plan, and Minneapolis will be required to update our zoning after the Comprehensive Plan is adopted. Let’s work hard to get the vision for Minneapolis that’s laid out in the Comprehensive Plan right, and then we can make sure that the required zoning update gets us what we paint in the Plan.

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?

Our favorite neighborhoods have a focus, gathering spaces that create a neighborhood identity. Both Kenwood and Bryn Mawr, two of the most desirable neighborhoods in the City of Minneapolis, both have a “downtown” corner that is the social hub of the neighborhood. The coffee shop-restaurants are the place to meet up, and the small businesses draw in people and create the serendipity that lets neighbors connect. In Bryn Mawr, there are apartments above some businesses, offering more varied housing options. Commercial activity within neighborhoods also increases the ability of people who rely on transit and people with limited mobility to gain access to necessary goods and services.

Again, what we built 100 years ago before Minneapolis had zoning codes created more livable neighborhoods than our current zoning allows for. Our policies should let us create, or recreate, what works well.

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?

We need a zoning code and a development process that is predictable, evenly and equitably enforced, and that produces attractive buildings that enhance the vibrancy and livability of our neighborhoods, doing more of the neighborhood character we already love. We’ve seen how the predictability provided in historic districts like the St. Anthony Falls Historic District and the Warehouse Historic District are some of the most vibrant development areas in Minneapolis today. That’s because most historic buildings are inherently more adaptable than many of today’s tailor-made, single-use structures. The methods used to construct buildings 100 years ago offer flexibility that allows them to be retrofitted to fit modern needs. Additionally, historic buildings tend toward a human scale that make neighborhoods great places for people. They are interesting to walk past, their multiple windows and doors look onto streets increasing safety, and they create a unique neighborhood identity. Those are the characteristics we want to foster in new development today.

Our zoning code could and should offer the same predictability, and demand the same quality of building for the community. It has a direct impact on the quantity, quality, and cost of housing that gets built in the city. With clear expectations, neighbors and organizations have a clear sense of where their comments can influence projects. With clear and high expectations, developers can predict accurately whether a project can achieve the requirements to be approved before investing significant time and money in the project. And with explicit expectations, city staff can spend less time reviewing trial balloon project proposals, and focus on supporting projects that meet the requirements to earn approvals.