2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Lisa Bender – City Council, Ward 10

Lisa Bender

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

I have been a consistent supporter of adding the housing units that people in our city need. As chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee and a member of the City Planning Commission, I have spent many hours reviewing and giving feedback on new developments that have resulted in thousands of new housing units, which are needed in one of the country’s tightest rental markets.

In Minneapolis, our rental vacancy rate is under 3% citywide and housing costs are rising. New housing is critical to ensuring that our city does not become unaffordable. The Met Council projects that nearly 50,000 new residents will move to Minneapolis by 2040 and those people will need places to live. If we do not build enough housing for these new residents, the competition for existing units will increase and will cause rents to rise. We have already seen situations where investors have purchased affordable apartment buildings in Minneapolis, evicted all renters, and renovated these buildings to steeply increase the rent. If we want to preserve the naturally occurring affordable housing we have and prevent displacement of current residents, we need to build enough new housing for the people who want to live here.

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?

Beyond state funding for affordable housing, the City has invested over $10 million yearly into subsidizing hundreds of housing units and investing in other affordable housing strategies. Last year, we created a new strategy to invest in naturally occurring affordable housing using up to 10% of our own investment portfolio funds.

Addressing the issue of affordable housing is two-sided. We need to preserve and create affordable housing in our city while simultaneously protecting workers and renters to create an economy that allows working people to afford housing. We have already passed a paid sick and safe time ordinance and will be voting on a section 8 nondiscrimination ordinance that would prevent discrimination on the basis of income. We also need to raise the minimum wage, require affordable units in new developments, allow for housing unit sizes all over the city that meet today’s demographics (duplexes, triplexes, town homes, etc), and increase protections for renters.

I have authored a number of policy changes that are helping expand housing options including transit-oriented parking reform which eliminated parking requirements for smaller apartments, opening up the possibility of market-rate development of a size that was basically precluded by parking requirements, and halving the requirement for larger buildings. I legalized Accessory Dwelling Units and eliminated the requirement that duplex lots be twice the size as single family homes of the same size, essentially legalizing duplexes in duplex zoning.

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 my time on the City Council, I’ve worked to make it easier to build “missing middle” housing by legalizing accessory dwelling units, reforming minimum parking requirements, and legalizing duplexes in duplex zoning.

The update to the City’s comprehensive plan is a critical opportunity to guide growth in the City over the coming decades. Part of this process includes making decisions about where and how to grow. We have many neighborhoods that have a mix of housing types and sizes from past decades, but where our current policies would not allow this type of development. We need to make decisions about what types of housing we want to see in our neighborhoods and make sure that our policies support building these types.

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, cafes and corner stores have always been a part of our dense city neighborhoods and are part of what make our neighborhoods interesting and desirable. Commercial nodes add character and convenience to our neighborhoods, while increasing interest for pedestrians and eyes on the street which improve safety. I have supported rezoning of individual commercial spaces and generally favor zoning that isn’t overly restrictive of use. I favor flexibility in allowing for mixed office, commercial and production uses which are still often restricted in our current zoning code. After our comprehensive plan is adopted in 2018, I feel very strongly that we need to update our zoning code to follow.

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?

In addition to all of the things discussed above, I keep hearing from constituents is that we need more protections for renters. Especially in a tight housing market, we need to protect renters from capricious evictions that can destabilize families and result in housing insecurity. The state of Minnesota has a rent control law that limits our options, but it will be a priority of my second term to work with the City Attorney’s office to determine a pathway to protect renters.