2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Phillipe Cunningham – City Council, Ward 4

Phillipe Cunningham

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

While in recent years we have seen a shift in people moving back into Minneapolis, almost all of the new developments have been focused on bringing wealthy people into Downtown, Uptown or around the University. As a result we have seen the average cost of an apartment increase over $500 between 2011 and 2017. While this has been a great boom for wealthy individuals who want to move back into the city, it has been extremely harmful to marginalized communities, especially those in the 4th Ward because most developers are not looking to build housing our community can afford. As a result, and as these new developments have come in, the resulting gentrification and increase rents have pushed out many low-income people, disproportionately folks of color, into the first- and second-tier suburbs. By expanding affordable housing development across the city through strategies like Mandatory Inclusionary Zone, we will be able to sustain affordability and maintain the integrity of our community.

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 should obviously look at both federal and private funding sources to better ensure there are funds necessary to provide our current level of affordable housing services. Under a Trump administration, which has already been outwardly hostile towards cities, I would also be very careful to make sure in our planning that we are fully prepared to handle dramatic cuts from HUD. Especially in situations such as dramatic funding cuts, I want to sit down and work with local nonprofits to find out if there are any barriers that the city has which hurt access to affordable housing. The City needs to be more proactive in reaching out directly to the community to work together towards solutions for this problem.

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? 

With the vast number of vacant lots we have across the city, a disproportionate amount in the 4th Ward, this represents a unique opportunity to intentionally update our housing zones to be more equitable. Unfortunately, what we see far too often is elected officials who only champion large, expensive apartments or those who are staunchly against any change to their single-family home neighborhoods. We need City Councilmembers who strongly advocate for a mix in housing. What we need is to be bold with our policies to ensure that we have a healthy mix of housing. Throughout the decision-making process, it is also crucial for a City Councilmember to create space for their constituents to have a Voice.

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?

You have no idea how much I wished there was a little cafe or restaurant somewhere near my home. Light commercial spaces like these increase a community’s livability, bring life to neighborhoods, and build community fabric. There are so, so many opportunities in the 4th Ward for the City to support entrepreneurs of color to become small business owners in our community. So many people in the ward have told me they want to leave the Northside because there are no amenities in our heavily residential area. Many of our current zoning laws have made small development like these incredibly difficult and has helped lead to stagnant growth in the Northside. With the amount of vacant lots in the 4th Ward, we have a unique opportunity to rezone some of those for light commercial development and bring business to the community.

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 to address the disparity in where affordable housing is located in Minneapolis. Right now affordable housing is clustered together, which has helped lead to the extreme stigmatization of affordable housing. As a City Councilmember, the two main policy goals I will get to work on right away are rezoning some of the hundreds of abandoned lots for light commercial development and the redistribution of affordable housing across the city.