2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Samantha Pree-Stinson – City Council, Ward 3

Samantha Pree-Stinson

(Click here to return to 2017 candidate survey main page)

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

No response

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?

No response.

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? 

No response.

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?

No response.

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?

No response.

Editor’s Note: Rather than responding specifically to our survey questions, Samantha Pree-Stinson provided us with her campaign’s housing platform which we are reprinting below:

The City of Minneapolis should support Affordable Housing by:

  • Discouraging gentrification and ensuring that Affordable Housing opportunities are distributed evenly across the city
  • Expanding the role of city inspections to ensure that Affordable Housing properties comply with accepted standards of habitability
  • Adapting zoning to allow for micro-housing and small business opportunities
  • Exploring and developing Public/Private partnerships to extend the power of available funds
  • Requiring a $15 minimum wage city wide

Discouraging gentrification and ensuring that Affordable Housing opportunities are distributed evenly across the city.

There are many causes around the country for gentrification. There are also a lot of myths. Gentrification typically is spoken of as a class or race issue. However, gentrification is much more than that. It really is a capitalism issue and status quo tends to remain because people have the political clout to keep it that way. Cities all over the US have seen a steady decrease in the number or affordable housing units built as a result of this. Developers want to do it but they have ordinance constraints. In order to combat the very negative effects of gentrification, it is vital that we make sure we have affordable housing opportunity in all parts of the city.

There will always be people who have an ‘it is what it is’ mentality about this housing issue. As I see it, it’s an issue that we have created and so it is one we are responsible for solving. Minneapolis was created to be segregated. You can google the map from the 1930’s and see how we are still combatting that map and working towards integrating our city. I am tired of seeing my community leave to the suburbs because they cannot afford to live where they work. Their kids being shuttled around all over so that they can try to keep them in their schools. We can and will do better than that. We are going to start putting Minneapolitans in the front end of the process, starting with getting them into homes using a model that allows for access, affordability, safety, and supports multiple types of housing options.

Expanding the role of city inspections to ensure that Affordable Housing properties comply with accepted standards of habitability.

I am not striving for our Ward to become a Beverly Hills. We have high prices because of shortages and those shortages are due to zoning that doesn’t pay attention to the Ward 3 demographic. Some of our affordable properties have fallen badly into disrepair and families can be forced to live in substandard conditions. I would love to see a city registry of homes that have been inspected and deemed to be up to code and safe by the city. Landlords that are doing the right thing by their tenants would likely see this as beneficial to have the cities best approval rating. Would you rather eat at a restaurant with an A or a C rating? Exactly, A. The same would go for one’s living conditions. If a landlord is forced to sell due to non-compliance, the new property owner should not be able to get a license and continue the legacy. We have to hold landlords accountable in the city. Not having enough inspectors is not an excuse. We clearly have a backlog that needs to be addressed and should use outside contractors in the interim while we determine what the permanent solution is. We should require yearly internal and external inspections. Just because someone is renting an affordable home does not mean that they should be living in sub-par housing with lesser standards than their neighbors in market rate rentals. Housing court should have a court-appointed inspector working with them to ensure that when these evictions come across the table, it is not just a pay or get out a sentence. Renters should be given time to exhaust their rights and make arrangements. Eviction court is very one sided and more times than not cases are about residents not paying due to the living conditions. These types of initiatives would allow for continuous neighborhood improvement, better controls and oversight of rental properties and their conditions in the city, and ensure that our renters are safe from landlords trying to play the system. In cases of neglect, the renter should be provided with relocation assistance by the landlord, including deposits and other up-front costs at the new property. This is vital for our state where being out of your home in the middle of winter can literally be a death sentence.

Adapting zoning to allow for micro-housing and small business opportunities.

Ward 3 has a unique mix of SES brackets: low middle or high. We have a large number of young professionals moving in to start families, young professionals leaving grad school and entering the workforce likely in their 1st professional role, a growing African community: Somali and Sudanese as well as a growing Hispanic population (Mexicans, Colombians, Hondurans, and Ecuadorians for example), retirees and elderly, homeowners, renters, artists of all mediums, and young folks from rural areas looking for a city experience.

Meeting the needs of such a diverse group is our challenge in ward 3. If we stop progress and cap off new developments, prices will rise and affordability will decrease. Instead of newcomers filling new developments, they will seek and fill up all of the existing affordable housing – especially when we have a lack of rent controlled market in the city. The top percentage of upper-class renters will outbid the rest of us because they can. This leads to the depopulation of the neighborhoods. Currently, 70% of US cities have a higher growth rate than Minneapolis. We need to keep our current residents and attract new ones and in order to do that, we have to address the cost of living in this ward and provide a variety of affordable housing options and models. In a ward where the average age is just 32, we also have to look at trends in our young people. In 2011, nearly 60% of millennials received support from their parents, last year this was roughly 40% nationwide. As a result, I believe the usefulness of more upscale apartment homes is drawing to a slow crawl. There are other models, all of which have their best and worst points to consider, that will likely prove more useful to the ward 3 of the future.

Our ward has actually done a good job at building density using older models. The issue we face is twofold. Density needs to be spread throughout our city and not just Ward 3. The 2nd issue is that the type of density we have created has only attracted one type of renter, and it isn’t the kind with the greatest need. The average cost of living in our ward is about $1900 a month. This is due in part to the fact that we have mostly invested in one type of housing model: the high-end high rise downtown or close to downtown. As the downtown style slowly creeps northward, it threatens to push affordable housing out of the community. The NE culture is worth maintaining. Ward 3 is all about balance, and we need to safeguard equity and equality in our housing practices. This will be good not only for Ward 3, but for the city as a whole.

Zoning on it’s own does not create density. It creates an environment for multiple housing models and developments to serve the needs of all the people in the area. The higher the building, the more the construction costs. Common sense says that the market for real estate designed for the top percentage of earners is limited. It makes much more sense for a developer to build single family style housing, smaller apartments, condos; anything that is closer to the ground – because it’s cheaper. Profit is revenue minus cost, so smart builders will control costs in areas where less revenue is available.

If we truly want to be an inclusive city that acts with the best interest of ALL residents in mind, we need to think outside of the box. We have to support the needs of our residents and make sure that they have access, affordability, options, and safety for their housing needs.

As we address the way we are zoning, we need to allow for other housing models and land use practices. Minneapolis has a growing number of minimalists and those seeking to live with less of a carbon footprint. I want to re-write our zoning to include the allowance for tiny homes. St.Paul has already been considering this and it feels a bit like the race with Russia to get to the moon. There are a lot of misconceptions about Tiny Homes. Tiny homes are not mobile homes.
They are environmentally friendly, cost effective, energy efficient, practical, and would be an amazing fit for our artsy city.

Tiny homes can be built on a much smaller scale and can contribute to solving our affordability crisis. On average a tiny home can cost less than a new car. Because they are so much cheaper, buyers can pay in cash or can have very affordable monthly payments. There are cities in NC, CA, MA, FL, CO, OR and TX that allow for tiny.micro homes. In order to write an ordinance that works for us, it will be vital to write it a lot more general and less specific. For example, there are 2 types of tiny homes: those that have wheels and are largely categorized as being RV’s or mobile homes, and those that have a foundation. Foundation housing for a tiny home is not currently allowed. The closest thing we have is the granny or carriage house verbiage. It is not the end of the possibility, it just means that we would need to write inclusionary and exclusionary criteria. We will also need to look at the existing constructions and zoning regulations. In other words, what you build it out of and where. The beauty of micro or tiny housing is that it is often made of recyclable materials and most often has built on rain collection for recycling water. This will add to our ability to continue becoming a green and clean energy city and improve our air and soil quality.

Micro-apartment buildings are within this concept as well and are a wonderful housing solution for students, homeless, those in a transitional period, or those who just want to save money and pay off their bills. Micro-apartment buildings are about 400 sq.ft., about the size of a few office cubicles. Micro apartments also come in a variety of types. Style and budget truly can meet. For the units that are truly meant to be transitional housing or for a lower income bracket, they can be rent controlled. I am not a fan of housing that only caters to one type of person. If you truly want to build a strong and well-supported community, you build a tiered system so that your housing plan caters to everyone.

Exploring and developing Public/Private partnerships to extend the power of available funds.

There are basically two ways that you can raise money for a public project. You can trim other programs or you can raise revenues (which means raising or adding new fees or taxes). It’s really that basic. I think if you want to find ways to stretch the dollars we have, there have been some things happening – things we can expand on and grow – in public/private partnerships. The A-Mill project is one that accomplished some affordability both for its tenants and for investors, and looks to be a real success – it’s won several national awards already. And because of its promotion of artists, it is also encouraging people to develop themselves economically and professionally, promoting commerce, and also contributing to the beautification of its neighborhood. I think this can work for not just artists, but for all kinds of “niches” of people, who can benefit from the idea of work/live affordable space. These kinds of projects can be a model that we can expand and improve upon to develop more affordability in Minneapolis housing. Exploring Public/Private partnerships can stretch our tax dollars by combining them with private investment. This has the effect of multiplying the effect of the spending by creating value for the tenant and the property owner together.

Requiring a $15 minimum wage citywide.

Affordable housing is a RATIO. It’s the relationship between how much your housing costs and how much you make. I don’t mean to patronize people by saying that, but it’s something that I think we forget. It’s easy to get focused on the cost element. When you try to cut costs, you’re dealing with known elements, and when you try to raise revenue, you’re trying to drive and predict the future, so deferring to cost-cutting becomes a sort of default solution, especially for less courageous politicians. You can find that phenomenon in business pretty easily too. But one-sided approaches are how we end up playing whack-a-mole in government and we end up moving lots of levers and flipping switches, but real progress can be so fleeting and hard to find. If you want the teeter-totter to balance, you have to put pressure on both sides of it. I think we need to find a way to make a $15 minimum wage a reality. But it isn’t enough to do only that. We also have to make sure that we do the right things for small businesses so that they can AFFORD their $15 employees. That’s why I’m including my support for the new minimum wage under Affordable Housing. Building density by supporting micro-housing can build strength and stability for small businesses by providing them with adequate customer bases. You can’t have successful employees without successful businesses, and vice versa. I think the jury is still out on whether or not there is a viable way to enforce a minimum wage at the city level, so it may be something that we need to pressure the state to do. One way or another we have to figure that out. But again, we have to make sure that business remains successful and that they don’t respond, for instance, by cutting hours to compensate. If that’s the case we haven’t really helped.