2017 Candidate Questionnaire: Steven Fletcher – City Council, Ward 3

Steven Fletcher

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

New market-rate development has impacted the city in lots of ways, both good and bad.

First, the good: it’s added density and encouraged the development of walkable, bikeable activity centers (like in the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood), where people can live close to their job, and also walking distance to shopping, healthcare, entertainment, etc. That new density has brought some of the wealth of the metro region back into the city, adding resources our city can invest in city improvements. New market-rate housing has created a better range of housing options. The new housing has lowered our per-capita carbon footprint, both by providing more energy-efficient modern housing, and by reducing commutes and car dependence. The new construction has alleviated scarcity that might have otherwise artificially inflated rents even higher than the level to which they’ve risen. New density in Dinkytown and Stadium Village has created a stronger sense of community around the U than when I attended and it was predominantly a commuter campus. The new construction has reduced the number of unsightly, wasteful surface parking lots. Some, though not nearly enough, of the new construction has some kind of affordable housing included.

The bad: Most of the new market-rate construction is very expensive, and has created new pockets of economic and racial housing segregation in an already very segregated city. It’s also placed an added student debt burden on college student renters. In a few places (notably around 13th Street NE and Marshall), new and proposed developments are adding a lot of density where we don’t have a plan to accommodate that new density with transportation options, etc., leading to traffic and parking tensions that are a challenge to residents and business owners. The emphasis in new construction on one-bedroom and studio apartments has led to a shortage of family housing options at any price range for downtown families.

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?

There’s no one approach that will solve affordable housing, but there are three specific strategies that should be part of our approach. First, we need to work to keep families in existing affordable housing. That includes foreclosure prevention for homeowners. It includes programs to encourage or require repairs to affordable housing for the current tenants rather than the evict/remodel/flip process that often follows failed rental inspections. By subsidizing repairs and renovations aimed at livability and maintenance of affordable rents, we can help landlords resist the temptation of superficial, aesthetic improvements to attract wealthier tenants.

Second, we need to increase density overall, so that scarcity of housing doesn’t drive prices up for everyone. That will mean different things in different neighborhoods, ranging from new high rises near transit corridors and activity centers, to more efficient use of existing single family homes that could house multiple families in other neighborhoods.

And third, we need to use a combination of incentives and requirements to get affordable units included in new development proposals. I support inclusionary zoning that compels a percentage of new construction to include affordable units. I also support height bonuses for proposed development that help the city achieve our affordable housing goals. A lot of the development we want is more likely to come to fruition with financial support, and I believe that we can do more to redirect the revenue from our new property tax base to directly subsidize more construction of affordable housing units.

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? 

Ward 3 has some of the oldest residential neighborhoods in the city in Northeast and Marcy Holmes. When single-family housing was built in those eras, a single family was likely multi-generational, and often included 6 – 8 adults. The shift away from multi-generational living has decreased the density of our beautiful residential neighborhoods, and we should address it by allowing more 2 – 8 unit buildings to be either newly constructed, or developed in existing re-purposed single family homes. That’s a way to increase the density of a neighborhood with lower construction costs, and without radically changing the traffic patterns and experience of the neighborhood. It’s also a way to create more affordable family housing – especially 3 and 4 bedroom units for families with children. The Comprehensive Plan should include neighborhood-appropriate upzoning to allow for increased density across the whole city.

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?

There is absolutely a need for those spaces, and they’re much more likely to thrive if we increase neighborhood density to ensure they have enough customers without trying to draw in additional traffic. Having neighborhood cafes and corner stores, as well as parks and other public spaces, creates opportunities for neighborhood interaction that can build a sense of community and safety.

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?

I want to really focus on expanding transportation options, so that we can reduce the cost of building housing by reducing the demand for parking, and the burden for developers to build parking. The more people can reasonably live car-free in our city, the better off we are from an environmental standpoint, an economic standpoint, and a quality of life standpoint. I’m persuaded that parking requirements should be eased in the University overlay area, as they were elsewhere in the city, to reduce the cost of construction, and hopefully the cost of new housing.