“We’re all better when we’re all better.”
That was the refrain at a recent gathering in Minneapolis of metro-area city and county officials, housing advocates, and other stakeholders from across the region.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) convened a meeting with local leaders to think regionally about how to expand affordable housing opportunity and discuss strategies to reduce economic disparities.
HUD Secretary Julián Castro has been meeting with state and local leaders all across the country, as he develops the “Prosperity Playbook.” This online toolkit will compile best practices to help communities be successful in expanding housing choices and opportunities for working families.
Meeting participants agree: Housing that’s affordable is critical to the prosperity and well-being of families, neighborhoods, cities, and the region overall. Having a regional body--like the Metropolitan Council--is a benefit that promotes regional partnerships and problem solving.
Regional tactics: Opportunities to move AND investing in neighborhoods
Council Chair Adam Duininck acknowledged that communities in the region face many challenges when it comes to providing more affordable housing. The barriers are varied and vast, including resources, local zoning, and fear, to name a few.
Duininck also talked about disagreement in the region about how best to invest in affordable housing; provide resources to help revitalize neighborhoods, or offer opportunities for some residents to move from areas where poverty is concentrated to communities that can provide more housing opportunity, high performing schools, and access to jobs.
“It’s a false choice,” said Duininck. “It’s not one or the other, it’s both. Our goal at the Council is to advocate for choices so residents can live where they choose. We must actively pursue both pathways to prosperity and invest equitably in our communities so the choices are real.”
Citing a recent Harvard study that shows that a child’s zip code can determine their chances of success, Duininck said the region needs to do better to ensure opportunity no matter where families live.
Community Choice Program: Assisting families to move to areas of high opportunity
The Council’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Metro HRA, is the largest Housing Choice Voucher program administrator in the state. The HRA recently launched a new mobility counseling program, Community Choice, to assist voucher-holding families move from areas of concentrated poverty to areas of opportunity.
The HRA is currently working with about 45 families to help prepare them for a move and build the social capital or relationships they need to become successful in their new neighborhoods.
“Families with Housing Choice Vouchers are primarily working families who want what any family wants: A place to live where their kids are safe, get a good education, and stand a fighting chance for a better life,” said Outreach Coordinator Terry Hardin.
Hardin and her colleague Corina Serrano say another component of the program is landlord education and recruitment.
“Landlords are key to the success of housing vouchers, because the program relies on the existing rental market,” said Serrano. “The Family Housing Fund is pitching in to help increase landlord participation, supplementing the work that we do to increase landlord understanding of the program requirements and tenants’ responsibilities.”
Huge need for affordable housing in Twin Cities metro region
Just how big is the need for affordable housing?
About a third of households in the region spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That means they can spend less on food, clothing, transportation, medical care, and other necessities.
The region added only 759 affordable housing units in 2014, the lowest total in the Council’s annual data to date. Only seven percent of all new housing in 2014 was affordable.
The Council forecasts that between 2020 and 2030, the region will add 37,400 low- and moderate-income households who will need affordable housing. For comparison, in the first four years of this decade, the region added fewer than 4,000 new affordable units, far less than the need.
Between now and 2040, the region will add 391,000 households; roughly 40% will earn less than 80% of area median income ($63,900 for a family of four).
Governor requests bonding for affordable housing
“As the demand for affordable housing grows, funding for affordable housing at the federal level has continued to drop,” said Duininck. “To help address the need, Gov. Dayton has requested $70 million in housing infrastructure bonds this legislative session.
“Cities, counties, lawmakers, service providers, the development community, and other key stakeholders will have to be creative, nimble, and willing to work in collaboration to meet the growing need for safe, affordable homes in vibrant and diverse communities in our region,” Duininck continued.
Working families need affordable housing; ‘they are our neighbors’
“Change can be hard,” said St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano. “But as we grow and our communities become more diverse and inclusive on many levels, we need to stop thinking about people who live in affordable housing as ‘the other’ because they are, in fact, our neighbors. They are our mechanics and teachers. Our firefighters and business owners.
“They are people we know and care about, and by becoming part of our communities, they enhance and enrich the places we call home.”