League panel looks at affordable housing needs

As part of its ongoing advocacy for affordable housing, the Roseville Area League of Women Voters held a panel on the subject Oct. 21 in Roseville.

The event was co-hosted with the Council of Metropolitan Area Leagues of Women Voters and Centennial Methodist Church.

The Roseville League released a year-long study on affordable housing back in May, covering where its five member cities — Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Little Canada, Maplewood and Roseville — stand on the issue. 

The study found all five have decent stores of affordable housing right now, though each will need more in the next decade or so to meet coming demand.

The organization affirmatively backs affordable housing. As explained by panel moderator Karen Schaffer, “The League believes that all people have a right to housing and that the public and private sectors should work together to make sure all have access to adequate and affordable housing.”

The panel event, which took place at Centennial Methodist Church, featured Chip Halbach, the recently retired executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership and Gail Dorfman, a Metropolitan Council representative, former mayor of St. Louis Park and the director of St. Stephens Human Services. Both have dealt with affordable housing issues for decades.

Halbach explained the methodology behind the Met Council’s 2014 Housing Policy Plan, which projected the number of affordable housing units cities will need by 2030 to meet housing needs.

For instance, a number of factors went into determining that Roseville will need 142 additional units of affordable housing in the next 13 or so years. The city’s existing housing stock, the jobs-to-workers ratio within the city and metro-wide trends all affect the total, Halbach explained.

The 142 units is actually more than Roseville would need if not for Rosedale Center, which offers jobs that attract lower income-earning people, Halbach said. However, the Met Council estimation of need doesn’t account for the loss of affordable housing units and the need could be as much as four times greater than projected.

Halbach said the biggest thing driving the scarcity of low income housing in the metro area is the ongoing loss of such housing, including naturally occurring affordable housing units. 

Rents are on the rise, he said, and vacancy rates are low, meaning landlords can be more picky, or decide not to accept housing subsidies such as Section 8 vouchers. The value of rental properties in the metro is on the rise, he added, and that means there will be pressure to increase rents, too, decreasing the amount of affordable units.

The demand for higher-priced rental housing, he pointed out, is expected to be far greater than the demand for affordable units, exacerbating the problem.


Stereotypes and 

different needs

Dorfman said she sees a continued rise in the number of people who are seniors and homeless, and sought to dispel some notions about people who, for lack of affordable housing and other issues, experience homelessness.

Leaning on her work at St. Stephens, which seeks to end homelessness, she said many of her colleagues there, young, recent college graduates who are social workers, fall on the low income spectrum.

“They have a hard time finding affordable housing,” Dorfman said.

Higher density housing is one way that can help the market create more affordable housing, Halbach said, while also acknowledging that neighbors who object to such projects also have legitimate concerns.

However, he said, those concerns need to be balanced against expanded tax bases, strong schools and the businesses that can also come with high-density development. Halbach also said improvements in management and screening have reduced the crime issues associated with high-density housing.

Dorfman stressed that cities need to look at different housing models than they’re used to. The metro is losing its manufactured housing parks — a recent example is the closure of the Lowry Grove trailer park in St. Anthony — 12 in total over the last year, she said, with no new parks created since the 1990s.

Different people have different housing needs, too, she said. Some immigrant families seek larger homes for many generations to share; other people want tiny homes.

Halbach admitted that cities don’t have much leverage when it comes to forcing developers to build affordable housing, and Dorfman said the Met Council only uses so much of its coercive power with cities on housing, due to the need to strike a balance and not hurt development.

Dorfman pointed out opinions regarding difficulties in finding housing need to be changed. 

“Too often we say it’s an individual failing — it’s a societal failing, it’s a market failing,” she said.

After the panel, Roseville League member Mindy Greiling, who helped organize the event, said now is the time for those concerned about affordable housing to get involved with their city councils. 

Metro area cities are currently working on their comprehensive plans and resident feedback can help guide how those plans turn out, including when it comes to housing plans.

Greiling said it was especially important to tell council members how the real need for affordable housing is likely to outpace projected needs. “No wonder those who need affordable housing are in such crisis,” she said.


Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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