Roseville League of Women Voters delves into affordable housing

Beginning last year, the League of Women Voters Roseville Area studied the availability of affordable housing in its member cities, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Little Canada, Maplewood and Roseville.

The takeaway, according to League member and former state representative Mindy Greiling, who helped author the study that was released earlier this year, is a bit of surprise. 

All five suburbs have decent stores of affordable housing, yet, she said, all five can do better.

As explained in the study, which was released at an April 18 event, “housing is affordable to a family or individual if [housing] costs are no more than 30 percent of their income. For people who earn less than the median income this can be a challenge.”

The study was supplemented by a capstone project carried out by three graduate students from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs whose work made specific recommendations for each of the five suburbs. They presented their findings at the Roseville Library May 9.

Following the study, Greiling said, the League plans a year of advocacy in favor of affordable housing with its member cities.

 

By the numbers

State Rep. Alice Hausman, a frequent advocate for affordable housing at the Capitol, framed the importance of housing while speaking at a League event earlier this year

“Nothing can go well if you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night,” she said.

Though the five suburbs vary in size, demographics and average household income, each has a mix of available housing options that can meet the needs of people living with various levels of income.

Metropolitan Council forecasts for population and job growth from 2021 to 2030, as collected in the study, determined the number of affordable housing units each community would need to add in order to meet the regional demand of 37,900 new units.

Falcon Heights and Lauderdale do not need to add any units. Little Canada is projected to need 79, while Roseville would need 142. 

The largest city of the five, Maplewood, would need to add 510.

Still, as noted in the study, there are many obstacles to developing affordable housing, including inadequate state and federal funding as well as local barriers, including neighborhood opposition.

 

Not in my backyard

Changing the narrative around affordable housing is essential to advocating for it, said Humphrey School student Michael J. Davis III, while he and others presented the findings of their capstone project.

“People who need and use affordable housing actually already live [and work] in the community,” Davis said, pointing out that changing NIMBY, or not in my backyard attitudes, can come down to humanizing the issue.

According to the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing — MICAH — as cited in the League study, racial discrimination plays a part in neighborhood opposition. For instance, in Minnesota, 25 percent of renters are white, while 75 percent are people of color, according to the study.

Davis said a lot of opposition is also based on myths, for instance, that affordable housing attracts crime or that it negatively affects area property values. Neither idea is backed up by research, he said.

Even the term, “affordable housing,” Davis said, is stigmatized, and some advocates are in favor of calling it “life-cycle housing.” He pointed out that most everyone will know someone or have a family member who is at a point in their life that they need less expensive housing options.

The release of the League study coincides with the member cities reworking their comprehensive plans, an opportunity, Greiling said, for targeted advocacy. Humphrey School student Elizabeth Showalter, who is White Bear Lake’s comprehensive plan intern, said cities often hear from people opposed to affordable housing projects but not those in favor.

“Bring all of your friends [to meetings] and make t-shirts and show the city council” your support, Showalter said.

 

What to do?

What should League member cities be doing to support affordable housing?

The Humphrey School students recommended nearly all the cities support their existing low cost rental housing while working to support large family housing — units with three or four bedrooms.

The students recommended that Roseville and especially Little Canada modify their crime-free housing ordinances. Showalter said such ordinances usually cap the number of police calls to a rental address, requiring action, usually eviction, after a certain point.

Such ordinances, she said, can deter victims of domestic violence or those in need of mental health support from calling the police when in need of help.

Maplewood City Council member Kathleen Juenemann, who was at the May 9 presentation, said “having a police call is pretty irrelevant” to a property. She said her city had begun categorizing the types of calls — medical emergencies, burglaries, disturbances, etc. — so as to better reflect the reality of what happens at a given residence. 

Other recommendations included supporting manufactured housing — trailer homes — in Maplewood and Little Canada. Such housing, said Showalter, is often one of the least expensive options.

 

Advocacy

Another thing member cities could improve upon is the usage rate of housing subsidies, such as Section 8 housing vouchers — the study found such subsidies are underutilized by landlords.

“[Some] of my personal interest in the League study is I have a son who has mental illness and he had a housing voucher and he could not find anywhere to use it in our five cities that would accept him,” Greiling said. “He got a beautiful apartment in Minneapolis, but nowhere in our five cities, where he wanted to live.”

Greiling said the League hopes to present its study findings to each of the five member city councils and that the League is already penciled in to appear at a future Roseville City Council workshop, though no date is set.

In the coming year, Greiling also said the League will reach out to community groups and people in need of affordable housing to strengthen its advocacy. “Hopefully we’ll be one of many groups.”

 

For more information on the League of Women Voters Roseville Area affordable housing study go to www.lwvrosevillearea.org.

 

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

 

 

 

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