Affordable housing in Minneapolis is among the top issues in the current mayoral and city council campaigns. While Ward 5 city council candidates have largely found common ground over the ward’s housing needs, mayoral candidates disagree over the particulars of how best to address what is becoming a city-wide housing crisis for low-income residents.
For the past several weeks, Make Homes Happen, a coalition of 19 local organizations, sponsored 10 candidate forums around the city. The MSR attended the Ward 5 city council forum on September 18 at UROC in North Minneapolis and the mayoral forum at Plymouth Congregational Church in South Minneapolis on October 2.
Three of the four Ward 5 candidates participated in the forum: the incumbent, Blong Yang, and two of the three challengers, Raiesha Williams and Jeremiah Ellison. Candidate Cathy Spann excused herself from the forum due to a personal matter.
A set of questions was posed to all three candidates, and then each candidate was asked a specific question. The MSR emailed a copy of the questions to Spann, but by press time she had not responded.
For the most part, every candidate agreed that affordable housing in the city —especially in the fifth ward — needs to be a top priority.
Williams said she was the best candidate who openly questions what housing is actually affordable: “$1,000 a month for housing is not affordable housing.” She added that living wages for low-income workers is a factor for families wanting to buy a house. “We need affordable housing right now.”
“We have run a research-heavy campaign,” Ellison said, noting that more Ward 5 neighborhood-specific programs are needed to ensure Blacks and other people of color can access opportunities for housing assistance. He said City officials must begin “thinking big” in addressing housing issues.
“We are working hard,” Yang said of his reelection campaign. He stated that the City invests at least $10 million each year toward housing programs, and he expects this practice to continue whoever is in office.
The candidates were asked what they, as council members, would do about the city’s rising rental rates and how they would help prevent low-income residents, especially those of color, from being displaced by rent increases. Further, what role should the City play in preserving and improving aged housing?
All three candidates supported more home ownership in the ward. Williams recognized there were 100 houses vacant and waiting for the City to do something. She proposed a system to examine which houses to keep and which ones to demolish. “It is very important to preserve the homes we can. They have a cultural [significance].”
Yang said it costs between $15,000 and $20,000 to tear down a house. “We have to figure out how to preserve” more houses rather than tear them down.
Ellison, who said he is against tearing down the houses, said he believes there are better ways for the City to use that money
Unlike the Ward 5 forum, the seven mayoral candidates at Plymouth Church, including incumbent Betsy Hodges, did not reach a consensus on how to address the affordable housing issue.
Aswar Rahman pointed out that housing in Minneapolis under Hodges’ leadership has become less affordable and more dangerous. “We need new leadership in Minneapolis,” he said.
Raymond Dehn says he is qualified to talk about affordable housing because housing “has been my life passion and my life work.” Tom Hoch noted that, if elected, his past work as a housing assistant director qualifies him to address housing issues. Al Flowers said he wants to tackle the homeless youth problem, adding that “We have to know those barriers” to affordable housing for everyone.
Jacob Frey said he believes the City needs a fresh start. “Affordable housing is the main reason why I got into politics.”
“We cannot look at the issue of affordable housing in a silo,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, adding that if elected she would devise an equity plan to improve every sector of life. “We need to see affordable housing as an issue with a large impact on the city of Minneapolis. [This] is not a city for all people.”
Mayor Hodges stated that her record shows that a total of $40 million for housing was included in her last three budgets, and there was $10 million in her latest budget.
The candidates were asked how the City could create more affordable housing. Hodges said her administration is looking at more ways to build more affordable housing, which includes an affordable housing strategy. Dehn said the City must partner with nonprofits and private entities to build more housing. Flowers said, “We have to be focused on what we are going to do.”
Hoch pointed out the need for pathways to better-paying jobs. Levy-Pounds expressed concern that Blacks and other people of color will be pushed out of the city because of gentrification. “Gentrification is going to happen,” she predicted.
Frey agreed: “We need to push back.”
Rahman advised calling gentrification what it is, “a one-way street” that would adversely impact those who are displaced.
Finally, when asked about bad landlords, Rahman said the City needs better housing inspectors. Levy-Pounds added that culturally competent inspectors are needed and the City should inform all renters, no matter where they live, on their rights. Hoch said the City must work with both renters and landlords but should take disciplinary measures against those landlords who do not properly maintain their property.
Flowers said he believes holding landlords accountable must be a top priority. Hodges responded, “I have invested in more inspectors.” Frey said “capturing money” from all governmental levels can help in this regard.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.