A comprehensive affordable housing policy

The staff proposal on affordable housing was a start, but not even close to what is needed in the community. I will not just criticize, I will also propose solutions. In this case I start with “do what the experts said” and go from there. Every one of the policies below would increase the supply of affordable housing even if the reason is not obvious. Obviously this is just an overview of policies, I really do want your feedback on these. I fully expect to be criticized for any number of these, but don’t want to be another official ignoring the severity of the issue.

Here is a far more comprehensive view set of policies:

Unit Generation:

  • Inclusionary Zoning – Implement Grounded Solutions report recommendations, study what additional capacity the market can support. Contrary to staff statements Inclusionary Zoning can be accomplished without direct inter-unit subsidies. This was clearly covered in the Grounded Solutions Report. Accommodations can be made to adjust for the style and size of affordable units without sacrificing unit numbers of forcing subsides from other properties.
  • Site identification – Public bodies in the Rochester area should categorize and prioritize sites for additional housing. Often excess land would allow for low or no cost development of housing. New public facilities should integrate housing as a more effective and sustainable style of development.
  • Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) – ADUs should be allowed on appropriate sites in the situation where the primary housing is owner occupied. A loss of owner occupied status should result in a loss of ADU rights.
  • Condo Creation – State law recently changed to greatly improve the ability for developers to create condos. This is critical for affordable home ownership. The days of single family detached homes for under $200k are likely over. However, condos in the $100k to $200k are very possible.
  • Permit Manufactured Homes – Manufactured homes have come a long way from the traditionally shunned mobile home parks. These products are now more affordable, more sustainable, and often more efficient. In short, they are high quality and should be an option.

Unit Preservation:

  • CDBG Maximization – Place all non-administrative Community Development Block Grants funds into the revolving loan fund. It is important to realize that because we charge an interest rate the covers inflation, these funds remain a source of housing affordability forever. Consider loan forgiveness in exchange for community land trust designation.
  • Rental Caps – Place a neighborhood by neighborhood or block by block cap on rentals of single family detached housing. This will eliminate the issue of speculators and investors removing affordable housing from the market and help to stabilize prices.
  • Required Preservation of Units – No project should be allowed to reduce the net availability of natural or structured housing at any AMI level. Replacement units should be created on site, remotely, or TIF capture should be used.

Financial incentives:

  • Fee fairness – Fees should be set to cover actual costs of providing services. Some fees such at the Sewer Connection Charge are heavily subsidized by a customer charge that is applied to even citizens of Rochester living in poverty. In short, the poorest among us subsidize million dollar homes.
  • Fee Incentives – Fee reductions should be used to prioritize the creation and preservation of housing units. Fee reductions should not be universal to all units, but rather should apply to affordable units, further reductions could be offered in exchange for long term affordability arrangements such as Community Land Trust restrictions.
  • Infrastructure Finance – Non-State-Aid street infrastructure should not be accepted as public infrastructure without first ensuring that city property taxes generate will cover shared needs and the full costs of capital maintenance. Those streets that fail to meet this threshold must remain private infrastructure.

Equity:

  • Focus on Accessibility – Most single story subsidized units should meet minimum accessibility and visitability standards.  Those where this could be exempted should be based only on issues pertaining to efficient layout due to design or topography. A staff position in the city or county should be specifically focused and responsible on accessibility issues.
  • Relocation assistance – Should be required in the event of elimination of natural or structured affordable housing. This should apply to all projects receiving subsidies or incentives.
  • Wages – The city should review minimum wage policy to close the gap between full-time base wage and affordable housing standard income for a 1-person household. ($19,760 to $30,150) $12.00 = $24,960, $13.50 = $28,080, $15 = $31,200.

Communication:

  • Information Storage / Communication – rochestermn.gov/housing should be created to store and make available information related to housing policy. This would include annual reports, studies, AMI / Affordability tables and relevant policies.
  • HRA leadership – Should be leading these efforts, but so far have not generated a single affordable unit, they have staff & resources. They should be publicly crafting policies. Further they should uniquely focus on the 30% AMI units as the are perhaps the only unit of government with the resources to do so. As a bit of an update I spoke with the director and there seems to be a willingness to partner on some but not all of these items. Some of the organizational challenges seem to be at a point there some focus can be put toward unit creation.
  • Community Advisory Committee – Publicly draft policies, provide oversight, ensure execution, and evaluate effectiveness. We should not continue down the road of having public policy crafted in secrecy. We need to advance these policies and if they fail to get 4 votes on the council either refine the policy or revisit after elections.

5 comments

  1. Thank you, Michael. Very valuable contribution that warrants much study & discussion. But the general public needs a boot camp to truly understand the issues and options. The high level policy background needed to be facile with the concepts and data inhibits the community from playing the role needed to sway current direction of development. Suggestions on how the community can become more educated and engaged with this?

  2. Thank you, Michael, for your insight and genuine concern about the affordable housing crisis in Rochester. As a citizen of this community who is, for the first time in at least thirty years, required to rent in affordable housing, I cannot begin to articulate how stressful it is to watch affordable housing units being priced out of reach or demolished!
    We need civic leaders to listen and respond accordingly to your proposals, or we will all suffer the consequences.

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