• 22Jun

    Vacation interrupted in favor of affordable housing…

    Is creating affordable housing really a priority or do we just want to talk about the problem for another year?

    Here is a comment I received:

    Michael, I’ll admit to being very disappointed with your view on the industrial site for affordable housing. Is this REALLY what we want? This seems like we are segregating these moderate income families and their kids from other residential areas. Their access to parks and trails will be across impossibly busy streets, surrounded by an industrial setting that is bound to cause these homes to never be able to escape the depressed market value such a neighborhood will have.

    Maybe we need a mixed income zoning requirement that would require 15% of these houses to be high market value, so there is equal opportunity for the kind of limited resources this area will provide for residents.

    It seems to me so very much not mixed income housing–help me understand why this is the direction you think we should be going

    Great question Helen, I will try to explain why I support this site.

    First, or decision to approve a site is dependent on our land development rules. The one issue that has come into play general compatibility. A compelling case against this was made by Nick Campion. I like to think I made a compelling case for it. There is some level of subjectivity, so I am not surprising that the Planning was split as was the council. I don’t think any preposterous leaps like when we declared that 50 units per acre was low density residential in Kutzky Park. Any time you find me and Randy Staver on the same side of a split vote, you know things are getting wild…

    That is the legalese, now to the good stuff…

    Is this REALLY what we want? No. I personally would want all affordable housing to be mixed income transit, connected, walkable to most amenities, have access to extensive green space, and have certainty of future compatible neighbors. Perhaps this in not what we want, it is what we need.

    The site is located in an industrial area, but that is misleading. The site is surrounded by uses that are largely technology, transportation, and retail. Industrial land sounds like there could be a superfund site there. Really there are some technology companies there. The site has a small amount of additional residential in the area. My biggest concern would be late night noise issues which we can mostly address through conditions of approval.

    While there are no immediately adjacent parks, there is immediate access to the most heavily used state trail in the state of Minnesota. This safely leads to the nearly 400 acre Cascade Lake Park. I know this route well as I bike it 50 times a year. In addition the proposed development would house more than 160 households and offer some on site amenities.

    One of the most important considerations for affordable housing is good access to jobs & services by walking, biking, and public transportation. This site has some reasonable access to retailers, grocers, and jobs. The transit is not currently great there, but we know this is changing fast. Our transportation and comprehensive plans call for the area where this project is proposed to be mixed use and dense. Further, it is near the intersection of 2 future primary transit routes. Access to transit is actually one of the greatest strengths of this site.

    Right now in Rochester we need thousands of affordable housing units. Since designating this issue as a priority earlier this year the city council has taken no actions to address our enormous shortage. No one policy or development can bring the market into balance, but this, like the inclusionary housing ordinance, can be part of a solution. This project is essentially asking for nothing in public subsidy, at the same time luxury housing in downtown Rochester is getting millions in subsidies (and yes, while mostly voting against these I have supported some offering public improvements).

    Is building housing in an industrial area crazy? Maybe, but we just did it successfully two times. Concerns were raised about the Ashland Village and Flats on First proposals. These projects now provide housing to more than 100 households and I suspect have a substantial waiting list. Of course “affordable” is not the same to all people but we are creating units that are more affordable to more people than we would otherwise have.

    Here is the big picture. We have a site that has been vacant for the 18 years I have lived in Rochester. We need thousands of units of affordable housing. The growth of low wage hospitality, service and retail jobs in the community will only make the situation worse (increasing the minimum will help). We have limited tools to address the problem. Here we have a proposal on a less than perfect, but acceptable site. It would create high quality, safe, healthy, affordable housing for more than 160 households. It would grow the tax base at almost no incremental taxpayer expense. Its hard to fill our 8,000 open jobs without providing people a place they can afford to live.

    Great question Helen, hope the answer articulated my reasoning.

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  • 23Jul

    I was going to send this as a letter to local leaders, but am holding off until after today’s meeting and will perhaps modify this based on the discussion.  I believe we need to do all of these in some form or fashion, not pick and choose based on what benefits a certain group.

    To:       Local elected officials serving the Rochester area.

    From:  Michael Wojcik

    Re:       Affordable Housing Challenges

    Date:   July 18, 2014


    Our community is faced with an enormous challenge of creating 22,000 housing units including thousands of affordable housing units over the next 15 years.  If we fail to deliver the needed housing, particularly at the more affordable levels, our basic industries will starve from a lack of employees.  The sheer number of units required is astonishing and cannot be achieved with business as usual.  Affordable housing has always been an interest of mine and I thought I would share some ideas to deliver this almost unimaginable need. Read more…

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  • 12Jul

    Here is a good summary of peer reviewed published data explaining proving affordable housing like the proposed Ashland Village do not cause decreased property values or increased crime.  These projects also improve the lives of those we serve.


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  • 15Feb

    Here is one of the places where I grew up. It’s called the Birch Lane Trailor Court, located in Hibbing, MN. Its not a great place. Living there I had no access to education facilities, transit, arts & culture, parks or play areas, or other services that make a community livable and great. Living in a place like this is like living under house arrest. This “affordable” housing was anything but. The high costs of energy, maintenance, and automobile orientation, in a location like this serves to keep poor people poor.

    I know we can do better by building real affordable housing in real affordable neighborhoods. I know there probably aren’t any other kids from the Birch Lane Trailor Court that are in a position to address these types of concerns, but so long as I live, this experience and my committment to affordable housing will never leave me.

    View Larger Map


  • 15May

    Here is the new language that appears to have unanimous support from the council.  In short, almost every affordable housing project gets some sort of Federal, State, or Local tax subsidy.  As such we have an obligation to make sure that money is well spent.  Our policy now more explicitly states what is affordable housing.  Our policy considers Housing costs, Energy costs, Associated costs, and Transportation costs.  As you would expect many properties that are cheap are not actually affordable when all costs are considered.


    The Need for Affordable Housing


    The City of Rochester is suffering from a critical shortage of affordable housing (housing that, through subsidy or other means, costs no more than 30% of the household income of households earning 80% of the area’s median income).  The proportion of households in Rochester paying more than 30% for housing has increased from around 20% of households in 2000 to over 27% in 2010.[1] There were 11,430 households in Rochester paying over 30% of income for housing in 2010. Read more…


  • 03May

    Here is a link to an article from sustainable cities network that shows high standards and sustainability are not mutually exclusive with affordable housing.  As I have said many times affordable housing and cheap housing are not the same thing.

    Sustainable Cities Network

    While all developments – including luxury – can work towards LEED-ND certification, using it to measure sustainability in affordable housing may raise an eyebrow or two.

    “A lot of green building is perceived to benefit the wealthy,” said Walker Wells, editor of Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing and a program director for nonprofit Global Green USA.


  • 09Apr

    I assure you that it is not cheap shoddy housing like we see in places like 22nd Avenue in Cimarron Court in Northwest Rochester.  That as it turns out is very expensive housing, just ask our law enforcement agencies.  (And yes, I realize some good people live there, I have met them.)  In order to better understand what affordable housing is we must define it.  I have said many times that cheap housing is never affordable housing.  In order to consider the total costs of home ownership, I propose we look at a HEAT Index.

    Here is something I have been kicking around.  What do you think? Read more…

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  • 03May

    I am really impressed with the detail and analysis contained in this report. All of the recommendations in this report are quite conservative and easily implemented. Robert Hickey of Grounded Solutions engaged a wide range of stakeholders to ensure accuracy of the data.

    Mixed Income Housing Policy Report Read more…

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  • 18Sep

    I have said yes for a number of years, and this email would support the same position.  Many local developers have disagreed.

    Read more…

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  • 29Jan

    Goal: Focus on high quality workforce housing developments with integrated ownership.

    Grade: A+

    Comments: The best was saved for last.  Many of you might not have read much about this in other media or heard it reported on television or radio, but this was one of the top story lines of 2010.  For those of us that want progressive policies that help neighborhoods and improve lives; this was a home run.  Contrary to the beliefs of some paid lobbyists, cheap housing is NOT affordable housing. Read more…

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