Metropolitan Council Planning Provides Opportunity to Make Progress on Affordable Housing

As of this writing (January 2014) the Metropolitan Council is beginning to develop the Twin Cities first Regional Housing Policy Plan in three decades.  This provides an important opportunity to update housing policies to accomplish two critical goals:  producing more affordable housing with the resources at hand, and placing more of that housing near key opportunity assetsójobs, good schools, transit.  As the gap between the affordable housing supply and the demand for units continues to grow while federal housing funding looks increasingly uncertain, the need to ensure we are getting as much affordability out of the resources we have is more compelling than ever.  

A Met Council appointed working group of mayors, developers, city staff, advocates, housing funders and other stakeholders are working their way through a series of topics with a goal of providing a draft plan for the Council to consider in June 2014.  Among the subjects:  past Council plans; changing regional demographics, housing data, housing growth forecasts and housing markets; identifying the regional affordable housing need, the likely resources available, and the resulting gap; strategies, tools and policies which can close the resource gap; the relationship between the Met Council and local governments related to affordable housing practices, and two issues that are always contentious:  a housing allocation system and housing performance scores.  

A housing allocation system refers to the method the Council uses to implement requirements of the Land Use Planning Act that each city plan for its share of the local and regional need for affordable housing.  The Housing Policy Plan will need to establish a method for setting specific affordable housing goals for each locality which will then be included in each local government's comprehensive plan, to be developed in 2018, to cover the decade 2020 to 2030.  How housing need and goals are allocated is a topic of great interest to cities and will likely provoke considerable debate.

Updating housing performance scores will also be sure to provoke much discussion.  Met Council staff currently assign each metro area city and county an annual score between 0 and 100, based upon a number of factors including affordable housing production, local investments in housing, and the use of the most effective policies and practices.  When local governments apply for Met Council funding under the Livable Communities program, the housing performance score is factored in to the application's ranking, providing a strong incentive for cities and counties to achieve a high score.   Local governments have strongly held and quite varying views on the factors that should go into the housing performance scores and how they should be weighted.

One other topic will receive a lot of attentionóthe region's first ever Fair Housing Equity Assessment, or FHEA.  This new HUD requirement is both a sophisticated data analysis and mapping tool, and a new way to think of Fair Housing goals for the region: how to more effectively connect low income households and communities of color to the Region's opportunity assetsójobs, good schools, transit, safe neighborhoods, healthy food options, etc.  As part of the FHEA, HUD is also requiring the Council to focus on the needs of what HUD calls "racially concentrated areas of poverty," or RCAPs.  Depending on how you view them, the Region has 4 or 5 RCAPs.  Particularly striking and worrisome for policymakers has been the rapid expansion of RCAP areas in the Metro area over the last decade.  All of this has implications for housing policy (as well as other policy areas).

As many of the advocates see it, there is considerable room for improvement in our affordable housing production and preservation efforts.  In 1995, the Met Council negotiated fifteen year goals with virtually all the cities in the Metro Areaógoals generally viewed as modest at the time.  By 2010, the results were in.  Barely half a dozen of the region's 180 plus local governments met their goals; as a whole, the Region met about half of its collective goal.  While some of that shortfall is due to lack of public subsidies, a failure by cities to employ the full range of effective policies and practices, along with NIMBY resistance, also contributed.   That is something that could be fixed.  On the top of the advocates' agenda for the Housing Policy Plan; the Council more fully utilizing its legal authority under the Land Use Planning Act, and increasing incentives for cities by strengthening its leverage in funding decisionsóboth of which would provide incentives to cities to employ more effective and innovative practices which should in turn lead to more units.

Housing Preservation Project, 2014

Housing Justice Center Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Institute on Race & Poverty The McKnight Foundation
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