Panel discusses cities’ roles in affordable housing

City officials from Roseville, Maplewood, Little Canada and Lauderdale met Feb. 20 to discuss the state of affordable housing in their cities as each puts together its 2040 comprehensive plan, which will guide development in the cities in upcoming years.

The League of Women Voters Roseville Area-organized event was held at Roseville’s Autumn Grove Park and dovetailed with the League’s multi-year study of affordable housing in its member communities, which, beyond the four with representatives in attendance, also includes Falcon Heights. 

A theme that ran throughout the panel was that while cities can guide land use and future housing plans through their comprehensive plans, which are updated each decade at the behest of the Metropolitan Council, in the end, creating affordable housing for those most in need requires partnerships with willing developers.

The panel included Roseville Community Development Director Kari Collins, Maplewood Environmental and Economic Development Director DuWayne Konewko, Little Canada City Administrator Joel Hanson and Lauderdale City Administrator Heather Butkowski.

Each official said their city council sees this comprehensive plan update as an opportunity to sustain or improve their city’s housing options.

“We’re not looking at this as an update of demographic information,” said Collins, adding the Roseville council is viewing its comprehensive plan through an “equity lens,” aiming to provide a wider range of housing choices for those who currently have few.

Hanson said the Little Canada City Council seeks to “preserve what [affordable housing] we have,” pointing out that 80 percent of the city’s housing stock falls into one of three categories of housing, which, based on income levels, is considered affordable.

With Lauderdale’s tiny 0.42-square-mile footprint, Butkowski said there’s only so much the council can do, though the city recently bought the 1.7-acre site of a former elementary school for redevelopment.

“I can’t see it being anything but housing,” she said.

Konewko said that one third of Maplewood’s housing stock is more than 50 years old, and thus, the city is in “redevelopment mode.” He said that Maplewood will need 5,000 more housing units to meet 2040 city population projections, and that to meet that need, all the new housing will need to be high density.

 

Frequent issues

The League’s study, released nearly a year ago, included recommendations for cities on how their policies can better affect people who are in need of affordable housing.

The League advocates for revising “crime free” policies in city code, which can lead to eviction at rental properties that are the subject of too many calls for police service.

Such policies, if too broad, the League argues, can dissuade people from calling for police help in domestic violence situations, and are unfair to people who might be having a mental health crisis.

Collins said the League’s advocacy has led to the Roseville City Council working to change its crime-free code, something that will be before the council in the coming months.

The panelists touched on the “Not In My Backyard” phenomena that often accompanies affordable or high density housing development.

“NIMBYism is alive and well and we hear it all the time,” Collins said, referencing a high-density apartment project in northwest Roseville that was met with fierce opposition from neighbors last year. She said that neighbors often have legitimate concerns about large projects, though sometimes concerns about traffic and density are stand-ins for prejudice.

Konewko said cities must do their best to dispel the negative connotations that surround affordable housing, reminding residents of the wide range of people who need it, including teachers, seniors and immigrants.

Beyond senior housing projects, Hanson said the last time Little Canada saw a multi-family development was in the late-1980s. He said the biggest neighbor issue is police calls — when residents see squad cars at a particular location, again and again, they begin to feel unsafe.

Collins highlighted Roseville’s housing replacement program, through which the city can retain affordable, single-family housing on a “singular basis,” and Hanson said Little Canada is looking at its own housing rehab program, which would be available to people who own a range of housing types.

“If we take care of our housing it will be good for our community,” he said.

 

Other highlights

Konewko said Maplewood has had early discussions with Maplewood Mall about the possibility of mixed-use development, which includes housing, in the mall’s parking lot area. The mall area is well-served by public transit.

There are also two proposed bus rapid transit lines that could run through Maplewood, and Konewko said the city council is eying each for nearby housing development.

Manufactured housing parks are a sometimes overlooked form of affordable housing. Roseville has one park, Maplewood has four and Little Canada has three. 

Hanson said one of those three parks is a candidate for redevelopment, similar to what’s happening with the former Lowry Grove in St. Anthony, and that the city is working to protect those tenants and preserve the park while balancing those aims with the property rights of the park’s owner.

Collins said Roseville recently created a medium-density zoning designation that could open the door for tiny houses — homes with 400-square-foot floor plans or smaller — as well as accessory dwelling units on existing home lots.

“We are trying to find creative ways to explore any and all housing options for our community,” Collins said.

Each League member city — Roseville, Maplewood, Falcon Heights and Lauderdale — is at various points in updating its comprehensive plans. For more information about the process and upcoming meetings on the plans, contact your city hall.


 

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

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