For the first time in nearly 30 years, housing advocates have the opportunity to help shape the regional housing policy in the Twin Cities. The Metropolitan Council's 100+ page Housing Policy Plan, the first such document since 1985, has the potential to impact housing in the Twin Cities metropolitan area in several key ways. With the Council's unique ability to convene public and private stakeholders around issues impacting the Twin Cities, the plan's impact is far-reaching.
In particular, the plan includes numerous initiatives for expanding housing choice in the metro area. For this, it deserves scrutiny and support, although MHP recommends several amendments. Read more about what's in the plan, and how you can weigh in.
Highlighting two housing policy issues in the plan
For those who don't have time to read through the entire draft of the detailed Housing Policy Plan, MHP has highlighted two of the complex policy issues with real potential to impact housing conditions in the region in the table below. The following section touches on several other key issues.
Topic and Current Status
What’s in the Draft Housing Plan
Calculating a community’s fair share of the region’s housing need, and evaluating a community’s housing plan.
The Met Council reviews and supports the 10-year comprehensive plans required of each local government.
In this process, the Council assigns a “fair share” of regional housing need for each community. Currently this assignment is based on a single threshold: 10-year growth in the population at or below 60% of the area median income (AMI) for each community.
The Council also looks for plan components required under state law, such as whether or not a community guides land for the fair share of the region’s housing need, and whether or not it has an implementation plan for meeting the need.
The proposed plan uses a more comprehensive method to determing "fair share" of regional housing need.
The new method breaks down the fair share of affordable housing need for each community into three income groupings: number of households with incomes at 30% of AMI or less, at 30% to 50% of AMI, and at 50% to 80% of AMI.
An individual community’s need will also be adjusted downward if there are few low wage jobs relative to the number of low wage workers, if transit is not accessible, or if the community already has a large number of affordable homes and apartments relative to need.
In addition, the Plan states that the Council will work with others to determine how to more effectively review the housing components of comprehensive plans.
MHP applauds the Met Council for including a more refined approach to assigning housing need in the plan.
In the past, the needs of lowest income households, who are most likely to be burdened by housing costs, were not served by a single indicator of need.
The level of available funding will be critical for communities to adequately respond to their fair share housing needs. Local governments should also take a variety of steps to address the need. These steps will be identified in the implementation plans. The Council’s proposed qualitative assessment of local housing implementation plans provides an important improvement to the comprehensive plan review.
Determining Housing Performance Scores (HPS)
The HPS is an annual scoring of local governments in meeting their housing goals. (For example, a municipality receives 10 points, toward a maximum 100 points, if it commits $16 or more per capita for affordable housing, or 3 points if it provides a zoning variance for an affordable housing development.)
These scores are currently used in awarding funding under the Council’s Livable Communities Program (an optional program for municipalities willing to negotiate affordable housing goals with the Council in return for access to money for community revitalization).
The proposed Plan includes the following two improvements:
1) It broadens what is measured in calculating the HPS by including actions taken, not just policies on the books; The HPS also awards points for fair housing efforts, foreclosure mitigation, and efforts to recruit landlords for participation in the Section 8 program.
2) Potentially it broadens how the scores are used; in addition to Livable Communities funding, the plan states that the scores could be used for ranking proposals for other regional funding, such as transportation.
MHP endorses the direction the Council is taking with the Housing Performance Scores (HPS).
The plan should be amended to clarify that the scores will be used (not just considered) in evaluating competitive transportation funding awarded by the Council.
Currently there is no linkage between the fair share allocations and the housing goals negotiated between the Council and local governments.The HPS for a municipality should support a Livable Communities housing goal, which is based on its determined fair share of the region’s housing need. The plan should be amended to state that a community's housing goal for Livable Communities funding would also be its fair share of need in its comprehensive plan.
Additonal MHP Recommendations
Several other parts of the plan worth noting and strengthening are detailed below.
- Further Fair Housing. The plan calls for a stronger role for the Met Council in advancing fair housing in the Twin Cities. With our region having one of the largest racial disparities in housing, education and economic opportunity, the housing policy plan should state that the Met Council will be take a lead in identifying and addressing private or public actions that limit housing choice for protected classes. The Council should also include the responsibility to further fair housing in regional policy plans under development for transportation, parks, and sewer/wastewater.
- Waive Sewer Availability Charges. Sewer Availability Charges (SAC) are levied by the Met Council from each new housing development to increase the capacity of the regional sewer system. For larger affordable apartment complexes, current SAC fees of $2,500 per unit can require developers to secure an entire additional major funding source, which is a substantial impediment to development. MHP recommends that the Met Council waive SAC charges for affordable housing when that housing helps meet Council priorities. Currently, the Council asks local governments to promote affordable housing by waiving their own requirements or reducing local fees, and this same principle should apply to the Met Council.
- Create Specific Goals. Probably the most disappointing aspect of the Housing Policy Plan is its vagueness in setting targets. For measuring success, the plan identifies 10 indicators in addressing housing need (e.g., New Affordable Housing Created). However, instead of providing a numeric goal, the draft plan provides only a desired direction for change (up or down) for each indicator. MHP encourages the Council to state numeric objectives that would enable everyone to understand whether desired progress is being made.
Timeline and Comments
The plan is up for public comment through September 26, 2014, before a final version is adopted in November. This schedule allows the plan to be completed by the current Council, though it might be amended after the election should a new governor be elected. The details:
- Access the Housing Plan.
- There will be a series of workshops about the housing and transportation plans through September 25 throughout the metro, and a public hearing on the Plan on September 15, 5pm at the Council, 390 Robert Street North in downtown St. Paul.
More detail: Met Council and Housing
For more background behind this complex plan: The Met Council directly intersects with housing in the Twin Cities in three major ways: (1) its planning coordination function, which influences the contents of the municipal comprehensive plans required by each community; (2) its funding for physical development and (3) its Section 8 federal rental assistance program. In addition to these legislatively authorized activities, the Council plays a leadership role in the region, bringing together different public and private stakeholders to discuss issues such as housing that impact the 7-county region.
In reviewing municipal comprehensive plans, the Council has two levels of legal authority. For "metropolitan systems" (transportation, regional parks, and water resources), the Council can require local plans to conform to the Council's policy plan. For other policies of the Council, including housing policy, the Council may only point out inconsistencies between its policies and local city plans. This makes the system plans the best vehicles for advancing those housing policies that directly relate to transportation, parks or water.