Minnesota Housing Partnership Candidate Questionnaire (supported by Homes for All)
Candidate responses in italics.
Name: Mary Kunesh-Podein
City/Town: New Brighton
Legislative District: 41B
District Issues: How would you characterize the housing needs in your district, for both renters and for homeowners?
The housing market in House District 41B has recovered since the Great Recession, with home prices steadily increasing. As a first ring suburb with schools, the demand for affordable housing is always high, especially for families.
Availability of Affordable Housing: More than 25% of households in Minnesota pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, meaning they must sacrifice in other areas like food and medicine to make ends meet. What steps will you take to encourage the production of more affordable homes?
I think some of the best and most immediate solutions must come from local governments through changes to their zoning and development regulations. Minnesota needs construction of new housing units and rehabilitation of existing units. To get the right amount of affordable housing in locations conducive to work and schools, city councils need to create zoning laws that permit such housing developments and require developers to commit a certain percentage of affordable housing in their plans.
Workers: A full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment in any county in Minnesota — and many of the fastest growing jobs are in low-wage industries. What investments or policy would you champion to address the growing gap between what workers can afford and housing costs?
First, I would support increasing the minimum wage along the lines of Minneapolis’ recent actions (phased increase over a few years). Second, I would look at state housing finance options for building more affordable housing. Third, I would encourage local governments to review their zoning laws that may impede housing development.
Homelessness: A lack of affordable housing options is one of the top reasons for homelessness, for individuals or families. What will you do to end homelessness in Minnesota?
Homelessness is caused by many different issues, from poverty and financial distress (losing a job), to addiction and mental health issues, to lack of affordable housing. To end homelessness, we must address these issues as well. I’d like to explore a housing project model that offers wrap around services such as job training and medical care. I’d also like to see families kept together and children’s educational needs supported as a priority.
Seniors and children: More than half of senior renters and more than 1 in 4 senior homeowners pay more than they can afford for housing. Meanwhile, children without stable, affordable housing have lower educational and health outcomes. What will you do to ensure housing policy and resources support Minnesota's seniors and students?
Every sector of our communities should have access to safe, secure, and affordable housing. To achieve this, we need to look at the landscape of housing laws, including landlord-tenant laws, rent escalation, zoning, and financing. The state of Minnesota contributes greatly to the development of affordable housing, but I’d like to know whether we are meeting our targets and if our targets aimed in the right direction to address these needs.
Racial Disparities: Minnesota's racial disparities in housing are among the worst in the nation, for renters and homeowners. For instance, 22 percent of Black households are homeowners, compared to 76 percent of white households. How will you reduce the racial homeownership gap and other disparities in housing for households of color?
First, worse than the disparity between Black households and white households is the deeper and more historical housing disparity of American Indians. Second, racial disparities in housing reflects the stark racial segregation of the state. Professor Myron Orfield, professor of law at the University of Minnesota, wrote a 2015 report “Why Are the Twin Cities So Segregated?” Moreover, this segregation is interconnected with school performance and policing issues. My approach here is to look at disparities through a broader lens, look at the evidence of zoning patterns, school enrollment practices, etc, to better understand the levers we have to reverse these disparities.
Rental Stability: Rental assistance is proven to reduce homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding, but 75% of residents who qualify for rental assistance do not receive this limited resource. What will you do to expand access to housing assistance to every household that needs it?
My understanding is that rental assistance is largely a federal program (HUD Section 8 vouchers and USDA rental assistance), with more moderate state and local funding support. I also understand that the waiting list for vouchers is several years long due mainly to the lack of available and suitable housing. Funding and housing development are two obvious ways to approach this issue, but I also want to look at more sustainable options.
Funding: We cannot meet our growing, statewide housing needs without significant additional resources. Will you support a dedicated source of funding for affordable housing? Why or why not?
I will support robust funding for affordable housing. I can’t say in what manner those funds are raised or dedicated because these are complex, multifaceted issues requiring much more information about their intersections and current resource support.