Minnesota Housing Partnership Candidate Questionnaire (supported by Homes for All)

Candidate responses in italics.

Name: Michael Howard

City/Town: Richfield

Legislative District: 50A

Party: DFL


District Issues: How would you characterize the housing needs in your district, for both renters and for homeowners?

In many ways, District 50A in Richfield and Bloomington, is at the heart of the housing challenges facing Minnesota. Renters are being squeezed by escalating rents. More than half of renters in this district pay more than 30% of their income on rent. Richfield and Bloomington renters are also at risk of losing their homes. In both communities, thousands of renters have faced displacement as their property is sold and turned into “luxury” apartments with higher rents. With vacancy rates in this area at less than 2%, many of these renters are not able to find housing in their community of choice. The age and condition of the housing in our community also means that far too many are living in unsatisfactory conditions. Homeowners in District 50A are also experiencing change. Richfield and Bloomington homes are on the “affordable side” compared to some surrounding communities, and in recent years, have seen huge interest as a place for folks to make an affordable home in a community they desire. That has created rising housing prices that are increasingly challenging the long-time affordable nature of single-family homes in this community. We also lack an abundance of diversity in our housing stock in District 50A. Homeowners often cite the lack of “move-up” housing in the $300,000+ range as a reason for staying in their home or moving to a different community. This district is one where we need an all-of-the-above approach to expand quality, safe and affordable housing for all of our residents.

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?

More than half of the renters and a considerable amount of homeowners in District 50A are cost-burdened by housing. As we look at the other challenges we face in outcomes – in equity, health, and economic security – we must take strides to make homes more affordable. First, we need far greater investment at the state level to leverage private investment in new homes. I support a minimum of $100 million in bonding dollars each year to housing. I will be a strong advocate, building the coalition we need to invest in our state’s long-term imperative to to be a place where people can enjoy a high quality of life and an affordable place to call home. Second, I support utilizing a dedicated source of revenue to build more homes. Just as we dedicate funding for road and bridges, so too must we invest in our housing infrastructure- Minnesota’s economic competitiveness depends on it. Third, I want us to be creative in providing resources and support to local governments so they can utilize tools to build homes. As a City Councilmember, I’ve seen how cities are on the front lines with developers who are often looking for resources and partners to build homes. We need to provide more tools and resources to our cities so they can be more nimble and flexible to help move new construction forward for affordable homes. Lastly, I support Governor Dayton’s Task Force recommendation to build 300,000 new homes in Minnesota by 2030. This visionary leadership is something that we should organize and rally around in support of a set of policies that recognize the sense of urgency to build affordable homes throughout our state.

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?

There are two sides of this equation. One, we need to be doing more to increase wages and economic security for working people. I support an increase in the minimum wage to $15, tied to inflation. I also support guaranteed paid parental leave and earned sick and safe time for workers. Creating a better baseline of economic security workers can help reduce housing instability or a housing crisis that can be very challenging to come back from. Two, we need to do more to keep rents affordable. That means making investments to encourage greater new home production, as discussed above. It also means taking steps to preserve the affordability of existing homes, with a specific focus on naturally-occurring affordable housing. This is will be an area of focus for me as a legislator, as this community is front-and-center in our urgent work to preserve and improve the quality of naturally-occurring affordable housing. I see preserving naturally-occurring affordable housing as a top priority because in many ways it is the first line of defense in maintain a supply of affordable housing in Minnesota. Preserving and rehabilitating housing is also much more cost-effective than building new housing. The Greater Minnesota Housing Fund has been at the forefront of using dollars to preserve naturally-occurring affordable housing, but we need more investment at the state level. We also need to tailor rehabilitation grant dollars in a way that makes it more accessible for owners of naturally-occurring affordable housing to make renovations while keeping rents affordable.

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?

We need to be much more to proactive – at all levels of government – to preserve affordable housing. If we are passive in this space, we will continue to see thousands of Minnesotans lose their home and face a housing crisis that can result in homelessness. We also need better tenant protections to help renters find adequate housing when they need to move. Just months ago, renters in Bloomington received a note under their door saying they were being displaced and had 30 days to move. 30 days is not enough time in this market to find adequate housing. St. Louis Park, Bloomington and Richfield have already, or are considering, policy changes that require longer notification periods. This is a positive step and one I support on the state level. We also need to provide more support services in conjunction with housing, especially low-income housing. Access to health care and other support services for renters can be vitally important to help renters stay in their home and avoid a housing crisis. Best practices exists- we need greater investment at the state level to connect Minnesotans to those important services.

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?

Richfield and Bloomington are communities that have many families with children as well as many seniors. Each group faces unique challenges to access affordable housing. Many seniors that I talk with would prefer to stay in their home as long as possible, but the age of our homes in Richfield and Bloomington dictate that repairs and renovations are required. We should specifically set aside resources to help rehab and renovate homes for seniors, as this is often a much more cost-effective use of resources than forcing seniors to move to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. Supporting stable housing for families with students is an imperative. In Richfield, we have led in this work through our Kids @ Home program, which provides rental assistance to families in Richfield schools, as well as support services for families. This innovative collaboration between city/school/family is something we should look at expanding in a broader application. And discussed in the previous question, we also must be vigilant and proactive to prevent displacement of renters.

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?

Home ownership is a ladder for economic mobility that we must extend to everyone. Richfield and Bloomington have some of the worst disparities in this regard in the state. Just this year, the City of Richfield approved a pilot project to provide down-payment assistance to first-time home buyers. We are working with Minnesota Housing to gain best practices in our marketing materials and hope this can help extend the opportunity of homeownership to people of color. Beyond resources, we need to do the hard and often laborious work of community organizing to connect our communities of color with better information and tools to purchase homes. For decades, the system of home ownership has excluded people-of-color in a variety of ways. We need to be intentional in our work to change these systems and find ways to extend the opportunity of home ownership to everyone.

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?

I will be a strong advocate with our federal delegation to expand access to housing vouchers to more Minnesotans, but I am realistic that significant change on this front will be difficult. I support looking at greater resources at state level on rental assistance, as well as support for local governments that are seeking innovative ways to maintain rental stability for their residents.

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 agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment that we cannot meet our housing needs without significant additional resources. I believe a dedicated source of revenue is an optimal way to match the urgent need with bold action. Without this, I fear we will only be playing defense or taking nibbles around the edges, when transformational change is in order. As a state representative, I will not merely be a supporter for a dedicated source of revenue for housing, but an organizer to get this done. I believe we are at a pivotal moment in time to address our state’s urgent housing crisis. There is a public spotlight on this issue like never before, but bold action will require all of us – policymakers, public and private developers, housing advocates, and Minnesotans – to work shoulder-to-shoulder to demand change. Buoyed by a community that is ready to join in this fight, I look forward to doing my part to make this the moment when Minnesota becomes a national leader in this urgent and necessary work.