The Brooklyn Park City Council has authorized the city to move forward with a fair housing complaint regarding Metropolitan Council policies that have further segregated affordable housing into Minneapolis, St. Paul and first-ring suburbs, officials claim. That complaint has not yet been filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the approval to file it came days prior to a deadline for commenting on a draft of the Met Council’s 2040 Housing Policy Plan.
“This (complaint) is not an effort by the city of Brooklyn Park or the city of Brooklyn Center, frankly, to say that they’re opposed to low-income housing, that they’re opposed to communities that live in poverty,” Brooklyn Park City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said during a Sept. 22 meeting. “That’s not what this is about. What this complaint is seeking is for the Metropolitan Council to adopt a Housing Policy Plan that acknowledges the communities that have an abundance of affordable housing have already done their fair share in meeting the Metropolitan region’s fair share requirement.”
And Brooklyn Park has done more than its fair share, Verbrugge said. Currently, 63 percent of the city’s housing meets affordable housing guidelines, and the city’s tax base is 54 percent of its peer communities, so a policy that limits the city’s desire for a larger tax base would not be beneficial, he said.
“So this is the starting point of what I think will be a lengthy conversation,” Verbrugge said.
He said he believes the complaint will elevate the discussion about regional fair housing requirements and the city’s place in that conversation.
Met Council representative Bonnie Kollodge said that the Met Council does not have a complaint in front of it, so it could not comment on that, but staff members did discuss the draft Housing Policy Plan.
The housing plan draft
The Met Council’s Housing Plan is intended to ensure regional housing needs will be met, including the development of affordable housing benchmarks for individual cities. The Met Council will determine how much weight to give certain criteria when developing cities’ affordable housing goals.
The number of affordable housing units that the Met Council believes each city should have is based on regional growth, but it is also adjusted based on other factors, such as access to transportation, proximity to jobs and the current number of affordable housing units in the city, according to Met Council staff.
However, the Met Council has not yet decided how heavily those other factors will be weighed when determining how many affordable housing units a city should have, said Beth Reetz, the Met Council director of Housing and Livable Communities.
The Housing Policy Plan does not yet include the number of affordable housing units that Brooklyn Park should have, but the deadline for commenting on the overall, big-picture plan was Sept. 26.
In Brooklyn Park’s comments, the city noted that the factors that determine the number of affordable housing units that a city should provide put an undue burden on first-ring suburbs, which already have concentrations of poverty.
Myron Orfield of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity reviewed the Met Council’s draft plan for the city, noting that the criteria of projected growth, current housing stock and transit accessibility could inflate the affordable housing goal that the Met Council would allocate to Brooklyn Park.
In a letter written to the city, Orfield said, “Calculating affordable housing needs based on projected growth ‘penalizes growing communities at the expense of fully built-out municipalities, which tend to be wealthier.’”
Several Met Council staff members who worked on the plan had a different perspective.
“I don’t think that the evidence across the region supports the idea that fully built communities are wealthier,” said Libby Starling, manager of Regional Policy & Research at the Met Council, in an interview.
Reetz also said that growth may not necessarily mean new development; it could mean redevelopment of existing housing.
“All of our communities, even our fully developed communities, are projected to have growth through redevelopment and in-fill development,” Reetz said.
Kim Berggren, Brooklyn Park’s director of Community Development, also wrote to the Met Council, adding to Orfield’s analysis. She said cities should receive credit for investing in existing affordable housing units in the city. Brooklyn Park has helped allocate a total of $27 million toward “the recovery of 230 affordable homes that experienced foreclosure,” she said.
“The current housing performance score emphasizes efforts related to the construction of new affordable housing units,” she wrote. “Developed areas should get credit for protecting existing affordable housing stock and stabilizing low-income neighborhoods.”
There are no specific punitive effects if a city does not meet the affordable housing goal after it is calculated, but it could impact the availability of HUD funds that are managed by the Met Council, said Reetz.
Nelima Sitati-Munene was one of 12 listed speakers who addressed the city council during its Sept. 22 meeting. As a member of the city’s Core Planning Team and a member of the Met Council’s policy workgroup for the Housing Planning Policy – and knowing the city has been expanding its community outreach efforts – she wanted to see more community engagement and conversation about the city’s affordable housing need before the HUD complaint was formed.
She outlined some statistics on the number of people who struggle to afford housing in the city, which makes the housing need versus supply debatable, she said.
“The argument that we have built our fair share of (affordable) housing is quite questionable, and that is why, once again, it should be put out there to the community, so we can have an open and transparent conversation about this and what it means to us,” Sitati-Munene said.
She said eradicating poverty does not just involve affordable housing, but several other factors, and those should be reviewed and addressed. The complaint diverts time and attention from the real solutions, as she called them.
“Let us direct efforts where they are most needed,” she said.
Aaron Parker, an architect and urban designer, said the HUD complaint does not limit affordable housing in Brooklyn Park, and it does not preclude the work that many people and groups are conducting at many levels, he said.
“What it does do is simply ask HUD whether all municipalities in the region are honoring their commitments, and that there be more equity across the region so that there is more choice,” he said.
Mayor Jeffrey Lunde said the complaint does not mean the city is against affordable housing. The city should provide the housing for any type of person.
He said the future of the city’s budget decisions – which includes police and other needs it provides residents – rely largely on housing property values, and new commercial, industrial and other developments help increase the tax base, which helps the budget and further its city services. Without more business tax base, the long-term viability of the city budget is not good, he said.
“Because of our reliance on housing stock – which is I think 70 percent of our city funds comes from housing – is reliant on housing that’s aging, and housing that – it doesn’t compare well to other cities,” he said.
Lunde said the HUD complaint is meant to show other cities that as Twin Cities demographics have changed, affordable housing is being concentrated in the same inner-ring suburbs.
“At some point, you have to take a stand on something,” he said.
The motion to file the fair housing complaint passed unanimously.
Contact Paul Groessel at [email protected] or follow the Sun Post on Twitter @ECMSunPost.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated story that reflects the complaint has not yet been filed, and the city council only approved to have it filed.