City Council hears pleas for more affordable housing dollars

Updated: June 16, 2016 - 1:28 pm

A large group turned out for a hearing Monday night at City Hall to urge city leaders to include $20 million for affordable housing in the 2015 City of Minneapolis budget.

Mayor Betsy Hodges’ proposed budget includes about $12 million for affordable housing in next year’s budget, according to the mayor’s office. Overall, the city budget is about $1.2 billion.

A coalition of several organizations has been lobbying the mayor’s office and City Council members for the Make Home Happen campaign, including Habitat for Humanity, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, the League of Women Voters-Minneapolis, the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness and Beacon Interfaith Housing Collective.

Alan Arthur, president and CEO of Aeon, an affordable housing developer based in the North Loop, noted that despite all of the efforts to expand housing options for low-income people in the city, Minneapolis has only about a handful of additional affordable housing units than it did 25 years ago.

He said the city will have to make a much larger investment in housing for all income levels to achieve sustainable growth.

“We’re headed down a very bad path unless we’re aggressive on this front,” he said.

Monica Nilsson, director of community engagement for St. Stephen’s Human Services, delivered a powerful message to Council members without saying a word. She played several voicemail messages on her phone from people who have lost their homes and are in need of shelter.

Former Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, who now serves as executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services, also testified. She said the city doesn’t have a “sufficient supply” of affordable housing for low-income people.

She noted that 2,000 people are staying in homeless shelters in the county with many more on the waiting list.

“Ending homelessness takes a multi-sector approach,” she said.

James Gertmenian, senior minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, also pressed Council members to make a bigger investment in affordable housing programs.

He said the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been “chronically underfunded” and many low-income people have been forced to leave the city because of rising housing costs.

“We depend on your courageous leadership,” he told Council members.

Several people also spoke in favor of funding more protected bike lanes in the city at the budget hearing. Hodges has proposed spending $750,000 on protected bike lanes.

Hodges has proposed increasing the city’s property tax levy by 2.4 percent from 2014. About 57 percent of all residential properties, however, won’t see an increase.

Highlights of the mayor’s proposed budget including funding for 10 additional officers to bringing the total sworn officer force to 860, $3.5 million to fully find the Nicollet Mall redesign project, planning dollars for the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal on the riverfront in North Minneapolis, two new city employees focused on racial equity work and $1.14 million for the new police body camera program.

As for the proposed 2015 property tax breakdown, about 43 percent would go toward the City of Minneapolis, 28 percent Hennepin County, 26 percent for the School District and 3 percent for other taxing districts.

In a recent letter to residents, the mayor said her budget focuses on “growth, running the city well, and equity.”

“Budgets are not merely a way of indicating our priorities, though they are that,” she wrote. “Rather, budgets are a fine-grained, detailed way to show the community that we meant what we said. Budgets are where our money meets our values. The decisions we make about it set the course for our future together as a people.”

The public will have one more opportunity to comment on the proposed 2015 budget Dec. 10 at 6:05 p.m. After the hearing, the City Council will vote on adopting the budget.