Mayor Jacob Frey delivered his first State of the City address May 24 at the Lundstrum Center for Performing Arts. Photo by Dylan Thomas

A city ‘poised’ to overcome obstacles

Updated: June 4, 2018 - 9:01 am

Frey delivers his first State of the City address

Delivering his first State of the City address, Mayor Jacob Frey on Thursday announced a new partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools that aims to provide direct support to district families experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

Frey announced the three-year pilot, dubbed the Minneapolis Stable Homes, Stable Schools Initiative, near the beginning of a wide-ranging speech that touched on planning for the city’s growth, efforts to improve police-community relations and the business climate, reconnecting North Minneapolis to the riverfront, combating the opioid epidemic and the city’s goals to counteract climate change. At the end of the 45-minute speech in front of an audience of several hundred gathered at the Lundstrum Center for Performing Arts, Frey declared the state of the city as “poised” to take significant steps forward.

He was also clear about the obstacles to progress, including a shrinking stock of affordable housing and rising rents.

“It is difficult to overstate the severity of our housing crisis and the need to address it,” he said.

Frey spent more time on his proposed solutions to the housing crisis than any other topic, reiterating his intention to add $50 million to the city’s funds for affordable housing, a goal he has acknowledged will be difficult to reach. Other components of his affordable housing plan include efforts to preserve existing affordable units and creating more “deeply affordable” housing targeted to people earning 30 percent or less of area median income. He has also pitched a plan to create more first-generation homeowners.

It was during that section of the speech he unveiled the plan to aid Minneapolis school district families. He said the initiative would seek to provide stable housing for up to 320 families and as many as 648 district K–8 students, funded with a $3 million annual investment from the city to leverage another $1 million in Minneapolis Public Housing Authority funds. Details released by his staff indicate housing vouchers will be made available to families with students in the 15 schools with the highest rates of homeless or highly mobile students.

Frey pitched Minneapolis 2040 — the city’s next comprehensive plan, currently out for public comment — as another tool to combat housing inequities. A key component of the plan, and possibly its most controversial piece, is a proposal to open up much of the city to the development of fourplexes.

“Right now, as much as two-thirds of our city is still zoned exclusively for single-family homes and restricted further for the wealthy by lot size,” he said. “In other words, unless you have the means to own — not just a home but a very large one on a very large lot — your chance of living in many neighborhoods is zero.”

Frey frequently called out the work of individual City Council members, most of whom he served alongside during his single term as Ward 3 alderman. He praised Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano’s efforts to back up the city’s stricter police body camera policies with audits that measure compliance, which he described as “invaluable.”

He also announced a plan to place placards in every Minneapolis police vehicle explaining, in both English and Spanish, the rights of people who encounter Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Frey, who also noted the city is fighting a Trump administration effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census, raising concerns the city’s immigrant population will be undercounted, said, “We will not let the lack of compassion demonstrated at the highest levels of our government prevent us from doing right by our immigrant community.“

Near the end of the speech, as Frey turned his focus to the city’s infrastructure and economy, he highlighted paths to broader inclusion in prosperity and city amenities. He emphasized his support for Village Trust Financial Cooperative, currently in development as the state’s only black-owned financial institution.

“This is huge,” Frey said. “Why? Because whether it’s mortgage underwriting, lending criteria or access to capital in general, black people have traditionally gotten the short end of the stick. How do we change that? Move out of the way and support black bankers in making the banking decisions.”

Frey also described the city’s vision for a new riverfront park in North Minneapolis. The planned redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal “is our No. 1 capital improvement priority,” he said, predicting the transformation of the 48-acre site on the Mississippi River would not just create a new amenity but also drive economic development in nearby neighborhoods.