Survey Response: Housing

The following survey was submitted to me by the Make Homes Happen Coalition. My responses are in blue.

Survey:

Affordable housing has become an increasingly important issue for Minneapolis residents and voters. Minneapolis residents would like to better understand where candidates for city council stand on issues related to affordable housing. To help provide this information to Minneapolis voters, Make Homes Happen has created the following list of questions for candidates. We hope that you, as a candidate for Minneapolis City Council, will provide us with the answers to these questions. Make Homes Happen organizations and partners will distribute your answers to residents. 

[Q]: What do you believe is the role of the City of Minneapolis in supporting, preserving, and creating decent, safe, and quality affordable housing in the City? What policies, practices, and investments would you champion to ensure housing affordability throughout the City and specifically in your ward?

[DH] There is absolutely no role for the city here except for preserving public safety. Providing affordable housing is fundamentally about increasing the overall supply of housing, which equates to higher density. At its most extreme, this leads to utilitarian and generally unattractive high-rise buildings that lead to an overall degradation in the landscape of the city. I am certain that most citizens would prefer to avoid this scenario.

The city already restricts certain types of real estate transactions, and charges an exorbitant abandoned building registration fee. With the recent regulation requiring landlords to consider section 8 tenants, the city has obviously put its thumb on the scale to the disadvantage of owners of investment properties. If the council continues policies like this, it only gives owners more incentive to sell their property at market rates while they still can. Why would a landlord not take the quickest opportunity to sell a property at market value before the city further restricts what she can do with her own rental units?

 [Q] What do you propose to do to narrow the racial homeownership gap and resulting wealth gap for households of color? How will you ensure that future generations are able to purchase homes in Minneapolis?

[DH] At present, I am a renter myself – I am a former homeowner who relocated. I understand how daunting the housing market in the city can be. If we want to enable responsible, low-income home buyers to enter the market, we will need to look for creative alternative financing options. For most homeowners, providing the downpayment is the most daunting task, generally requiring years of saving and planning. To help overcome this hurdle, borrowers can turn to any number of socially-responsible alternative funding options that offer alternative mortgage options, such as a 10% downpayment, rather than the customary 20%. We should be striving to create public-private partnerships that can create a net long-term gain for the city. A city investment program (to replace subsidies) will become a socially responsible path for the city’s economic growth as well as the ability of renters to become owners. If there is, in fact, a racial gap in homeownership (and this does not simply reflect the current overall demographics of the city), then alternative funding should generate access that would reshape the nature of homeownership.

[Q] As federal funding such as the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) becomes increasingly unstable, how will you adjust the City’s budget to continue to support affordable housing? Please be specific.

[DH] A reduction in federal funding is a federal problem, not a municipal one. The city should not be shifting the taxpayer burden that provides the same benefits to recipients. Any replacement program would mean that the city requires its taxpayers to subsidize a program that would create increased administrative overhead (and therefore cost more) at the local level.

[Q] What specific policies, practices, and investments do you support to prevent the involuntary economic and geographic displacement of renters due to gentrification and other rental market pressures?

[DH] I would repeal the $15/hour minimum wage ordinance that is going to further crowd the low end of the housing market as it draws economic migrants from surrounding areas into the city. Some amount of tax incentive to developers might encourage them to invest in higher-density affordable housing, but it seems doubtful that the owners of nearby properties would accept a potential reduction in value of their own property that would result from proximity to this less attractive type of housing.

[Q] Do you support a dedicated source of funding for affordable housing? If yes, what measures would you take to ensure the successful passage of this policy? If no, please explain.

[DH] Absolutely not. The city is already behaving inequitably by collecting property taxes from homeowners and redistributing funds to a certain class of renter. It creates a vicious cycle that leads to increased rents every time a new property tax hike passes.

[Q] Do you support a city policy that requires or incentivizes developers to include affordable units in market rate developments? Why or why not? Please explain.

[DH] I do not. These policies directly contribute to increased rents and increased housing prices. The also constitute corporate welfare. The city would likely provide the developer incentive in the form of reduced long-term capital gains taxes – but these generally result in either modest reduction in the immediate sale prices of homes, or else require substantial city funding to the benefit of developers that is not accessible to other citizens.

[Q] Do you support a policy that would help preserve naturally affordable rental housing by providing advance notice to the city of potential sales so the city can let non-profit housing developers know of purchase opportunities? Why or why not? Please explain.

[DH] I will not support any policy that allows the city to prevent the transfer of private property between entities in the market. This is a fundamental violation of the right to own property. Non-profits are welcome in the marketplace as buyers, but should not be privileged over any other competitive buyer.

If the right to sell property is restricted, it amounts to at least partial ownership of property by the government – it means that government has a primary and privileged right to any property over the individual who has paid for it. It means that homeowners are only allowed use of their land at the discretion of the government – a throwback to feudal serfdom. If it please the crown, one may choose to dwell upon certain lands, but only when one tithes to the king, and the land remains forever a part of the king’s territory.

[Q] What more can the city do to support renter households who reside in substandard housing conditions and who may experience intimidating management practices (and/or eviction) when they seek to hold their landlord accountable?

[DH] Standard rental agreements that require disclosures to tenants are already common practice. Every renter should research their legal rights and obligations when entering into a rental contact. Nonprofits exist to provide legal assistance to low-income individuals and can help them understand what options they believe the law has been violated. Both renters and landlords have legal rights pursuant to contracts and to city law; there is no reason to favor one over the other. Landlords can establish fair rents and will understand the risks of taking on tenants who might become delinquent – but they are not charities.

[Q] What specific actions can the city take to support Fair Housing choice and opportunity for households who may have barriers to access housing (ex: imperfect rental history or credit, criminal background, documentation status)?

[DH] Outright discrimination may be poor business practice and a knee-jerk reaction to certain types of potential renters – but poor credit history is not a protected status under the law. Homebuyers are expected to show basic creditworthiness when purchasing a home, because banks recognize the risk of loan default. Anyone entering into a mortgage obligation can expect to provide extensive documentation of their ability to pay back their mortgage. Why, then, should we require owners of investment properties to take a risk on their investment? We might as well require banks to provide sub-prime loans.

As a personal example – I live with two pit bulls, and it was understandably difficult for me to find rental housing when I relocated from my prior (owned) home. My dogs are perceived as a risk (even though I’m a responsible owner and can demonstrate that they present no more risk to property than any other animal). To remedy the situation, I have taken out an extra insurance policy in addition to my standard renter’s insurance, and provided a vet’s and trainer’s documentation that my dogs are well-behaved and well cared for. I paid an extra non-refundable security deposit. These are the conditions that the market required I take. If an individual has a criminal background or is undocumented, a landlord should be able to consider those factors and adjust a rental contract accordingly.