A coalition of local organizations sponsored this questionnaire to help voters understand where each candidate stands on issues that shape whether every person can find and afford a home in Minneapolis.
We collectively submitted, refined, and selected these questions and invited campaigns of all candidates to respond. We will continue to accept responses and thank those who have participated. Their responses are published verbatim.
The only party holding caucuses for Minneapolis races is the DFL. For more information about participating in the Minneapolis DFL Caucuses in April, see minneapolisdfl.org/. For information on the 2021 November elections, see https://vote.minneapolismn.gov/voters/calendar/.
- Cam Gordon – incumbent: responded
- Robin Wonsley Worlobah: responded
- Tom Anderson: responded
- Yusra Arab: responded
Q1: In a city where more than half of people rent, what housing policies would you focus on to ensure that every Minneapolis resident has a safe, stable, affordable home?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: I have supported and led many efforts to support people who rent their homes. For just a couple of examples, I authored the ordinance that required provision of adequate heat for tenants, and the ordinance that required landlords to inform tenants of known environmental contaminants on their properties (like arsenic, lead, or trichloroethylene).
I strongly supported the Renters First policy that was put forward by Council Members Bender and Ellison, as well as the renters protection ordinance they authored that prevented landlords from automatically screening out tenants based on criminal record or credit history, and set a maximum allowable security deposit. I strongly supported efforts, led by Council Member Ellison, to call on the Governor to enact and maintain an eviction moratorium during the COVID pandemic. I strongly supported the Section 8 Nondiscrimination ordinance that was brought forward by former Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, to ensure that landlords can’t refuse to rent to someone just because they receive public housing subsidy.
I also coauthored an energy disclosure ordinance with Council Member Schroeder that requires landlords to inform tenants of the energy use of a unit, at or before the time of lease. Tenants deserve to have information about the whole cost of their housing, which includes any energy costs they will be expected to pay. This will also help address the “split incentive” that prevents too many landlords from investing in the energy efficiency of their buildings because, while they pay for the capital upgrades, their renters are the ones who see the energy savings.
I have strongly supported creating a pilot Inclusive Financing mechanism to pay for energy efficiency upgrades. The idea is that some people – most notably all renters – are unable or unwilling to take out personal loans in order to make upgrades to the energy efficiency of their homes. No renter is likely to take out debt on their own to invest in their landlord’s property. Inclusive Financing ties the financing for energy efficiency projects to the meter, not the individual. It pays back the cost of the initial investment (like insulation and weatherization) with the energy saved due to that investment. It’s a program that addresses the split incentive very well, and can lead to lower energy (and therefore housing) costs for tenants, while helping fight climate change. I’ve been working on this through the Clean Energy Partnership, specifically with Centerpoint Energy. It is now being considered by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Some of my next priorities include passing a strong Tenant Opportunity to Purchase ordinance, rent stabilization, eviction protections, and a public housing levy. I will address these in other answers.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I support the policies in the RC Coalition’s demands, such as TOPA, rent control, require all new developments to be composed of 50% affordable units based on 30% of AMI, a vacancy tax, higher taxes on corporate real estate developers to fund and expand affordable and public housing, and a ban on new development that destroys Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH).
Tom Anderson: As a former public school teacher, I saw first-hand how housing instability affects our kids. Most often the barriers to educational success for my students were not due to a lack of teacher dedication, empathy, or professionalism. The barriers that most often interfered with positive learning outcomes were students not having access to basic needs, such as housing and food insecurity. We can’t expect our youngest learners to focus on learning objectives when they don’t know where they are going to sleep that night, or if they are up all night due to unsafe housing circumstances, and we certainly can’t expect them to do their homework if they don’t have a safe, stable home. This is why I fully support targeted programs such as Stable Homes Stable Schools. We need to have stronger partnerships between our City Council and Minneapolis Public Schools, and I intend to make this a top priority as the next Council Member for Ward 2.
Additionally, I believe in subsidizing the production of affordable housing. The private market will not create units of affordable housing without subsidy. The City of Minneapolis has an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. However, we have seen inconsistent funding and an overall decrease in affordable housing allocations through this program over the last few years. Any candidate that does not support consistent and substantial funding for this program—which is the only city-funded program that is used to create deeply affordable housing—is not doing all they can to ensure every resident has a safe, stable, and affordable home.
Yusra Arab: Housing is a human right! As someone who was raised in public housing by a single mother, I understand the importance of a safe and stable home. I have also been a lifelong renter, so I understand the struggle of trying to stay ahead of the curve every pay period. More than half of the population in Minneapolis rents, and more than half of them earn less than 60% of the area median income. When it comes to access to quality for low- and middle-income families in Minneapolis, access to affordable housing is crucial. The increasing scarcity of affordable housing is a threat to us all and it will only get worse if we don’t take immediate and decisive action.
My top housing policy priorities when elected will be:
- Investing in the expansion of public housing
- Expanding stable homes and make sure surrounding schools have stable school programs
- Revising income requirements and qualification for affordable housing
- Increasing pathways to homeownership (especially for BIPOC communities)
- Ensuring culturally appropriate supportive services
- Stopping the privatization and gentrification of public housing.
- Strengthening renter’s rights
- Instituting just cause eviction protections
- Ensuring the right to counsel
- Ensuring anti-retaliation protections
- Instituting rent control
- Addressing property tax reforms
Q2: Do you support rent stabilization, just cause protection, pay or quit, city-funded legal services for those facing eviction, and other tenant protections? How will you work to pass these policies?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: I strongly support rent stabilization. And I not only support this policy, I am coauthoring (with Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and Lisa Bender) the Charter amendments that are necessary to allow the City to pass rent stabilization. I am committed to putting this on the ballot, will publicly campaign for it, and will push forward a strong rent stabilization law once we have the authority to do so. I am strongly in favor of keeping all of our options on the table, including passing a rent stabilization ordinance through the Council, allowing the Council to put it on a future ballot, and letting the people put forward their own policy by petition. I also strongly supported contracting with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) to study rent stabilization in our local housing market, so that once we have the authority to adopt a policy we will have good evidence to back that policy up. I support a rent stabilization policy that is as inclusive as possible, with no “de-control” when units turn over, and no exemptions for new construction.
I not only support eviction protections like just cause and pay or quit, I am coauthoring (again, with CMs Ellison and Bender, and also Council Member Jamal Osman) an ordinance to adopt these two incredibly important protections for renters. Just cause, similar to what has recently passed in St. Paul, will require that landlords give tenants a reason for non-renewal of their lease, and restrict those reasons to a list of acceptable ones, like nonpayment of rent. This will prevent the use of “informal evictions” to target tenants who fight for their homes to be adequately maintained. Pre-eviction notification (also known as “pay or quit”) requires that landlords give tenants a certain amount of notice, in writing, before they file formal eviction paperwork. This is important for several reasons. First, tenants who have eviction proceedings filed against them (known as an Unlawful Detainer, or UD) have that on their record for years. Even if they settle with their landlord or win in court, the fact that a UD was filed against them can result in future landlords screening them out, drastically reducing their housing options. (While Minneapolis has prohibited landlords from automatically screening out tenants due to UD filings, that is not the case for many surrounding communities.) Second, it takes time for tenants to access emergency housing assistance from Hennepin County, and they need some form of proof that assistance is required. The notice period will allow tenants to get help before a formal eviction process is started, and the notice itself will provide the proof that the County requires.
I have strongly supported dedicating City funds to support renters as they face legal challenges, including eviction. With my strong support, the City has provided $650,000 per year to support tenants’ right to counsel. I am committed to funding this to the extent that every tenant has counsel anytime they need it.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I fully support all of those policies. I am currently collaborating with the Mpls United for Rent Control Coalition, which is leading a charter campaign for a rent-control ballot measure. Additionally, I am working with a coalition of the groups issuing this questionnaire to push for TOPA and eviction protections. My campaign’s strategy is to organize constituents to support housing protection for their neighbors. As a city council member, I will work with the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on Housing, the Met Council, and other renter champions to introduce ordinances that increase housing accessibility and affordability.
Tom Anderson: Yes — these are all important ways we can ensure safe and reliable housing for Minneapolis residents. The housing crisis is a complex, intersectional issue that exists among other disparities that disproportionately impact the BIPOC community, as well as people who have mental health barriers, people with substance abuse disorder, and people who were formerly incarcerated. In order to provide reliable housing that meets the needs of everyone, we need significant funding from all levels of government.
As the Director of Government Relations for Students United, I work with state and federal representatives and their staff on policy solutions for the inequitable disparities that impact students who attend Minnesota State universities. Part of this work includes addressing the food and housing insecurity of our students. As a city council member, I would leverage the working relationships I’ve built to build coalitions of support for the housing policies that were named above. I also believe in working closely with experts in the field, such as the organizations that have come together for this questionnaire, to ensure the solutions that are being prioritized are the most effective way to address the ongoing housing crisis.
In general, the city ordinance should prevent abusive practices. The Just Cause Ordinance should be amended to give tenants the ability to consent to notice from a landlord, which will prevent them from having an eviction on their record. This is a solution that benefits both the tenant and the landlord, because the property owner can avoid the legal expenses of evictions. That being said, rent stabilization measures need to be thoughtful, deliberate, and responsibly designed, with input from both tenants and landlords to ensure we address the unintended consequences of any rent stabilization measures.
Yusra Arab: I fully support rent stabilization, just cause protection, pay or quit, funding legal services for tenants, and all other tenant protections. I will prioritize working with community members and key stakeholders to lift up the voices and stories of our most vulnerable members in our community in order to build broad coalitions of support for the protections that tenants deserve.
Q3: Encampments of unhoused people have become common on public land in Minneapolis in recent years. What will you do to protect the people who see encampments as their best housing option, to connect them to a safe and stable permanent home?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: I have worked for years to ensure that we provide better support for people experiencing homelessness. I authored a change that allowed emergency shelters in more locations and no longer required them to be connected to churches. As Housing Chair, in collaboration with the shelter providers, I pushed for the City to change our policy that had inflexibly directed all of the Emergency Stabilization Grant (ESG) funds we receive from the federal government only to capital improvements at shelters, and made it possible for us to support their operating costs as well. More recently, along with my colleague Jeremy Schroeder, I passed another ordinance giving further flexibility to shelters, including more flexibility on their size, reducing spacing requirements between them, and more. I coauthored – also with Council Member Schroeder – an ordinance to allow Intentional Community Cluster Developments like the Envision Community model. These changes have allowed the construction of the Indoor Villages project, which will provide 100 new units to provide housing for people who have experienced homelessness. As Housing Committee Chair, I helped lead the effort to respond to the encampment on Hiawatha Avenue with the Navigation Center, and to fund Homeward Bound, a shelter targeted to serve Native members of our community.
I have personally visited encampments in Ward 2 and elsewhere, working with encampment residents, City and County staff, supportive community members and others to meet their immediate needs. I have strongly opposed and will continue to strongly oppose the use of force by police to clear encampments.
One critical need I see is for a housing-first approach to people who are addicted to drugs other than alcohol. There are good options for what is called chronic inebriate housing, though there could be more. But people addicted to opioids struggle to find a place where they can be housed, even while they continue to use. I believe that housing first and harm reduction work, and will work in this case. I am hopeful that the change in the federal Administration will make it more possible for cities around the country to create housing first approaches to providing long-term shelter for people addicted to opiates and other currently illegal drugs.
Right now, I am working to re-legalize Single Room Occupancy and Rooming Houses, which I will speak to a bit more below.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: Encampment residents should have the expectation of safety and security, confident that they won’t be suddenly and violently ejected from encampments by law enforcement. Minneapolitans must continue providing community-based security to check in on encampment residents, provide them with basic services, offer housing counseling to connect residents with more permanent accommodations and ensure continued stability through employment and healthcare. The city has historically used concerns about substance abuse as a pretext to clear out camps; residents struggling with addiction are entitled to safe and healthy interventions that keep them and their neighbors safe. Because sexual assault and trafficking have also occurred in these camps, we must create community response teams who can interrupt and de-escalate these situations. We should invite and train volunteers to provide this service, and involve partner organizations such as SEIU 26 and Teamsters to help in this effort. These and other mutual-aid strategies are part of a holistic approach that avoids criminalizing homelessness. The commandeering of the Midtown Sheraton for the unhoused in 2020 set an important precedent for how we might convert public and private venues to provide safe shelter. We should study the successes and failures of that effort to create a more intentional approach to the provision of emergency shelter.
Tom Anderson: Encampments cannot be the best housing option for our neighbors experiencing homelessness. We need to find temporary housing that is coupled with social services and a pathway to permanent housing, much like the new Avivo Village housing that was established through not only funding from the city, but from our partners at the county, state, and federal level.
While we can look favorably at success stories like Avivo Village, we must work toward better and more sustainable solutions for those who still need shelter and services. We can and we must do more to support residents living in encampments. Providing basic needs in addition to things like clean needles and access to narcan, is a way we can support our residents and provide direct, trauma-informed care.
In 2019, the council funded a navigation center to provide an alternative to the encampments on public land. The council voted to place the navigation center at a temporary location, but then declined to relocate the shelter after one year. In 2020, the council voted to cut the affordable housing trust fund as a response to budget shortfalls from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has only exasperated existing housing disparities and I believe the decision to cut this funding was shortsighted. I believe the root purpose of government is to provide services for its constituency and that the city council should continue to fund permanent housing that meets the variety of needs of unsheltered residents in collaboration with housing and service providers.
Yusra Arab: We must stop criminalizing homelessness and eliminate the use of policing as a response to lack of affordable and stable housing in our city. Everyone experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity is deserving of being treated with dignity and respect. It is upon us as leaders in collaboration with community members and stakeholders to come up with effective long-term solutions to homelessness by providing access to housing through a Housing First strategy.
Q4: SROs and rooming houses have historically been the most affordable homes available, and an important option for people transitioning out of homelessness. They were largely outlawed during zoning reforms decades ago, and nonprofits like Alliance Housing that manage some of the few remaining rooming houses say they do not have enough space. Would you vote to relegalize this housing option in all parts of Minneapolis?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: Yes. I am one of three coauthors (along with Council Members Schroeder and Goodman) of this ordinance to re-legalize SROs and rooming houses. I view the change to outlaw this necessary part of our housing continuum as part of a set of failed policies that were enacted starting in the past, as part of the misplaced push for “urban renewal.”
SROs are a critical and all-too-rare piece of the housing puzzle. They can serve as an alternative to people becoming unhoused, a transition for folks who have experienced homelessness and are looking for more permanent and stable housing, as well as a long term affordable option for others.
We also need to ensure that SROs do not become a way to exploit residents, or that they are unsafe for residents. For these reasons, I support having a specific SRO license with its own set of safeguards to ensure that residents are being provided with safe and decent homes, as well as a requirement that the owners and operators of SROs are nonprofit service providers, at least at first.
I am hoping that we will be able to bring forward an SRO ordinance by March or April, and that it will pass the Council with the support of all of my colleagues.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I would support such a measure, with the addendum that such accommodations must be just as safe as other types of housing. Especially in light of the Drake Hotel Fire and coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure that SRO residents are not vulnerable to these and other dangers.
Tom Anderson: When we’re having conversations about affordable housing, we need to always include that it should also be safe. While affordable, many SRO’s resulted in people living in a space where they were unsafe. Outlawing them without providing a supplemental safe and affordable option to make up for the housing loss banning them created was a mistake. I believe SRO’s can be a viable housing model and can exist in a way that is safe for residents so long as they are properly supported. Any housing model—SRO’s included—would need to be carefully and thoughtfully planned and include significant social assistance and a clear and accessible pathway to permanent and stable housing.
Regardless of the type of housing, our rental licensing requirements should provide minimum requirements to ensure rental housing of all types is safe and should also provide assistance and safe enforcement options if they’re not in compliance with rigorous safety standards.
Yusra Arab: I would advocate and vote for legalizing Single Room Occupancy and rooming options. I would work towards prioritizing the review and revision of existing policies, programs, and regulations to remove barriers and support innovative, energy efficient, and creative housing options. As a long-time advocate for affordable housing, I know that regulatory barriers have a major impact on the cost and availability of housing for hard-working families. That is why I will do everything in my power to promote and advocate for innovative ideas and policies to combat this issue.
Q5: Minneapolis has enacted a number of reforms recently to expand access to more housing types in all neighborhoods — including legalizing ADUs, triplexes, and apartments in some places they’d previously been banned. Do you support this work? If so, what are some ways you’d build on it as a member of the city council?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: I do support this work, have voted for it, and have led parts of it. I strongly and publicly supported our 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which ended exclusionary single-family zoning, allowed duplexes and triplexes in every neighborhood, and much more. I coauthored (with Council Members Schroeder and Reich) the Built Form overlay that, among other things, gives building bulk incentives for public housing, affordable housing, and environmentally friendly buildings. This will allow new family-size public housing duplexes and triplexes, with three bedrooms in each unit, in all neighborhoods in our city, with the intention of desegregating our city by race and income.
I am currently working to remove the homestead requirement from most Accessory Dwelling Units (as a follow up to one of several Comprehensive Plan amendments on housing that I successfully got passed), which was put in place as a compromise to get ADUs through a more conservative Council than the one we have now. My hope is that this will allow many more ADUs to be built citywide. I view ADUs as a wonderful way to add additional homes to the fabric of our neighborhoods without needing to destroy any of our existing housing stock, including existing small homes. This amendment passed committee in mid-February, and I expect it to pass the full Council by the end of February.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I support this work, but with the caveat that it must be accompanied by strong regulations that prevent a completely market-based approach where property owners use these units for short-term rentals (e.g. Air BnB) or sell them to large property-management corporations.
Tom Anderson: I believe the expansion of multi-unit buildings and ADU’s can be part of the overall solution to the housing needs for our city. However, like any policy, we need to ensure the ordinance is followed and that the spirit of this new policy is being followed. Renters are a part of our community and need to be included in community conversations at much higher levels that we have seen in the past. We also need to invest in programs that allow communities who have been intentionally excluded from purchasing homes, which provides housing stability and the ability to accumulate generational wealth.
We need to balance the need for more housing with the very real concern that small, affordable, single family homes will be removed and replaced by developers for the benefit of the property owner, and not for the benefit of the community. We need nuance in our decision making and policy decisions.
I feel strongly that we can find a way to have ADU’s and multi-unit buildings, preserve affordable homes, assist in first-time home purchases and do so in a way that is beneficial to our communities and in a way that does not cause more gentrification and displacement or cause harm to our neighbors. However, we won’t get there by pitting homeowners against renters. We need to unite around our shared progressive values, listen to one another, and understand that everyone has a lived experience that may help illuminate a potential policy solution that unites our communities, instead of the current rhetoric that pits neighbors against one another for political gain. Collaborative leadership between council members, our neighbors and professionals who are doing equitable housing work is the best way for us to find the most equitable, just, and sustainable solutions to the housing crisis in our city.
Yusra Arab: Yes! I would build upon the work the city has done thus far to increase supply of housing by continuing to identify inefficiencies and inequities in our current laws and regulations that are intentionally or unintentionally creating barriers to more of our community members being able to access affordable and secure housing.
Q6: Affordable housing funding is precious, and public subsidy often builds homes that are still too expensive for the people struggling the most, with studio apartment rents over $1,000, and 4 bedroom rents up to $1800. How would you use zoning, TIF, or other city-controlled tools to legalize less expensive homes so that affordable housing funding can support the lowest income residents of Minneapolis?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: As Housing Committee Chair, I helped push the City towards using our limited public subsidy to support more housing for very low income people, typically defined as those who make less than 30% of the Area Median Income, which in 2020 equaled $31,100 or less. A studio that is affordable to people who make this income rents for no more than $543/month, and a four bedroom rents for no more than $900/month. I have supported a number of such projects, including in Ward 2, like the Louis by Aeon in Prospect Park, which is providing 70 units of deeply affordable housing (at the 30% of AMI level), one block from the Prospect Park Green Line station. I believe that the City must continue to prioritize putting our limited resources toward this kind of deeply affordable housing.
It’s also important not just to provide housing that low-income people can afford, but to increase people’s incomes so that they can afford their housing and other needs. I fought to increase our local minimum wage to $15 per hour with no tip penalty, as one of the first Council Members to come out for raising the wage, and one of the strongest opponents of watering that ordinance down through a tip penalty. I support building on this work, to further increase wages for the essential workers who too often make the least income.
I have also spearheaded and supported many regulatory changes to make housing less expensive. These include allowing people to form intentional communities to reduce their housing costs by sharing housing, doing away with maximum occupancy limits and an outdated definition of “family” that had discriminated against unrelated people reducing their housing costs by sharing housing. It also includes legalizing multifamily housing citywide through the Comp Plan, giving special bonuses for affordable duplexes and triplexes through the Built Form overlay, and allowing new and innovative housing types like ADUs, intentional community cluster developments, and more.
Some next steps include re-legalizing housing types like SROs and Rooming Houses that we know are more affordable options, and I am coauthoring that ordinance.
Another important step is to remove the parking requirements that add tens of thousands of dollars of cost to each housing unit, and help reinforce car-dominance. I not only support that policy from the 2040 Plan, I am coauthoring the zoning code amendment that will get it done.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I support city-controlled tools when they’re used to the benefit of residents, rather than developers. I do not support TIF if it allows corporate developers to evade taxes or incentivizes them to cut corners on the quality of their buildings. Market-based approaches to affordable housing should never happen to the exclusion of public and social approaches. As a socialist in office, I will fight for public and cooperatively owned housing created by land trusts and public housing authorities, and funded by progressive taxation. The city could create land trusts and partner with construction unions to develop our own affordable housing with lower AMI rates and renter protections—in other words, housing that obeys the needs of residents, rather than the market.
Tom Anderson: Affordable housing needs to be more than just a term thrown around by politicians for political gain, but needs to be truly affordable housing that people can actually afford. It’s clear that the greatest need in our city is truly affordable housing for our lowest-income neighbors. Creating deeply affordable housing will take more resources, but we need to invest more in providing access to basic needs for our residents, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it has been proven to be an effective way to prevent and reduce crime.
We need to work with local government partners to reconfigure the Area Median Income so that it’s accurate and meets the needs of our residents. We cannot keep only serving households at 60% of the median income. For example, The Affordable Housing Trust has a subsidy limit of $30,000 per unit, but the gap to create truly affordable units exceeds that. This policy as it exists is acting as a barrier to truly affordable housing and I believe we should be listening to and working with the experts in the field to find solutions for providing sustainable, safe, deeply affordable housing for our residents. Allocating a dedicated source of funds to provide reliably affordable housing is important in addition to supporting programs that prioritize new units being developed are accessible for low-income residents.
I also believe the city can better utilize TIF as a tool to subsidize housing whenever feasible. TIF is not available for all developments and due to how it’s monetized, it won’t always be the best option for truly affordable developments but it is one tool in our toolbox and should be used to the fullest extent to help create affordable housing in our city.
Yusra Arab: Typically, affordable housing funding is seen as a secondary option. My goal is to ensure that affordable housing does not get lost among other competing priorities. We must prioritize allocating funds to support city priorities related to housing, including affordable homeownership for families and low-income rental housing for low-income and homeless or housing insecure individuals and families.
Q7: Our city has grown by 53,000 people in the last 9 years. Do you believe that Minneapolis should make space for more people as our city grows? If so, what is the best way to do that and also ensure that BIPOC communities and people who made Minneapolis their home before the current growth can stay in their communities if they want?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: Yes. Our city absolutely must make more homes available for the people who want to move here, for at least two major reasons. First, if we don’t, we know that the growth will occur on the exurban fringes, leading to further sprawl, loss of farmland and wild areas, and continued expansion of car-dominated, carbon-intensive, non-resilient development. Second, we have seen what happens when demand for housing outstrips supply: those with higher incomes outbid those with lower incomes for scarce homes, displacing poorer residents and raising housing costs for everyone.
But we can’t rely on the market to build us the kind of housing we know we need, on its own. That’s why I supported passing our city’s first Inclusionary Housing ordinance, which requires a certain number of affordable units in every market-rate development. I fought to ensure that this policy did not leave out U of M students, as many similar policies in other cities have done. Private developers fought this policy hard, and claimed that it would prevent new housing from being built in Minneapolis. But even during a pandemic recession and the turmoil of last summer, Minneapolis has added over 14,000 new housing units. Inclusionary Housing works, and we should strengthen it.
I also strongly supported and worked to adopt a Community Preference policy, which aims to “disrupt involuntary displacement of Minneapolis residents from specific geographies,” with a “focus on anti-displacement of Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Immigrant (BIPOCI) and low wealth communities.” This policy now directs City programs, including programs to support homeownership. I also supported an Advance Notice of Sale ordinance that requires owners of affordable buildings to inform the City before they sell their buildings, so that we can try to preserve them as affordable housing.
In other answers I am providing more information about other policies I support to prevent involuntary displacement, including rent stabilization, supporting public housing, and more. Here I will get into more detail about a policy I strongly support, Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (also known as TOPA).
I am one of four Council Members (along with Council Members Fletcher, Schroeder, and Ellison) who have been working together on TOPA for years. We have been working with a powerful group of advocates that includes Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, HOMEline, Legal Aid, Housing Justice Center, JCA, the Alliance, several neighborhood groups, and others. TOPA gives the people who live in a building the first right to purchase that building when the building owner wants to sell it. I view this as a key policy for helping fight involuntary displacement, by giving tenants more power and more say over what happens to their homes. It has been used in other cities to increase the number of housing cooperatives, where residents get to democratically control their housing, rather than having it controlled by someone else. This can lead to long-term stability in housing costs.
The long and painful process that finally resulted in the residents of the Corcoran Five (apartment buildings owned by notorious landlord Steve Frenz), now called the Sky Without Limits Cooperative, gaining control of their buildings shows that we need a robust TOPA ordinance, to ensure that no future tenants have to fight so hard for so long to stay in their homes.
I support a strong TOPA policy that will cover all housing in Minneapolis except the very newest buildings (those under 10 years old or so), but where the City’s support (both technical assistance and capital) will be reserved for helping residents of currently affordable housing. The opportunity to purchase and right of first refusal must be extended to tenants in public housing, as well as privately owned rental property. I also support covering everything down to single family homes that are owned by people or corporations who own a significant portfolio of homes. I support giving tenants the right to negotiate for themselves, by making the TOPA right transferable to anyone but known bad actors (like landlords who own poorly-maintained Tier II or Tier III properties). I also support giving the City and qualified nonprofit affordable housing developers a secondary right to purchase, in the case that the tenants of an affordable building do not exercise their TOPA rights.
TOPA can be a powerful tool against involuntary displacement, and Minneapolis must adopt it.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I support greater housing density, especially where it currently exists the least: wealthy neighborhoods with enormous single-family homes on huge plots of lands. Our city’s current housing policies have enabled densification of housing in less wealthy neighborhoods, while our richest residents have blocked it in their own. BIPOC residents can stay in their communities once we create conditions for their safe and affordable housing. This requires us to regulate corporate development, which prices people out of these communities, gentrifies them, and destroys NOAH. We support the responsible, regulated diversification of housing types, including housing cooperatives, triplexes, ADUs, and public housing, to offset the dominance of large multi-unit structures that prioritize developer profit.
Tom Anderson: While it’s exciting that Minneapolis is becoming more and more known as a great place for people to work and live, we need to work harder to meet the needs of our growing city. Gentrification is a major issue, and as we rebuild Lake Street here in Ward 2, we need to do everything we can to ensure BIPOC-owned businesses can rebuild and can continue to support our community.
We also can’t become a city that doesn’t provide pathways for renters to own property. Public housing, affordable housing, and home ownership are all part of the housing continuum and we need to focus on all of it. We need financing programs to integrate our city and we clearly need to invest in housing at every end of the housing spectrum in our lowest-income neighborhoods. I believe that investing in our communities as they currently exist is the best way to increase equity, accessibility, and to reduce barriers to educational attainment and economic opportunities.
As the co-chair of the Neighborhood Development and Transportation Committee on the Longfellow Community Council, I facilitated community meetings that provided neighbors with the opportunity to learn and give input on community development. Throughout these meetings, neighbors asked critical questions, provided meaningful feedback, and pushed for progressive changes that would lessen the impact on residents and increase the availability of deeply affordable housing options throughout Longfellow. Through these experiences, I know that our community wants truly affordable housing, transitional housing, and more senior housing options. Our community wants inclusive housing and wants to do it deliberately, intentionally, and responsibly.
I also think we should be supporting efforts to preserve Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing. I will support funding to ensure that new and existing buildings remain affordable to the communities they’re located in. I also support the existing 4(d) affordable housing incentive program, where existing property owners can receive property tax reductions in exchange for ensuring long term affordable rent restrictions and believe there is room to create even greater incentive for owners to participate.
I also believe there’s an opportunity to build stronger relationships with representatives and staff members at the state and federal level to build support for deeply affordable housing initiatives. As a council member, I will leverage the relationships I have built through my work at Students United to work toward more substantial investments in truly affordable housing policy solutions.
Yusra Arab: I believe that as a growing and thriving city, we need to make more space for residents whenever and wherever we can. I also believe that we can do that while still ensuring that our BIPOC communities that were here first can stay in the communities that they have helped build. We can do that by ensuring that we strengthen the rights of renters, by instituting rent control so that our community members can continue to afford their current housing without fear of being priced out, creating more equitable and efficient pathways to homeownership in the city, and stopping privatization and gentrification of the housing market. In the past, we have seen the results of BIPOC, and low-income families/communities slowly being pushed out. This is extremely detrimental when folks have to rebuild over and over again. There is beauty in growth and pass actions surrounding this subject seems to forget to shade light on that.
Q8: The city has the ability to pass a public housing levy. Would you vote to use that levy to the maximum extent?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: Absolutely yes. I have advocated for this for years, and believe that 2021 is the year that we should get this done.
I have strongly and consistently supported public housing, and called for it to remain public. Public housing serves a critical need in our city, providing homes for our neighbors with the greatest need, preventing them from being displaced or facing a cost burden that they can’t bear. We know that the federal government has, for decades, been falling short of the commitment it made to public housing. That has prompted housing authorities in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and many other cities around the country to turn to programs the federal government set up, including RAD and Section 18, that have created real and legitimate fear among public housing residents that they will be displaced from their homes or have to pay higher rents.
In response, I have done a number of things to defend public housing. I helped find and secure sources of funding outside of the normal public housing streams to fund improvements to public housing in my Ward, including around $1.5 million in weatherization for Glendale Townhomes, or around $8,000-$10,000 in energy efficiency improvements per unit. With the support of Glendale residents, I am working to add historic protections to their homes. And I have sharply questioned the use of programs like RAD and Section 18, and have been one of very few Council Members to do so.
But there is an even better, more durable solution, and it is using our public housing levy to the maximum extent we can. The City can levy for millions of dollars per year for public housing, and I believe that we should commit to doing so for at least twenty years (similar to the Parks and Streets deal that passed under a previous Council).
Committing to a long-term levy for public housing will do a number of things, all of them good. First, it will give the Public Housing Authority the capacity to bond in the near term to get tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to address real needs and years of deferred maintenance in our public housing. It will allow MPHA to make public housing residents’ homes healthier, safer, more resilient, and more affordable to operate in the long term (by, for example, reducing energy costs). It will also allow MPHA to build new public housing, including some of the scattered-site duplexes and triplexes I helped allow through the Comp Plan and incentivize in the recent Built Form overlay in the zoning code. This will help address the long waiting list that faces people who are trying to get into public housing.
Second, with this kind of long-term commitment in place, the City can place restrictions on MPHA’s actions, to ensure that none of the outcomes that public housing residents are worried about will happen. One of those restrictions: an ironclad prohibition on involuntary displacement of any current resident, due to any renovation or construction project. Another: a requirement that every public housing resident be able to keep paying no more than a third of their income. Another: that public housing will remain under the control of public entities, not private ones. And another: that if for any reason, any public housing is ever sold, the tenants will have the first right to purchase it.
Third, putting our local dollars into repairing, building, and maintaining the homes of our neediest neighbors is the right thing to do, and will put Minneapolis in a position to exert moral leadership. For far too long, the attitude of some local policymakers has been that public housing is somehow “not our job.” It is a federal responsibility, yes, and they have not been making good on that commitment. But that does not absolve our community of putting OUR money where OUR values are. And by doing so, we will be in a stronger position to advocate for additional funding for public housing from the federal, state, and county level, not a weaker one.
We need to pass the maximum public housing levy, use it to completely address public housing residents’ concerns, and we need to do so this year.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: Yes. Levies have traditionally allowed everyday renters and homeowners to invest and support our local public infrastructures like public housing and public schools. However, as more of these households become financially constrained due to pre and post-pandemic concessions we have seen increases in debt, job loss, and general financial (and therefore housing) insecurity. We must also look to tax our most affluent neighbors and businesses to truly protect and expand public housing.
Tom Anderson: I believe the opportunity to pass a public housing levy should maximize our ability to provide reliable, safe, and affordable housing options for our residents. However, we should also take into account that continuing to increase the property tax levy puts a burden on fixed income households and existing affordable housing properties. We can’t ignore our seniors, working class home owners, and other folks who are on fixed incomes and are struggling to get by. Increasing property taxes for struggling families in order to pay for other struggling families is not a sustainable option.
Yusra Arab: YES!
Q9: Given our history of redlining, exclusionary zoning, freeways, slum clearance, and urban renewal, what is your vision for an equitable and restorative way of building a better Minneapolis for all?
Cam Gordon – incumbent: Like many cities around the country, Minneapolis throughout the 20th Century and until recently embraced what I believe to be a racist, classist, and, since the 1950s, a car-centric paradigm. That included restrictive covenants and redlining (both widely used in Minneapolis), followed by “urban renewal,” clearance of so-called “slums,” and destruction of housing for poor people and people of color to build parking lots and freeways. In more recent history, the overtly racist practices of redlining and restrictive covenants were replaced with supposedly race-neutral ways of “protecting” certain neighborhoods, with single family exclusionary zoning as the most powerful of these tools.
This history has had a dramatic effect on Ward 2. I-94 cut a deep divide between Seward and the West Bank. The West Bank was cut off on all sides, and also cut in two by the Washington Avenue trench. Prospect Park was cut off from the University area by the major Huron interchange, and the East River Parkway area was cut off from the rest of the neighborhood. Many Ward 2 streets were converted from safe and pleasant places to walk and bike to multi-lane roadways to move as many cars as quickly as possible. In the process, large swaths of housing that had served low-income people were lost, and replacement housing was too often impossible to build due to the zoning code’s limitations.
I have been working during my time on the Council to put us on a different, better path. Some of the steps have been about changing the way our streets prioritize different users. I coauthored the Complete Streets policy that gives priority to people walking or rolling, then to people biking or taking transit, and then to motorized vehicles. I pushed for the creation of a protected bikeway network, which we are on the way to implementing. I strongly supported the Vision Zero plan which prioritizes everyone’s safety over speed for cars, and has led to reducing speed limits citywide. I drafted, argued for and successfully got passed an amendment to the 2040 Plan that outlines action steps for freeway remediation to “recover and repurpose space taken by construction of the interstate highway system in Minneapolis and use it to reconnect neighborhoods and provide needed housing, employment, greenspace, clean energy and other amenities.” I also coauthored the “Rethinking I-94” resolution which puts the City on record opposing new freeway lanes, calling for lanes to be repurposed for transit, and calls for the state to start to undo the harm that freeways have done to our communities. I have also supported and authored many policies to recreate flexibility for housing types that were made illegal starting in the 1960s, which I have detailed elsewhere.
The 2040 Plan is one step along that path of reimagining the way our city should approach growth and change. That’s why it was supported by many progressive groups, from unions, to environmental organizations, to renters’ advocates, to advocates for racial and economic justice. It’s also why the hotbed of opposition to the plan was mostly from relatively wealthy white homeowners, and relatively wealthy neighborhoods in the southwest corner of the city and the lakes district. Those who oppose the plan now, whether intentionally or not, make common cause with those whose desire to “protect neighborhood character” echoes some of the worst aspects of our history, like racially restrictive covenants.
None of this is an accident. Progressive groups supported the 2040 Plan because it is a progressive plan. Conservative voices in our city opposed it for the same reason: because it is a progressive plan. It ended decades of legal supremacy of single family homes as the “best” kind of housing, certain neighborhoods as the “best” neighborhoods, and single-occupancy automobiles as the “best” form of transportation. It challenges all of those old notions, saying that many different kinds of housing provide good, decent homes; all of our neighborhoods can be great places to live, and deserve respect and investment while preventing current residents from being displaced; and walking, rolling, biking, shared mobility and transit are as good as cars – if not considerably better.
The 2040 Plan was certainly not enough on its own to create this new paradigm. We also need to interrupt the ways that the “market,” on its own, brings forward projects that do not meet our needs and can sometimes harm our communities. That’s why, at the same time we adopted the Comp Plan, we adopted an Inclusionary Housing policy that requires a certain number of affordable units in every market-rate development. I strongly supported that policy, and worked to ensure that it served U of M students, unlike just about every other inclusionary housing policy in the country.
We have much more to do, to implement 2040 in a way that maximizes equitable impacts. In terms of housing, as we allow more housing to be built citywide we need to prevent involuntary displacement with policies like TOPA. We need to fund the creation of more affordable housing, especially deeply affordable housing. We need to increase our investments in maintaining the affordability of existing so-called “naturally occurring affordable housing” with tools like 4d. We need to invest directly in poor renters, through programs like Stable Homes, Stable Schools, and set up and fund Children’s Savings Accounts for every child. We need to protect renters from abusive and discriminatory practices by landlords, including by putting a cap on rent increases (also known as rent control), protecting them from unjust evictions and unnecessary and harmful Unlawful Detainers, and funding a right to counsel for all renters. We need to continue to target our homeownership and housing stabilization funds to ensure that they prevent involuntary displacement. We need to fund repairing, maintaining, and building more public housing.
We need to invest directly in the environmental sustainability of all of our housing stock, both to fight climate change and for the health and safety of residents. That means dramatically scaling up our investments in energy efficiency citywide through a Minneapolis Green New Deal. It means systematically removing lead hazards from our housing stock, to protect our children from being permanently harmed by lead poisoning. It means simultaneously addressing the other health risks in our housing stock, including mold and other asthma triggers, radon, and more. It also means continuing our fight at the state level to be able to apply a Green Building Code in Minneapolis, to achieve better ecological performance in new construction. It means investing in district energy systems for large-scale new developments that will allow them to be carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative, while making them more affordable and resilient. And it means getting rid of parking requirements, which raise the cost of building housing and reinforce the dominance of cars.
We also need to continue and increase our efforts to transform Minneapolis from a car-dominated city to a place where people can safely and conveniently get around by walking, rolling, biking, taking transit, and using the variety of new shared mobility options like car-share, bikeshare, scooters and more. We need to undo the historical trauma that freeways have inflicted on our neighborhoods, as outlined in Policy 48 of the 2040 Plan and the “Rethinking I-94” resolution. We need to build out our protected bikeway network. We need to invest in traffic calming, to make the new legal speed limit the design speed for every street. We need to invest more in making transit fast and reliable, by upgrading more routes to Arterial BRT as quickly as possible, providing signal preemption and transit-only lanes, and funding fare-free zones and helping cover transit costs for low-income residents.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: My campaign believes that housing is a human right and in order to ensure that every Minneapolis resident is provided with safe, quality, and affordable housing, I will organize and advocate alongside our grassroots groups and tenants for people-led, equitable, and restorative development. More specifically, through coalition building efforts, I intend to tax the rich to fully fund the development of public and social housing, democratize housing development and support the expansion of land trusts and housing cooperatives, pass stronger renter protections, and place stronger constraints and regulations on corporate developers who seek to only maximize profits.
Tom Anderson: We need to find new solutions to our housing problems and we need to invest in programs that currently exist. We cannot continually allocate resources to systems that perpetuate the status quo. For example, the city has not been prioritizing housing funding for ACP50, which is neither equitable or restorative. We need to be more targeted and deliberate when it comes to investing in our communities. I will support significant investments in public housing, which will require strong partnerships with our Democratic allies at the federal level, and work with our partners at the county level to reconfigure how AMI is calculated and how tax incentives are used, and continue to work with our state partners to help with rent stabilization efforts. It will take all of us to create a truly equitable and sustainable housing infrastructure in our city.
I believe strongly in working with the county to reconfigure the Area Median Income as a method to ensure affordable housing is truly affordable and something our lowest-income neighbors can afford. We also need to work with the state for additional funding for property tax relief programs. Additionally, I support financing programs for families who have been historically marginalized and intentionally barred from purchasing homes in our communities so that we can integrate our city and to uplift historically marginalized communities.
Given my experience working at the State and U.S. Capitol, I believe working to build coalitions of support throughout all levels of government, in addition to listening to and learning from community members, and housing and service providers, is the best way to find sustainable solutions. We need to work together to develop a sustainable rent stabilization program, increase funding for public housing initiatives, and create and execute a plan to integrate our city so those who have been historically marginalized and excluded can access communities and services throughout our city. We have the resources and tools to be doing better, we just need leaders who will do the hard work to get it done.
Yusra Arab: My biggest commitment would be focusing on working with partners across the city to find opportunities for innovative approaches and policies that result in more people being able to find homes that meet their needs and income levels. I would focus on developing a shared understanding among other elected officials, jurisdictional staff, developers, funders and stakeholders regarding best practices, needs and opportunities for collaboration. In addition, I would work to develop and provide technical assistance to support local implementation of best practices to overcome barriers to equitable housing development. Lastly, I would evaluate the feasibility of collaborative approaches and pursue partnerships opportunities to support capacity building, policy and resource development, and research to advance regional equitable housing efforts.
Q10: If there are any other thoughts you’d like to add, please use this space to do so.
Cam Gordon – incumbent: I believe that it’s important that we have people on the Council who are not just willing to vote the right way on issues like these, but who are willing and able to step up and do the work to pass them. I have brought forward as much or more work on housing policy than any member of the Council, and I am continuing to lead on issue after issue. I am proud of the real, concrete results I have helped us achieve, and I am eager to keep working, harder than ever, to accomplish much more in the years to come.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah: none
Tom Anderson: none
Yusra Arab: none