2021 Minneapolis City Council Housing Questionnaire: Ward 3

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/.

Sponsors: Envision Community; IX (Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia); Neighbors for More Neighbors; NRRC; Wedge LIVE!; Zacah 


Candidate responses: 

  • Steve Fletcher – incumbent: responded
  • Michael Rainville: no response

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: In order to meet everyone’s needs, we need an abundant supply of housing of all kinds, an abundant supply of housing guaranteed to remain affordable at all levels of income, rules that give tenants a fair chance at obtaining good housing, rules that allow tenants to feel safe from surprise increases or evictions in the homes they rent, and opportunities to buy for those who aspire to homeownership.

We have made progress on many of those areas: making sure that past mistakes don’t unfairly limit tenants’ housing options, re-orienting regulatory services to a tenant-centered problem-solving model through our “Tenants First” policy, passing inclusionary zoning to require affordable units be included in new developments, and passing the 2040 plan, which removed many of the exclusionary barriers to adding to the supply of all kinds of housing in our neighborhoods.

We still have work to do to prevent the abuse of rent increases and evictions by some landlords in the city. I believe just cause eviction and rent stabilization should be among the next Council’s top priorities, and I support the proposed charter amendment to give the next Council that option.

We also have work ahead to create more accessible ownership opportunities. I’m proud to be a co-author of Tenant Opportunity to Purchase, which will create new ownership opportunities when a tenant’s home is being sold by their landlord. I have also encouraged the City of Lakes Land Trust and others to try out affordable ownership models to open another route to homeownership.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: I do support rent stabilization, just cause protection, pay or quit, and a right to counsel in housing court. I supported funding a study to help develop an appropriate rent stabilization approach for the Minneapolis housing economy, and I support the proposed charter amendment to give the next Council the option to act on it. I have also supported increases in our budget to fund access to counsel at housing court, which, while still not enough, we know is making a positive difference.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: I am a believer in a housing first model generally, and the first and most obvious answer is to build more affordable housing – public housing, private housing, any kind of housing we can credibly make happen. If we’re going to be serious about preventing large encampments in the future, and as a matter of housing policy and public health policy we should be, we absolutely have to have meaningful options we can point to as alternatives. Our existing shelter options simply are not meeting our community’s needs, and we need more housing options.

I also know there are people who will be challenged to succeed in housing without social and emotional support structures to go with it. Working in partnership with community organizations, the County and the State, we are developing a much broader range of options to meet the huge array of needs represented in the encampments of the last couple years, from hotel rooms we’re repurposing as transitional housing, to culturally specific shelters, to the innovative low-barrier tiny homes village.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: I support legalizing SROs. We have (re)demonstrated the viability of that model with the improvised hotel repurposing this year during COVID, and there are people for whom it really works. If we can lower the barriers for non-profit developers to construct the shelter we need to prevent encampments and give everybody a dignified place to live, we should do that.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: We are in the process of implementing the Minneapolis 2040 plan, which opened up a lot of new opportunities to build. I think it makes sense to focus on that implementation and measure our results before we make too many new proposals. That said, I’m not necessarily convinced that we got everything right on details like Floor Area Ratio for triplexes, the height of Accessory Dwelling Units, and lot size requirements, and I will watch closely to see both where policies are succeeding and where we might need to adjust.

I also think some of our other built form regulations constrain or effectively prohibit additional “missing middle” housing types that are common and popular in many other cities, such as rowhouses, and I would support additional work to make those more buildable here.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: I’m not sure that cheaper housing needs to be “legalized” as much as it needs to be subsidized. The cost of construction is just higher than we need it to be, and when you get into the specifics of where we could cut corners to make cheaper housing, most of the cost drivers are things that ensure safety, environmental responsibility, and minimum labor standards – all of which are priorities that align with our city’s values and which I do not think we should compromise.

I am co-authoring an ordinance to replace minimum parking requirements with a multi-modal transportation approach, which was called for in the Minneapolis 2040 plan. Parking minimums are probably the biggest arbitrary cost we currently impose on housing. We’ll still have to do a LOT to build multi-modal transit system adoption before developers and their lenders will be willing to build much housing that takes full advantage of that. Many are building more parking than we require as it is. I also support legalizing SROs and rowhouses, which could offer cheaper ways to accommodate some home-seekers.

We do ourselves a disservice, though, by thinking the housing market will solve for deeply affordable housing with a few regulatory tweaks. It all helps, but realistically we need to start making a much more significant direct capital investment in public housing or similar social housing that isn’t required to charge the highest allowable rent under various tax credit program. I have expressed an interest in that kind of investment to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), and I strongly support (and support funding) their pilot program of scattered-site triplex conversions to add public housing units across the city.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: Yes, we absolutely need to make space for more people. Housing scarcity will never benefit people seeking housing. We’re seeing prices drop in some segments of the rental market where developers have (temporarily) overbuilt what the market can absorb, and that drop in rent is proof of concept for the theory that abundance leads to price competition.

The best ways to protect against displacement are to stabilize tenant rights to prevent displacement by eviction, to lock in affordable rental housing to ensure that the economic diversity of a neighborhood is sustained, and to create home ownership opportunities for BIPOC residents to ensure that people from the neighborhood are sharing in whatever economic growth a neighborhood might experience.

Beyond home ownership, supporting opportunities for BIPOC residents to own and operate their own businesses in their own neighborhoods is a way to ensure that the local retail and commercial culture doesn’t immediately orient itself to new residents at the expense of existing residents. The Minneapolis 2040 plan makes some gestures toward land use policies that favor smaller retail spaces that are affordable for smaller local businesses, but we have work to do on implementation. Likewise, we’ve made progress and need to make more on our city’s capacity to support, advise, and subsidize small businesses and co-ops that add to the unique experience of walkable neighborhoods that can create a durable sense of place. As we rebuild post-COVID, we have an opportunity to make some economic development investments in predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods to support ownership and resiliency.

Q8: The city has the ability to pass a public housing levy. Would you vote to use that levy to the maximum extent?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: Yes, I support using our property tax levy authority to build and maintain additional public housing. Although it has not been a part of our budget in recent memory, this option has garnered increasing attention as MPHA has rebuilt their capacity to design and implement projects to renovate or build properties and maintain them long-term. I’m excited about the scattered-site triplexes they’re working on, but those are at a scale that we can fund through existing funding sources. I’m hopeful that we can get some bigger projects into the pipeline that will make good use of a significant public housing levy.

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?

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: Our history of institutionalized racism has earned the mistrust of many in predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods in the city, making the path forward difficult. The fear of displacement and suspicion about improvements has led many to resist proposed investments in neighborhoods, which might seem contradictory when people – sometimes the same people – complain about the inequitable investments in neighborhoods, and the thing is: both perspectives are correct. If we build new infrastructure that makes a neighborhood a nicer place to live without taking steps to prevent displacement, we probably are displacing people with our good intentions. If we improve people’s sense of housing security in their neighborhood, and we listen to what people in a neighborhood tell us they really want, we can make investments that undo historic underinvestment in a way that strengthens community, rather than pushing community out. The well-earned mistrust people presently feel – for the city, for developers, for elected officials – in these conversations poses a challenge, but I believe people genuinely want us to work through it, that people all over the city genuinely want our city to invest in new housing, new jobs, and new infrastructure in previously neglected neighborhoods, and that we can do it in a way that is restorative and authentically improves people’s lives.

Q10: If there are any other thoughts you’d like to add, please use this space to do so.

Steve Fletcher – incumbent: none