2021 Minneapolis City Council Housing Questionnaire: Ward 4

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: 

  • Becka Thompson: responded
  • LaTrisha Vetaw: responded
  • Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: 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?

Becka Thompson: I would focus on first and foremost that those who want to own can get an opportunity to own a home. There are not many good programs right now and the greatest way to build wealth and stabilize a community is through home ownership. Owning is much cheaper than renting as well AND it builds community wealth rather than having the money go to a nameless corporation. In that I would look for ways to have downpayment assistance and also working through city lenders to have family credits and also ‘neighborhood credits’ to where homes- specifically already ‘rented’ now being sold – can first have an opportunity to be sold to the renters living there.

That is priority one. This is especially true for lower income families. For them to own rather than rent the monthly payment is traditionally half or ⅔ of the rental payment but they would be building equity.

I also would like to see new construction be in the hands of local residents rather than out of town developers, but more on that later. On a personal note. I was renting to the tune of $2400 a month before I bought my house. I was able to buy my house with some programs under the Obama administration with downpayment assistance. My mortgage payment was 1/3 of my prior rent- and now I was owning and had a yard. This is something I’m very passionate about, especially for families and marginalized communities. I have lived the differences.

LaTrisha Vetaw: I believe that each of us deserves to live in a home that is safe, secure, comfortable and affordable. As the 4th Ward City Council Member, I would pursue the following policy priorities:

  • Continue to prioritize the preservation of existing and creation of new affordable housing with a focus on those making 30-60% of AMI and with a special emphasis on units serving those at or below 30% of AMI (deep subsidy units).
  • Work to adopt a cooperative metro-wide approach to affordable housing and meeting the needs of those who are unsheltered. Otherwise, we force those who can least afford to do so to move from place to place searching for housing. This is disruptive to their lives, their children’s schooling, their neighborhood relationships and their ability to retain employment.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: Far too often we have seen property owners who are bad actors profiting off renters who are too vulnerable to find anywhere else to live by providing low-quality, even dangerous housing conditions. As a Councilmember, it is my intention to continue building stronger protections for vulnerable renters by holding these absentee and negligent property owners accountable through writing and passing policies that raise the standard of minimum upkeep of properties and accountability measures to ensure property owners are providing dignified, safe housing for Minneapolis residents.

Work I have led so far as a Councilmember includes the passage of the Tenant Relocation Fees ordinance and the Emergency Housing Repair ordinance. It is my intention to continue forward policy work that better regulates the sales of Tier 3 rental properties and disrupt the business practice of passing these properties among negligent landlords to sidestep responsibility for code violations. Additionally, I will be working closely with Regulatory Services Department staff to develop a new process of licensing property management companies to ensure greater accountability measures for those responsible for maintaining rental properties in the city.

It is also important, however, to ensure our legislation does not cause undue harm to property owners who want to do right by their tenants, but perhaps lack the resources, capacity, or experience to do so. This is why I strongly support the approach to housing inspections in which both landlords and their tenants can communicate and ask questions of each other and of the staff involved in the inspection process. I want to create that culture of support for housing safety. It is true that landlords should not be renting out unsafe properties, but the process of ensuring housing safety shouldn’t be a purely punitive one. I want the inspection process to work with property owners and renters in good faith to make sure everyone can live in a safe home.

Lastly, it is important to not forget where our pets fit into housing instability. It is possible for property owners to discriminate against certain kinds of dog breeds, particularly pitbulls. Everyone deserves a place to call home, even our four-legged family members.

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?

Becka Thompson: These are complicated issues. I know that Hennepin County already provides free legal services for those facing eviction and I don’t think that the city needs to double dip. Part of governance is working with other cross-over jurisdictions that can help and, frankly, the county has way more money than the city at this point. I do think that we need to stop the reckless building of more apartment towers. Most all of these are luxury rentals and they are making the market unstable for lower income families and individuals. When the luxury high rises go up downtown or uptown or by lake nokomis then the more modest home rentals or duplexes do also, when that happens most get priced out. This needs to be figured out at a roots level and not at a pruning level. Most of the programs in this question are salvation last efforts after the ‘damage’ has already been done. I support creating a housing environment where we are not driving up the cost of living unnecessarily.

That said, there should be caps on rental income when necessary. We also need to deal with problem tenants. These two things go hand in hand. Everyone wants a safe affordable place to call home, when someone in the building creates an environment where it is unsafe, landlords and the city need the option to evict. I would support deep dives into what qualifies for that to make sure that no one ends up without a home in due diligence. I support rental protections.

LaTrisha Vetaw: I do support rent stabilization but am also concerned about its potential to create dwelling units that become substandard due to a lack of investment by landlords. We will need to guard against this and will need to find that spot where we can incentivize the creation of more affordable units while maintaining rent stabilized units. Strong, consistent code enforcement will be necessary. It may be that with rent stabilization, the city will need to step in (or financially support nonprofits) to assume ownership of more units should we witness disinvestment. A carefully thought-out communications strategy directed to the public will be extremely important so that the community is in lock step with policymaker goals.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: Bottom line, I support keeping our neighbors in their homes. I want to continue promoting and expanding policies like the Stable Homes Stable Schools initiative and the 4D program, which, respectively, have kept dozens of Ward 4 families in their homes and created incentives for property owners to self-stabilize their rents to keep renters in their homes.

With regards to rent stabilization, I am encouraged by the introduction of the rent stabilization charter amendment from my Council colleagues for the voters to provide policymakers guidance and permission whether or not to move forward with such an ordinance. In the face of rising rent and property prices, we should be open to using every tool in our toolbox to make Minneapolis an affordable city in which to live, rent, and buy property. The Charter amendment gives us that option.

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?

Becka Thompson: “Public land” in a city is always parks. There is no open pubic land like federal land or state forests. That said, I do not support this, because parks are where our children need to go to play. These forces are at odds. We are all faced with particular things we must choose in a duality and I will always choose children first. Unhoused people camping in parks is a safety hazard for children, so I must say ‘no’ to that idea. That said I do believe and would work to make sure everyone has a safe home. This is part of what I was speaking toward in the beginning. We need to work with the county as they are the ones with many more resources than the city. When we work across and through jurisdictions by building relationships, we can make this happen.

I would like to see a dedicated ‘camp park’ – if that is what we would need to do within the city limits, but this is not a long term solution. Along with services and a ‘camp director’ on site to be able to provide options for those who see no other way. The issue at hand is organization. Right now, and in 2020, there was no organization and we further marginalized our children who had no where else to go. We saw our crime peak due to many of these intersecting issues.

Ultimately, unhoused people need to get into stable housing for the betterment of our community. We all do better when we all do better. I would like to see rooming houses come back into the fold. That is a great way for community to be built while also establishing accountability and home equity when possible.

LaTrisha Vetaw: As a Park Commissioner, I have become well acquainted with the encampments that developed on Park Board land. The Park Board is not equipped to properly meet the needs of this population. Camping out is not permanent shelter. We need more affordable housing that meets the specific needs of the individuals in this population. We must create the housing and then have the skilled personnel who can meet with and best assess the needs of those in the encampments. Often, the only thing that our unsheltered community members have in common is that they are unsheltered; we need to assess the obstacles in their individual paths and determine how best to assist them in overcoming them.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: Just like with public safety, we need to look at housing through a lens of public health. Especially in a pandemic, living in tent encampments without enough access to sanitary and hygienic supplies or medical professionals is simply dangerous for people’s health. To disrupt the cycle of homelessness, we have to transform our housing continuum, including our public housing system.

That transformation can mean a dramatic expansion of traditional and scatter site forms of public housing and it can also mean new and potentially revolutionary ideas like the Indoor Villages model that is being done through Avivo in the North Loop or by using abandoned and unoccupied hotel spaces to provide easy and safe housing for our unhoused neighbors. I am excited for the Envision Community model to come to life in our city, as well.

Throughout Minneapolis our homeless shelters are full and often turning people in need away, the coordinated entry list is long. Folks await access to housing programs and options that fit their needs while housing advocates and case managers have large caseloads of adults and families that are facing housing insecurities throughout Minneapolis. While the emergency shelter system falls under the jurisdiction of Hennepin County and is a temporary fix, it is important for us at the City to advocate for the creation of more safe shelter environments that will allow for more folks to entire shelters and get assessed for coordinated entry to start the path to entering housing programs. Further, there needs to be increased investment throughout the entire process of moving someone from homelessness to stably housed.

Overall, it is going to take really innovative policies around affordable housing to make a difference and to provide options to those who struggle to find a stable, safe, affordable and supportive place to call home.

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?

Becka Thompson: I would vote to relegalize these for sure, but I do believe that parts of Minneapolis need to not have this. We are a system of neighborhoods each with their purpose. We have business centers- like downtown- with massive infrastructure, business and towers, we have business corridors- like Hiawatha and West Broadway- with moderate business infrastructure and more mid sized apartment buildings and small ‘mom and pop’ stores, and then we have neighborhoods- mostly with houses, a few corner markets and parks. I do believe that we need to keep our community this way. I would absolutely support rooming houses in the first two areas that I have described and would consider the third but I do not promise that at this point. We need to be nuanced in our approaches to governance as there are a lot of stakeholders each with their needs and their gifts.

LaTrisha Vetaw: We must preserve naturally occurring affordable housing through investment and partnerships with the many successful nonprofits operating in this area and be prepared to assist these nonprofits in purchasing structures with a future that is otherwise jeopardized. I believe that there is room for additional SRO housing throughout the city- but it must be well-managed and a physical asset to the neighborhood. We can and should work with organizations and neighborhoods to make more affordable housing opportunities a reality.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: Yes, and as with any policy, this would need to be done thoughtfully and based on evidence and data to make this housing option safe for all. Everyone should have a home; we must use all available policy and financial tools to make that happen.

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?

Becka Thompson: This is an ideological issue that I have with some of this and so my answer is not quick. The question comes down to WHO will own and gain the resources from triplexes and apartments in neighborhoods traditionally single family. Many low income families who find a way to own their home can use and ADU for additional income- perhaps as long term rental or as an airbnb short term. I support that. I also support locally owned, designed and managed duplexes and even triplexes within other neighborhoods- I live next door to a triplex and across the street from a duplex with wonderful neighbors- but the OWNERS of these are also local. I know the owners only live a few miles away and check up on their properties frequently. I cannot unilaterally say I support this work however, as written. The 2040 plan was not well considered, again, with all stake holders in mind and with the protections necessary to keep our city our city, with appropriate growth and gains.

LaTrisha Vetaw: To build on the reforms we have seen in Minneapolis, I would like the City to develop a fund that incentivizes neighborhood organizations to work WITH the city and nonprofits to create more affordable housing opportunities. We should be setting goals with neighborhoods for affordable housing and then rewarding them for achieving those goals.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: I absolutely support this work. City policy must be as diverse and flexible as our city’s housing needs. I have done a lot of work during my City Council tenure to ensure these policy changes are not simply in name only. I cannot stand for making change on the surface level only so people can pat themselves on the back for “doing something about racial equity.” I rezoned the transit corridors in Ward 4 through the Minneapolis 2040 Plan to prompt transit oriented development with mixed-use buildings and increased density to create a more walkable community. This has never been done before in Ward 4. I have also worked tirelessly to ensure programs like Minneapolis Homes create more pathways for small, local developers to build more multifamily housing units in North Minneapolis. Prior to these policy changes, the program only funded the development of single-family homes on vacant lots. Moving forward, I intend to continue working with City staff and small, Northside-based developers to incentivize meaningful, much needed development in Ward 4.

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?

Becka Thompson: So this is a complicated question and problem so it will require a nuanced answer to the best clarity I am able. This city used to be the most affordable in the nation, not more than 10 years ago, not more than 5. We got away from a lot of that vision in using tools that became more harmful than good. I would seek to return, as best as we can, to some former policies with a nod toward nuance of new realities.

Housing built by developers- whether public or private – is always going to be more costly and more apt to see spikes in rent than things that are smaller and owned locally. I would push toward finding localized corridors for rentals where amenities are close by and ownership remains, as much as possible, local. Home ownership would be pushed and property values considered in real economic terms and not in terms of what the city would like to see. When we have more people owning a slice of the pie then it becomes a better city for all.

Affordable housing is a very passionate subject for me as I was priced out of living in Los Angeles when my son was born. Finding the downpayment of a home or even a condo in that part of the country is very difficult for even a two income family, let alone a one. I understand the frustrations and I know that the greatest way to find financial stability and even growth is through ownership of land. This is as old as civilization.

In terms of the lowest incomes, typically people coming out of or in trauma (again, something I have personally experienced), I would advocate for rooming houses to be allowed in the city again. The greatest struggles by demographic, BY FAR, are single moms: Mothers and their small children. Again, I have lived this. It is incredibly difficult. I was taken in by friends and family but did spend a few nights in my car. I know what plagues mothers when they cannot give a safe space for their children. I would maximize these possibilities for women and children as I would be able. For me, THIS is where the ‘precious’ public housing money should go. We have to look at the entire economic impact of what we are doing to create a space that is affordable.

LaTrisha Vetaw: I believe we can do more with tax abatement to make units affordable throughout the city. The amount of tax abatement is dependent on the amount of ‘write down’ by the landlord. One of the costs of operating a unit is taxes. So, let’s reduce them with a long-term assessment agreement with the landlord. They pay less in taxes on the unit in exchange for agreeing to take less rent over a long period of time.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: I want to expand the 4D program to make it advantageous for landlords to keep rents low. I also support the passage of the Rent Stabilization charter amendment to give us more tools in the toolbox.

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?

Becka Thompson: This is also a space that I am incredibly passionate about. The word ‘gentrification’ is bandied about with some sort of bludgeoning impunity but the reality is that current policies are absolutely kicking people out of their homes, especially on the northside. This is where home ownership again is so important. Many who are here as renters in families WANT the stability home ownership affords them but they don’t know how to get there. I would press that more of our single family homes need to be ‘homestead’ and not be allowed to be ‘non-homestead’ in their classifications on who owns them. For our duplexes and triplexes I would also put into place certain residential restrictions of who can own them- or at least have first right of refusal when purchases happen- and that would be people who live in their homestead within the zip codes of the city limits. This helps insure neighborhood community and takes away opportunities for those outside of our city to come in and poach the land value.

I do not think we need to build more at present excepting a few locally owned, designed and built duplexes or four- plexes here and there. The larger the building built, the greater the cost, the more likelihood a huge firm will be needed to orchestrate the process- thus taking away community control. These huge high rises built all over the city are a huge reason we are in the housing crisis we are in. It is an equation that was solved incorrectly by former politicians and we are all dealing with the effects of that.

LaTrisha Vetaw: Yes, I believe that we can accommodate more people in Minneapolis. However, I strongly believe that we need to ensure that this increased population does not come at the expense of open green space and park land, which is so important to the health and vitality of our residents.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: For other cities like Seattle, Austin, Nashville, and Portland, we have seen “growth” predominantly only benefit higher income, often whiter communities. This imbalance has resulted in the mass displacement of those communities (of whom a disproportionate number are BIPOC) who can’t afford to keep up. The best way to ensure all people of Minneapolis benefit from our city’s growth is to make it easier for first-time and first-generation homebuyers and legacy residents in low-income zip codes to buy homes in their neighborhoods. It is also critical for the City to continue removing as many barriers as feasible to promote meaningful development of diverse housing types and with mixed income levels. Right now, policies like inclusionary zoning and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund do not have impacts in Ward 4 due to our lower density.

Further, the City must think creatively about these issues. For example, with the Upper Harbor Terminal redevelopment project in Ward 4, it is currently being proposed in the (yet-to-be-approved) development plan collaboratively produced between the City, community members, and the private development team that the land remain in public ownership and money generated from ground leases be invested into anti-displacement strategies for the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the project.

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

Becka Thompson: Shortly? No. Again, I have lived this walk. It is not one anyone wants. We want, as people, to be able to stand with pride of what we have accomplished. When I ask my students what they want when they graduate almost all of them tell me ‘a house of my own’. These are young people who have spent their lives transient, in public housing or on some sort of fringe financial level in our society. They have lived lives out of plastic bags and trunks of cars. I want to help them. I know that helping means small businesses and small affordable homes and condos like this city was originally built with- giving each person the dignity that comes with home ownership. To quote George Bailey to Mr. Potter:

“You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that…. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Does it make them better citizens? Does it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? ‘They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home.’ Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him.”

I can’t say it better than that. 🙂

A housing levy implies that we are a city under siege. I would like to see our resources and shifts into different metrics rather than the city becoming their own version of slum lords. I would love to see this wealthy pass through the city to marginalized communities to do with it what they see fit within the confines of policy enacted. Public housing only creates slums, sorry to be so blunt. It is meant to be a temporary solution. I would like to see us take in funds as a city so that we can allocate onto different rent assistance programs or home ownership incentives.

LaTrisha Vetaw: The City does have a levy for public housing- but it has not been used for years. I would support reactivating this levy to address items such as the capital backlog at MPHA. Of course, the amount of the levy will be dependent on the overall tax levy and resulting property taxes paid by properties across the city; property taxes are regressive and we need to ensure that we do not inadvertently price people out of their homes.

We have a new administration in D.C. which will be much more favorable to public housing. So, increased funding for public housing should be on the City’s federal legislative agenda.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: A public housing levy would certainly help to cover some of the gaps we have faced to lower wait times on the public housing list and expand public housing opportunities. Without adequate funding, we’re wasting time on policy without real action behind it. We need more housing, as well as fix the public housing stock that currently exists, and a housing levy can help us make that happen. I would vote for it, however, I also do have concerns about increasing property tax burdens on my constituents. I have many cash poor, low-income homeowners who are hurt by increases to property taxes no matter how incremental. So it will be necessary to be intentional about implementing a levy. It is counterproductive to address affordable housing by making housing unaffordable through property taxes. Further, we cannot continue to place a larger and larger tax burden on residents’s property taxes to make up for the failures of county, state, and federal governments. As such, it is important for our City to include restoring funding to public housing as a top federal legislative priority.

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?

Becka Thompson: My vision is treating everyone how you would want to be treated, so I’ll say what I would like:

I would like to be able to have a home, with a yard and a small garden that is in a safe neighborhood to raise my son. I would like a place in community that doesn’t cast judgement for my divorce and sexuality but instead helps me out with yard work and a beer on a hot summer day. I would like a job that is close to where I live and filled with people who honor and support one another. I would like to be able to walk to a coffee shop from my front steps and a park for my child to play…

All this is to say I think we all want that. When I was younger I wanted movie theaters and concert halls and I still want all of that too.

Our nation has a difficult history, I won’t deny that. Our zoning has done hard things and our freeways are disastrous. I live on the northside. Anyone on the northside sees how we are pushed aside and forgotten with regularity. We don’t even have access to the river or any lakes. When I lived in other neighborhoods, like uptown or south east, you can definitely feel that city politics will bend to what you want. I would like to see the northside look like the lakes area- cute houses with coffee shops and small businesses. I would like the whole city to be in balance where we don’t doubt the intents of our neighbors and we all have a little extra to spend.

I can’t specifically address the policies you might like to hear from me, because to be able to do so would require me to see our current zones and analyse them against the issues. I have been educated on housing policies and red lining and how that has had repercussions in our city over the decades in terms of poverty, rentals, small business success, pollution and other issues. I do believe that we need very specific kinds of policy to keep away gentrification and spikes of cost as I tried to address in previous questions. This will not be solved in a day, but we can at least be on a path we find helpful.

LaTrisha Vetaw: My vision for Minneapolis includes the creation of good paying jobs and ensuring that these jobs are accessible to all our community members—especially our BIPOC communities and others traditionally excluded from the job market, including young people. We need to fully utilize programs like the METP Dislocated Work Program to pinpoint those on whom we most need to focus. Our strategies around job fulfillment must be developed in collaboration with those we seek to serve. By getting more money in the pockets of those able to work, we can lift more boats and enable more people to gain access to a broader array of housing options, including homeownership.

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: North Minneapolis, particularly the 4th Ward, has been left behind as the rest of the city has seen its share of housing development opportunities. It is time for us to leave the Robert Moses style planning in the past and look at leveraging development as a way to build an equitable, thriving future. My vision is for Ward 4 to be prosperous on our own terms. To have walkable, transit-oriented corridors with mixed-use buildings so Northsiders are able to access goods and services without having to leave the neighborhood. For the residential areas to have a high-quality housing stock that provides affordable rental and homeownership opportunities, particularly to legacy Northsiders who are most at risk of being displaced. For there to be a diverse mix of housing types and options across the housing continuum. For unsheltered Northsiders to be able to come back home and be stably housed. This vision is what drives me to do the work I do everyday.

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

Becka Thompson: I appreciate you taking the time to read all of this and for reaching out to me for me to be considered in your process.

LaTrisha Vetaw: none

Phillipe Cunningham – incumbent: none