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8 takeaways from the housing task force report

August 23, 2018
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Mike Paradise

As a Rochester-based home builder, Mike Paradise knows developers can’t build their way out of the statewide housing shortage by themselves.

“It’s critical to get the whole community involved in this,” said the president of Bigelow Homes, who served on the Governor’s Task Force on Housing.

The task force released a 70-page report on Tuesday, calling for the creation of 300,000 new homes in Minnesota by 2030, as well as public and private investment in preserving existing homes and support for community programs that encourage home ownership.

Jeanne Crain, CEO of Bremer Financial Corp., who served as the task force’s co-chairwoman, said the effort is important to keep the state on the right path as many communities look to attract workers.

“In order for Minnesota to thrive, we need a strong foundation of homes that are attainable for all households,” she said. “That requires a commitment from the private sector, from people from every county around the state, from philanthropy and government on all levels to ensure Minnesota’s long-term competitiveness.”

Here are a few highlights and recommendations from the report that stemmed from nearly eight months of effort:

1 Homes can drive the economy.

Minnesota Housing Commissioner Mary Tingerthal pointed to the report’s finding that “we get $3.2 billion in new investments and 30,000 jobs for every 10,000 new homes we build” as a strong indicator of how the creation of homes can benefit the state economy.

“It can actually feed itself and generate its own economic activity,” she said.

The task force found the current pace of construction has nearly 20,000 being built each year throughout the state.

2 Recruiting skilled workers and innovation are priorities.

The task force report recommends business, labor, education and government partners join forces to create a Center for Residential Construction Innovation, with the goal of finding new ways to build homes and reduce costs while maintaining safety and quality standards.

Additionally, it suggests enhancing existing programs to grow the skilled construction workforce as a way to overcome existing barriers to the creation of new affordable homes.

3 Regulations are seen as a significant barrier.

“As a task force, we recommend the establishment of a nonpartisan panel to review and identify alternatives to regulations and policies that impact housing development costs — paying particular attention to how the state regulations and policies are administered at the local level,” the report states.

Several task force members repeated the need to take a look at how regulations drive up the cost of construction, which drives up home prices for new homes.

4 Affordable homes already exist.

The task force found that three-quarters of owner-occupied homes in the state are valued at less than $250,000, and 38 percent would cost $150,000 or less.

Providing programs to help homeowners maintain such homes can keep them from disappearing from the market, the housing advocates reported.

“Preserving the homes we have is really, really important,” said Olmsted County Board Chairwoman Sheila Kiscaden, who served on the state task force.

5 Homeownership is attainable, if there are homes.

“We need to clear some of the pathways to home ownership,” Kiscaden said.

In addition to providing more homes, the report cites the need for homeowner education programs and community involvement in efforts to support home ownership.

While Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest gaps related to home ownership by households of color, the task force report states more than 64,000 of those renter households in the state have the income needed to buy a house.

6 Local flexibility is needed.

“It’s time to invest in housing at all levels,” Kiscaden said, noting that means a need to build more types of homes.

Rochester’s recent comprehensive plan update notes as much, calling for the creation of more than traditional single-family homes and apartment complexes.

Paradise said that will require potential regulation changes, as well as acceptance from the community.

7 Services can help people stay in a home.

“We are looking at how we assist those who need some support to stay in their home,” Kiscaden said, noting the task force has suggested finding ways to link services to where people live.

Among the recommendations is providing funding for social services aimed at maintaining housing stability and creating partnerships between health-care providers and housing providers.

8 Task force efforts have already had a local impact.

Dave Dunn, Olmsted County housing director, said task force discussions have provided new insights for the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

While not an official task force member, Dunn worked closely with Kiscaden and the two brought some of what they’ve learned from throughout the state to enhance local efforts.

Among local efforts is the creation of a master lease for the county’s Bright Futures program, which allows the county to support housing for young mothers. Dunn said other efforts are in the works to enhance local options for affordable housing.

“A lot of what we’re doing aligns well with the report,” he said.

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