Affordable housing focus of mayor Kelly’s city address

by Tom Ford

Stressing the need for affordable housing and the importance of diversity, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly delivered the first State of the City Address of his term Tuesday night.

“It is clear that an urban environment cannot thrive without quality housing,” he said.

Home ownership might not be an inherent right, he said, but making it possible must be a priority of government.

As part of a plan announced two weeks ago, Kelly said he wants to build 5,000 additional housing units in the city. Kelly said the city needs to provide housing for both lower- and middle-income families.

Kelly also discussed improving minority access to health care and increasing diversity in the city’s workforce – issues addressed last month during a daylong race summit he organized.

He also announced the members of a cultural advisory board he said will tackle these matters.

“This city is big enough to embrace all of us,” he said.

Kelly said the city, for the 10th consecutive year, would not increase property taxes.

“That truly is unheard of in Minnesota,” Kelly said.

But, he said, in light of a $6 million city budget gap, keeping taxes down would not be easy.

Solutions such as reworking city recreational departments and libraries need to be considered, he said.

Several St. Paul City Council members praised the harmony Kelly has fostered among city officials and offered both support and criticism of issues on which the mayor has focused.

St. Paul City Council member Jim Reiter gave Kelly a high performance rating. Reiter said Kelly has eliminated the dissension that characterized relations between the City Council and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

City Council member Kathy Lantry said she appreciates Kelly’s approachability but has qualms about the mayor’s focus on a Twins stadium.

“We have some really important budget issues within the city of St. Paul that I would like to see us focus on a little bit more,” she said.

While Kelly appears to be against raising taxes to fund city services, she said, his stadium proposal features a 3 percent surcharge on local bar and restaurant sales.

“To utilize a 3 percent tax so some folks can play baseball seems like a wacky priority to me,” Lantry said.

City Council member Jerry Blakey said Kelly’s ambitious housing plan is a good goal and has helped focus attention on the issue.

But Blakey said he is keeping an “eagle eye” on what transpires in light of Kelly’s race summit.

He said such events often become one-time occurrences and subsequent action does not materialize.