Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton has done what she originally came into office to do. During the past eight years, Minneapolis shed its dubious “Murderapolis” nickname and the crime rate sits at its lowest level in decades. Now, however, a new slate of problems – just as pressing as the crime rate – face the city. R.T. Rybak’s experience and understanding of community development issues make him the better candidate for mayor of a city in the midst of a housing crisis.
Though not the only problem facing Minneapolis, the city’s affordable housing shortage carries greater social and economic impact than any other current problem. Living-wage jobs, economic prosperity, crime and a myriad of other dilemmas are tied to something as simple as having a place to call home. Rybak’s approach to affordable housing is not only the most comprehensive, it also promises to attack the problem aggressively and quickly.
For instance, he committed to spend the $16 million Neighborhood Revitalization Program affordable housing fund during his first year in office. Though risky, his experience as former Downtown Council development director lends credibility to his ability to spend the money appropriately. Also, spending the $16 million next year – as opposed to the current plan of $4 million per year during the next four years – will have immediate effects on a problem that, for many, needed an immediate solution years ago.
To facilitate the reprioritization of affordable housing development, Rybak has voiced his intention to almost entirely reorganize the way city government approaches the issue. One person appointed by Rybak will coordinate housing funding and development through not only government involvement, but private sector initiatives as well. This community-based and partly privately-funded approach seems better suited to a truly comprehensive solution.
While involving the city more in providing a basic human need, Rybak intends to limit city government’s tinkering with downtown Minneapolis’ economic structure. The $62 million subsidy to Target for a new downtown store, as reported this summer in the Star Tribune, illustrates City Hall’s policy of sometimes trying to force an artificial economy into a natural one. At best, the benefits of such a policy are short-lived. At worst, the benefits are never realized at all. In Minneapolis’ case, it has led to the demise of many small businesses in favor of larger corporations. Rybak’s intention to let downtown’s economy normalize naturally, while enforcing past city planning initiatives, will foster the growth of more small shops in the area, giving Minneapolis a distinct downtown.
The city is different than it was eight years ago. R.T. Rybak is the most qualified candidate to lead today’s Minneapolis.