Rybak acknowledges shortage of affordable housing in inneapolis

Minneapolis voted to take $2 million from funding for home mortgage loans and dedicate it to housing instead.

RJoe Mahon Representatives from advocacy groups, along with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, spoke in front of Coffman Union on Thursday about the need for affordable housing.

Rybak said housing is the city’s number one priority, even with current financial problems and opposition.

“The city has decided to make affordable housing the key in its development initiatives,” Rybak said.

The University’s Habitat for Humanity chapter organized the event.

“We really feel that affordable housing is an important issue for students to know about,” said Brian Barlow, University chapter president.

Barlow said Habitat for Humanity’s goal is lowering housing costs for low-income families by volunteering in constructing the houses and raising donations. This year, the group plans to raise $40,000 and 2,000 to 3,000 volunteer hours.

“The University Habitat (for Humanity) is just a pioneer in housing for us,” Rybak said during his speech.

The mayor praised students’ work on a house on Portland Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood.

They also completed a house in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood this year, Barlow said.

Andrew Vanover, a Habitat for Humanity International representative in Americus, Ga., called the University chapter “one of the premier affiliates in the country.”

The University Habitat for Humanity chapter works with the larger Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity in its local development efforts.

Director Stephen Seidel said the organization built 70 houses in the metro area last year and plans to build 70 more this year.

“In the Twin Cites area, we’re going to continue to emphasize expansion and growth,” Seidel said.

Seidel cited new efforts to reach beyond St. Paul and Minneapolis to the suburbs, including eight homes in Woodbury and 11 in Burnsville.

Seidel and others at the event said the public needs to support more affordable housing.

“Habitat for Humanity alone is not enough to end the housing problems in the nation and in the world,” Vanover said.

The previous day, he said, the city voted to take $2 million from funding for home mortgage loans and dedicate it to housing.

“We decided that instead of doing home loans to middle-income families that could be taken care of by the private sector, we thought that money could be better spent invested in low-income housing where it is needed more,” Rybak said.

Donald McFarland of Housing Minnesota, the advocacy and lobbying arm of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, said state budget cuts hurt housing.

Seidel said one reason there is not more public support for housing funding is that low-income people tend to be marginalized. He said Habitat for Humanity’s goal is to “personalize” them.

“When we meet with legislators or go to hearings we want to talk more about the families we work with and not just the houses we build,” Seidel said.

Some people worry about low-income residents on their blocks.

“We’re getting resistance from some neighborhoods that don’t want more affordable housing in them,” Rybak said.

“I think getting a Habitat (for Humanity) house is a tremendous development for a neighborhood, because it’s home ownership, and often home ownership by people of color,” Rybak said. “And in a city with such low home ownership by people of color, that can be important.”

Joe Mahon covers campus neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]