Group formed to save affordable housing before it is too late

I read Lelan Bosch’s opinion piece in Wednesday’s Daily and could only think of how news concerning affordable student housing is getting worse.

The inspections sweep being conducted by the city of Minneapolis will reduce the supply of affordable off-campus housing because of the enforcement of the current occupancy codes. The codes allow for no more than three unrelated individuals in most single-family houses in Southeast Como and other Minneapolis neighborhoods, but the city is only enforcing the occupancy codes in Southeast Como, right next to campus.

To students, this means houses in Southeast Como that have four or more bedrooms will be off limits, unless there are three people who have plenty of cash. Minneapolis City Council members Paul Zerby and Paul Ostrow, with the backing of certain neighborhood groups, are in favor of enforcing the codes as they exist, despite that four unrelated people residing in a four bedroom house is not unsafe and occurs all over the city.

Remember – this inspection sweep began under the pretext of safety, but, according to city housing inspections deputy director JoAnn Velde, most of the violations cited so far are for occupancy unrelated to safety. What started out as a well-intentioned safety sweep has quickly changed into a student sweep.

There also seem to be some unrealistic theories as to the fallout from this selective enforcement. Some Southeast Como Improvement Association and Minnesota Student Association members believe landlords should simply reduce their rents or sell their properties to families at a loss. Realistically, this won’t happen.

Investors are not going to just roll over and take a loss because the city has decided to enforce outdated zoning codes in one Minneapolis neighborhood. Attempting to manipulate this neighborhood’s free market will ultimately fail, with students caught in the crossfire.

Less supply and higher demand means higher prices. I own two duplexes and live in one of them. The occupancy codes are not an issue because the units have three or fewer bedrooms. I expect to see demand for my rental units skyrocket, but I am more concerned about the future of Southeast Como.

I care about the supply of affordable student housing and the neighborhood I call home. I live here because of the students, not in spite of them. Selective code enforcement will leave students displaced, especially when the rental market tightens. Anyone remember trying to find a place off-campus three years ago? I believe it will be as bad, if not worse, and more costly.

My suggestion to Ostrow that the current occupancy codes are outdated was met with stiff resistance; there simply isn’t enough support on the City Council for revision. Ostrow didn’t deny that the codes were perhaps outdated, but said enforcement of current codes will continue because that is what the neighborhood wants. I’ve lived in Southeast Como for 16 of the past 20 years, and that’s not what I want. However, it’s the most vocal people who get what they want.

If students want more affordable housing choices, they need to get vocal fast. Contact city hall, e-mail City Council, the mayor and your local neighborhood organization (for those in Southeast Como: Tell them your thoughts on the occupancy codes and how they will affect you. If you are currently being displaced due to occupancy code violations unrelated to safety: Go public! Call the local television stations and tell them you’ve got a story. Write a letter to the editor.

Any friend or family member I have discussed this occupancy issue with has laughed at how ridiculous these codes are, especially in a college neighborhood. If the general public sees what’s really going on in, it just might stir up support for code revision in the council. Tell the City Council: If they’re going to enforce occupancy codes in Southeast Como, then it must be done citywide or not at all.

Some concerned neighbors and I have already formed an organization called Save Affordable Student Housing (SASH). Our first meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Van Cleve Park. We welcome local homeowners, student and non-student renters, and business people who think too much is happening too fast with little regard for the future of students or the neighborhood. Get started today, before it’s too late.

Richard Estrem, a University alumnus, is a Southeast Como resident and landlord. Send comments to [email protected]