Affordable housing is a priority for Gov. Pawlenty

Andrew Pritchard

Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty pledged Friday to support affordable housing development in Minnesota, despite the state’s ongoing budget shortfall.

“We will continue to elevate affordable housing as an important challenge and important issue facing the state of Minnesota,” the Republican from Eagan said at the Housing Minnesota convention in Minneapolis.

Housing issues are so important, Pawlenty told delegates from state agencies, businesses and community groups, that each major-party gubernatorial candidate had committed to speaking at the convention if he won.

Pawlenty said the state’s expenditures are already slated to rise 11 percent in the next biennium to cover existing commitments.

“It’s a time for partnerships; it’s a time for creativity,” he said.

Pawlenty also said the state’s economy and budget would eventually rebound from the current downturn.

“These are near-term issues,” he said. “At some point the economy will recover. At some point the budget will be under control, and I will get it under control.”

As state House majority leader, Pawlenty co-authored legislation to fund additional transitional housing for homeless veterans at facilities near the Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis and St. Cloud.

“That’s a partnership between government – the federal government, the state government – and local nonprofits,” he said. “It’s a model, and I’m proud to have had a hand in it.”

The cost of renting an apartment in the Twin Cities rose 34 percent over the last 10 years, while the median renter’s income increased 9 percent, according to the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

“The issues of housing and affordable housing are very much on the front burner in this state,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said at the convention.

Pawlenty said Minnesota has one of the highest home-ownership rates in the country, but the state’s remaining housing problems require complex solutions.

“We’ve got to take a holistic approach to this,” he said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 76.1 percent of Minnesotans owned homes in 2001, while the national average was 67.8 percent, making Minnesota fifth in the nation for homeownership.

Pawlenty said all sectors of government, private business and

nonprofits should work together to address a “continuum of need” in the state, and he pledged to use the governor’s “bully pulpit” to keep attention on the issue.

“I intend the tone for the debate, in housing and other issues, to be constructive, to be respectful,” he said.

Pawlenty expressed limited support for densification – providing more housing units by decreasing the minimum amount of land required by law for construction.

Pawlenty said densification would “help at the margins” as part of a larger plan to provide different types of housing – including a “reasonable amount of affordable housing opportunities” – in each community.

“It shouldn’t be that the first people into a new development get to pull up the ladder,” he said.

Pawlenty said the state should also consider renovating and redeveloping existing housing before building new units, and he criticized the 1986 federal tax cut for eliminating affordable-housing incentives.

“You can trace the elimination of those incentives to the decline of affordable-housing and multi-family housing across the country,” he said.

Pawlenty also said he would push for cooperation between state agencies so all departments involved with affordable housing policy would be part of the process.

“I am confident, I am optimistic, that housing will continue to rise as an issue facing Minnesota,” Pawlenty said.

Andrew Pritchard covers state politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]