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A CPED for the people: Why a critical Minneapolis department needs to change 

A city’s greatest asset isn’t its property tax base or the profile of its biggest employers. It isn’t measured by its ranking in national surveys or livability indexes. Cities are defined by their people: the families and workers who pour their skills, creativity and love into the fabric of our community.

Arianna Feldman
Arianna Feldman
With a nearly $2 billion budget and 4,000 employees, the City of Minneapolis wields immense power in shaping the lives and opportunities of its residents. But when it comes to housing, those resources — the people’s tax dollars — aren’t being deployed to build up our greatest asset. Instead, the city department charged with Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) has wielded that power to benefit large developers and wealthy landowners.

This week, the City Council voted to reappoint David Frank as director of CPED. David Frank is a name unknown to the vast majority of Minneapolis residents, but as director of CPED Frank is at the helm of a city department with a $131 million budget and more than 250 staff. Those employees make daily decisions about what gets built and for whom in our neighborhoods. CPED dictates the long-term growth of the city through land use planning, housing policy and approving more than $1 billion in construction permits annually. 

For too long, we have taken a market-based, neoliberal approach as just the way things work. In Minneapolis, and cities around the country, planning departments have assumed their job is to court big-money investors and lure corporate headquarters. The “highest and best use” of the land is seen as that which will boost the property values and the tax base, while the needs of exploited communities are put on the back burner. 

A growing coalition of affordable housing, renters rights and small business advocates attended Frank’s re-appointment to tell city leaders that business as usual at CPED is leading to housing insecurity, displacement and gentrification. The results of the current system are clearly visible. With thousands of families struggling to pay rent and the widest inequities in home ownership between white households and households of color in the nation, we are long past the point of pretending these outcomes are unintended consequences of an immutable system or mysterious forces outside of our control. Our city government has the power to make different choices about resources and priorities. 

Tram Hoang
Tram Hoang
The private housing market has never served low-wealth communities and is incapable of addressing the racial wealth gap or housing insecurity in Minneapolis, yet CPED’s consistent practice is to turn public land over to private profiteers. For example, CPED granted exclusive development rights over 48 acres of public land in north Minneapolis at the Upper Harbor Terminal to one of the wealthiest, white developers in the state, United Properties, the same developer who turned a formerly public parcel on Hennepin Avenue into a 48-story corporate headquarters for RBC Wealth Management, a five-star hotel and high-end luxury condos; not one unit of housing was for the people of Minneapolis. We are calling on CPED to stop the practice of incentivizing and catering to private developers. We are calling on CPED to retain public ownership of city land and to use those parcels to deliver for the communities excluded by the private market. 

CPED must also immediately adopt a new standard for what is considered “affordable” housing. The Area Median Income (AMI) currently in use is based on regional data and is 167% higher than the true Minneapolis AMI. Projects currently deemed affordable and receiving public subsidy at 60% AMI are too expensive for the majority of renters of color. We are calling on CPED to use the true Minneapolis AMI and prioritize projects with rents set at 30% of the Minneapolis Median Income.

Jake Virden
Jake Virden
Upon reappointment we are asking director David Frank to take on a leadership role in policy changes that will remove land from the speculative real estate market and provide additional rights and protections to tenants. We need CPED to fully utilize its power to institute community developed solutions like Tenant Opportunity to Purchase. CPED can institute more aggressive fees on big-money development to generate funds for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and can use its influence to argue for dedicated housing funds and a repeal of the Rent Control Preemption Law at the state Capitol. 

A CPED that works for renters, low-income residents and communities of color means not just passively acknowledging but taking real responsibility for the urgency of the housing crisis and daily emergency that faces thousands of hardworking families in our city. It means committing to an approach that is intentionally community-oriented, not market-oriented and exists primarily to serve the people of Minneapolis, not large developers and corporations. It reframes the goals of the department to improve the lives of residents, not encourage unfettered growth without consideration of who benefits and who is negatively impacted.

To be a true leader, Minneapolis must move beyond the hollow headlines and do the harder work of demanding a new playbook for CPED that sidelines the market as the primary character and animates the families and workers who are the true authors of our collective story. 

Arianna Feldman is the communications organizer at Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (Renters United for Justice), Tram Hoang is the policy advocate at The Alliance, and Jake Virden is the Parks & Power lead organizer at Hope Community.

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 01/30/2020 - 11:03 am.

    I’ve made several attempts at saying this on this comment thread, with little success. Bravo to these fine young people for taking this position and calling for meaningful steps toward affordable housing.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/30/2020 - 04:06 pm.

      Shame on these people for getting the facts completely wrong and being part of the problem instead of the solution.

  2. Submitted by David Markle on 01/30/2020 - 11:17 am.

    As with the government in many cities, the mantra of Minneapolis is “develop, develop, develop” in order to generate more property tax revenue. No surprise that big developers have the upper hand.

    The authors of this article make a very good point about housing, but that’s not the only issue that deserves consideration. Look at the current example in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood: the proposed redevelopment of city-owned Parking Lot ‘A,’ behind the Red Sea bar and across the street from Mixed Blood theater.

    The existing parking is vital for those businesses and others nearby, such as Cedar Cultural Center and Midwest Mountaineering, and it’s often full of cars during daytime business hours, let alone during evening events. CPED’s Request for Proposals (RFP) requires a new building of at least 10 stories, mostly housing, and an “African mall” on the ground floor; in effect mandating an apparent loss of existing parking with no requirement for additional parking needed by the added businesses and residents!

    Meanwhile, many current residents of nearby Riverside Plaza and MPHA’s public housing towers want expanded recreational facilities and more green space. In their small area they already have the highest density of housing in the state. They don’t want even more compression. Further, many of the existing immigrant business owners do not want more specialized competition imported into their vicinity.

    And it appears that the city has designed the RFP to effectively exclude all potential developers except one of its long-time favorites, Sherman Associates, the owner of Riverside Plaza. Sherman acquired ownership of Riverside Plaza in a peculiar deal that bypassed federal regulations, and then Sherman began using the property as a cash cow to help finance Sherman’s substantial real estate empire. In fact, Sherman has indeed submitted the only proposal, in a process that’s questionable from a legal standpoint.

    This insensitively proposed redevelopment of city-owned property has united the neighborhood in opposition, to a greater degree than anything since the USPS took away our post office..

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/30/2020 - 03:49 pm.

      No, the neighborhood is not united against that project. Its supported by the counsel rep who the neighborhood elected.

      What happened is that a small, vocal group of opponents shouted down any discussion of the projects. Its should proceed as a project if only to deter such terrible, undemocratic behavior.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/31/2020 - 10:19 am.

        Yeah, it sucks when the people who actually somewhere raise their voices rather than concede power to elected officials who’ve chosen to represent a different set of constituents. When will the madness stop!

  3. Submitted by tom abeles on 01/30/2020 - 11:19 am.

    This is a well crafted article which basically calls the City’s path to economic development in question, particularly CPED

    There are a number of separate and interconnected paths that could be taken.

    Affordable housing is usually the immediate “go to” solution. This could include such options as municipal or community land trusts and development of the properties held by the City and County in the land bank (the LT’s are important for both housing and supporting economic development). Much of this can move forward as we see the example of the triplex at 1600 Penn. Others can be helped via the tortuous paths to modify laws and regulations that favor market rate properties.

    On the other hand, the “affordability” is defined by the AMI. There are ways to implement programs for affordable and green housing that also work towards jobs that increase the income of those at or below the defined AMI. 

    At the federal level, funding of the “Green New Deal” via the use of Quantitative Easing is still a nascent and unformed idea. But there are numerous examples of local governments using their fiscal resources under existing laws and regulations that can and do meet both the current housing needs while raising incomes to and above the AMI. Both are critical.

  4. Submitted by walter pitt on 01/30/2020 - 01:43 pm.

    Housing Policy in Minneapolis is controlled by three offices. The Mayor (Jacob Frey) the President of the City Council President (Lisa Bender) and the Chair of the Planning Commision (Sam Rockwell) all three were put in place by money from a law firm called Fargre which benefits financially from development in Minneapolis. Follow the source of that money and you will find out who controls Minneapolis. Or live in the dark and tilt at windmills. (HINT: It is not the head of CPED. He is appointed).

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/30/2020 - 04:41 pm.

      The law firm to which you are probably referring is Faegre (not Fargre) Baker Daniels, and no, they did not “place” the mayor and council president. What nonsense.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 01/31/2020 - 10:30 am.

      It was us voters demanding an end to housing suppression that, through the electoral process, placed a pro-housing Council majority in City Hall who then elected Lisa Bender as their president and who then passed Minneapolis 2040.

  5. Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/30/2020 - 03:43 pm.

    You know you are in for a bad piece when someone drops the word “neoliberal” but this one was especially devoid of facts. What Minneapolis has been doing in recent years is very different from the policies that artificially constrained the addition of housing in the city. Its almost as if the authors don’t have any understanding of city policy at all other then generic (and incorrect) stereotypes.

    The economic illiteracy is on full display with the call for rent control, which actually will (and has in places like San Francisco) reduce the availability of affordable housing. Housing supply has not matched population demand, so costs have gone up. The way to fix that is to add more housing. Unfortunately, people like this will object to that housing as part of “gentrification” (all the buzzwords are in this piece) by developers (I’m not exactly sure who else is supposed to build it)

    Its not just the NIMBYs who are the problem. Its well-meaning but misguided people like this. If this is the opposition to David Frank, he must be a great choice.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 01/30/2020 - 11:25 pm.

      I would encourage you to read more of Richard Florida’s study on this issue:
      ‘The notion that increasing housing supply will magically fix our problems is one of those things that is simply too good to be true. Zoning liberalization is at best one part of the answer. America’s housing and urban crises are thorny problems that we can only come to grips with using a broad mix of strategies and solutions.’

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/31/2020 - 02:44 pm.

        I have read Richard Florida and he has been largely discredited on this issue (but good on other things). No one is claiming that there is anything magic about it or that its the only piece of the puzzle, which is where Florida is being disingenuous. Its just basic economics – supply and demand at work. When housing supply is artificially constrained but demand for housing (population growth) prices will rise. The solution is to add more housing. It won’t fix everything, but it will address the fundamental problem.

    • Submitted by David Markle on 01/31/2020 - 11:02 am.

      In this comment, you oppose governmental intervention in the economic process, and yet in responding to my post above (and apparently without personal experience and insight into the affected neighborhood) you support a project that will require quite massive subsidies for its development and ongoing operation.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/31/2020 - 02:49 pm.

        The point I was making wasn’t about the pros and cons of governmental intervention generally. It was about the need for more housing. The government should both refrain from artificially limiting housing through zoning and other policy, while actually encouraging and subsidizing new housing.

        I don’t live in the neighborhood but am familiar with it. But I do know from reading the news that a small group of people claiming to speak for the neighborhood as a whole shouted down any meaningful discussion.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/01/2020 - 09:42 am.

          The neoliberal preference for doing as little as possible for as few as possible has already been recognized. The ideology behind these “small guvmint” mentalities needs no further explanation.

          What’s interesting to note is the similarities between neoliberal (i.e. “moderate Demorat) mentalities and neo-conservative mentalities when it comes to economic policies. This magical thinking regarding the primacy of market competition and private sector efficiency is where conservative mentalities intersect with Ayn Randian neoliberal fantasies. Alan Greenspan is where Howard Roark meets Milton Friedman.

          The bizarre thing about this mentality is the ongoing delusion that doing as little as possible for the smallest number of people is actually an effective approach to crises management. Not only is this preference for paralysis historically discredited, but the assumption that crises resolve themselves is intellectually facile. Its absolutely no surprise that the policies flowing from this mentality have not only failed to provide affordable housing, they’ve actually promoted the crises.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/02/2020 - 10:53 pm.

            Paul, I know you think everything fits into a progressive/neoliberal dichotomy, but that often isn’t the case and isn’t here.

            The main problem with this piece is that it gets the facts completely wrong. The authors have zero understanding of housing policy in Minneapolis. It is only very recently that zoning laws have changed and the City has aggressive sought to have more housing built. There was nothing progressive about the prior limitations. There is no progressive/neoliberal either/or here.

            And again, the idea that supply and demand is something magic and/or disproved is nonsense. Its a fundamental tenet of economics regardless of ideology. If you have more demand that supply of a product, be it apartments or avocados, the price is going to go up. If you increase the supply, prices will go down.

            The free market addresses the fundamental problem of the shortage of housing, but it won’t fix everything. Minneapolis has also adopted inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to set aside a certain number of units as affordable rates. The trick with IZ is to add as much affordable housing as possible without discouraging the developer from building. This is the problem with rent control. In San Francisco, where housing coats are exorbitant, instead of accepting below market rents, landlords just stopped renting and sold the units as condos. Rent control actually reduced the amount of affordable housing available.

            Finally, have you looked at the City Council? Are the Green party guy and Keith Ellison’s kid neoliberals? This is the most progressive council the City has ever seen. But they are people who need to find real solutions.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/06/2020 - 09:26 am.

              Pat, because you say so isn’t an objective or more knowledgeable perspective.

              We’ve had this back and forth many times so I’ll just repeat the rather mundane observation that if markets were going to solve this problem they would have done so long ago. Not only has the market failed to produce affordable housing, the recent building boom (which is supposed to be the supply side solution you keep advocating) has actually made it worse. This is a documented fact.

              Markets exist to make marketeers money, to the extent that they solve problems, those solutions if they emerge at all- are incidental. After decades of increasing disparity and decreasing affordability, you just keep demanding that we double down on the magic of the markets. If only we would let developers and landlords do whatever they want to do wherever they want to do it affordable housing would just materialize.

              These authors aren’t “wrong”, they’re simply pointing to the obvious fact that we have a problem, and if want to solve that problem we need to organize as solution rather than wait for one to “emerge” from the market.

              • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/06/2020 - 10:42 am.

                You are making the same factual mistake the authors are making – the market can’t have fixed the problem long ago because it wasn’t given a chance. Housing construction has been artificially limited.

                And it is certainly not a fact that new construction has made the problem worse. Places like Boston, Seattle and DC, which have had a longer experience aggressively building new housing, have seen prices level off and drop. In Minneapolis there still is a huge deficit of housing availability. The solution hasn’t failed because it still hasn’t been fully implemented.

                • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/06/2020 - 11:39 am.

                  “You are making the same factual mistake the authors are making – the market can’t have fixed the problem long ago because it wasn’t given a chance. Housing construction has been artificially limited.”

                  I dunno Pat, maybe you live in lake cabin somewhere in Wisc but here in the cities we’ve noticed that huge developments have been built all over the city in the last ten year. From Lexington Ave in the South, to Uptown, Downtown, and old Main Street along the river developers have built tens of thousands of units. The idea that liberals on the City Council or neighborhood groups have been blocking development is simply not a credible argument. We note, and have noted many times, that builders are building, they’ve been making plenty of money (they wouldn’t be building otherwise) … they’re just not building affordable housing.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/30/2020 - 03:57 pm.

    Me thinks a few years back there was this thing called NRP, and around here (dead center NoMi) anyway, $M’s were funneled into low interest loans and rehabs, W/O doing the full fact check, would have to agree with PT, one data point or experience does not make a trend. Last check the city was putting some $31M into low income housing, and does one think that CPED won’t be involved? CPED is not a Humanitarian Relief agency, they are here to help develop the city, and if folks are upset because they are being successful at helping develop the cities tax base, well I guess I would find myself across the table from them. North Loop, downtown, North East etc., look a hell of a lot healthier today than they did 10-15-20 years ago. Parking lots to apartments and condo’s yeah that’s called success in this world.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/30/2020 - 05:27 pm.

      Frank is actually a big advocate for affordable housing and his re-appointment was unanimous. There was no real controversy about his reappointment.

      Its a no win argument with these people. The development you see as healthy is gentrification. Even where housing hasn’t been eliminated, its still displacement. Developers are bad because they make profits. They want to pretend that economics don’t exist, and that if they mandate rent prices, everyone can find an affordable place to live.

      The people on the council and the department heads they appoint have to deal with actual budgets and real-world economics. That prices on housing (or almost anything) are driven by supply and demand. The Minneapolis City Council isn’t exactly a bastion of conservative thought. Their jobs just happen to involve real and not imaginary solutions.

  7. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 01/31/2020 - 10:26 am.

    It’s odd to read a critique of neoliberal, market-based planning when we’ve had the opposite in Minneapolis for generations. The heavy hand of government has been used to suppress supply, increase speculative gains, and exclude poor people on behalf of wealthy homeowners dating back to the heavy downzonings of the 1960s. There’s nothing close to a functional housing market in Minneapolis thanks to this housing suppression.

    Minneapolis 2040 moves us slightly in the direction of legalizing housing to make it easier to have housing abundance, but it still prevents dense housing in neighborhoods like mine zoned with an Interior 1 built form.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/07/2020 - 08:48 am.

      If the heavy hand of government were oppressing developers for decades we wouldn’t have an affordable housing crises in the first place. These claims of oppression are obviously absurd when you look around tens of thousands of luxury units that have generated hundreds of millions for developers and property owners.

      What’s really important to note here is the fact that this faith in market magic is just as if not stronger among many Democrats as it is Republicans. THIS is the nature of neoliberalism. When erstwhile ‘liberals” adopt the same magical thinking as consevatives- i.e. Chicago School economics- that’s the difference between a neoliberal and a liberal. A neoliberal a Democrat who embraces Republican economics.

      Meanwhile the most important observation we can make about conservative economics, be it Democratic neoliberalism or Republican/libertarian free market fantasies; is that it’s failed. We’ve been enduring decades of failed policies and chronic crises simply because real solutions and effective policies have been effectively marginalized or blocked.

      What we see here is simply an appeal to push decades of failed policy back and consider alternatives to magical thinking.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/04/2020 - 09:28 am.

    And at the end of the day someone has to pay the bills for,subsidized, housing, medical, food, education, transportation, etc. etc. And it comes in the form of a tax base,

  9. Submitted by joe smith on 02/09/2020 - 12:37 pm.

    Short sighted approaches don’t usually work. If you think this housing crisis is bad today wait another 20 years. Until you can get Twin Cities schools to prepare our children for the “real world” of hard work and competition, you have no chance. The single best solution to the housing crisis is a good paying job. That actually requires lots of change to our current thinking.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/10/2020 - 06:43 pm.

      And why did you single out Twin Cites schools, don’t suburban and rural schools count? Perhaps defining a “good paying job” would also be helpful, sounds like you are suggesting things “requires lots of change to our current thinking” that none of us know about? Please enlighten!

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