If you’re a millennial and you’re looking for a job in a new city, you might have read (or want to read) the November 19th article in The Atlantic about “why it’s so hard for millenials to find a place to live and work”. The problem, it seems, is that the cities with the most upward mobility and the highest median incomes are also the cities with the least affordable housing.
Three cities, however, buck that trend: Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, and our own Minneapolis. While I could play booster for Minneapolis (it has the highest median income of those three cities according to a follow-up article on Vox.com) there’s a different angle to this story: Bikes.
Pittsburgh became a national model for rapid bikeway progress this year when they announced, planned, and built their first three protected bike lanes in only four months. The city took the bold move of pushing the process forward–and the result? Over 1000 thank-you letters to the mayor of Pittsburgh from every zip code in the city and a number of surrounding suburbs.
That isn’t to say Pittsburgh hasn’t experienced some “bikelash” as Mayor Bill Peduto cleverly called the push-back from drivers. However, the project started with strong cyclist and business support and it’s reasonable to give time for education of the wider driving public.
Salt Lake City, as opposed to Pittsburgh, has a well-established cycling culture. From the hard-core spandex dudes (and chicks) riding the 8.3 miles of 3472 feet of vertical of Little Cottonwood Canyon (average grade of 9.2% for you climbing junkies) to its 2012 debut of one of the first city DOT bike web pages in the country, Salt Lake has taken a strong, early and successful stance on cycling as a sport and a means of transportation. (Full disclosure: this author spent 17 years in Salt Lake City, loves it, and misses it, even while embracing Saint Paul as her new home.)
And then there’s Minneapolis. I think I can assume most streets.mn readers know a little something about bike infrastructure in Minneapolis. We’ve had a turn ranked as the top bike friendly city in the nation by Bicycling magazine, and we’ve got a current designation by League of American Bicyclists as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly City.
While Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis aren’t the only bike friendly communities on The Atlantic’s list of hot millennial picks for upward mobility (Denver, San Francisco, New York, I’m looking at you), they’re certainly doing better than some of the other “affordable” metros.
Affordable housing, upward mobility, and great bike infrastructure: in the race to attract Millenials, we’ve got the trifecta.
Minneapolis, minneapolis, minneapolis. What about St Paul?
Walker — I live in St. Paul and I dig it. But we really don’t need to make sure that articles that extol Minneapolis also says nice things about St. Paul. I suppose there is a contrarian position one could take, but I think most reasonable people would agree that Minneapolis’s bike infrastructure is better than St. Paul’s by most standards. (Even Mayor Coleman said as much in a MPR interview with Mayor Hodges when both were asked what they envy the most with their neighbor.) Just to clarify, I’m not saying that (1) Minneapolis is perfect nor (2) St. Paul totally sucks for bikes or that things aren’t getting better for bikes in StP because I think they are.
Also, when writing for a national publication, I’m not sure it’s necessary to include Saint Paul in the discussion. While Minneapolis clearly has more/better bike infrastructure/culture than St. Paul and/or suburbs, in the context used in all of those national publications, “Minneapolis” is just a stand in for the metro area. Personally, it thrills me that we’re finally seeing a shift away from “Twin Cities” and towards Minneapolis, or Minneapolis-St. Paul if writing for a local audience 😉
I mentioned St Paul in the post! I live here! Unfortunately, not distinguished from Minneapolis in source articles.
Thoughts: The most affordable housing in St Paul isn’t near the best cycling/transit infrastructure, our downtown doesn’t have as much job opportunity. What can we do to change that? Build more infrastructure and encourage/bring economic development of many levels (small retail, big employers) to downtown.
I think St Paul’s greatest opportunity is in being somewhat the anti-Minneapolis or anti-big city. Employers and entrepreneurs have gobs of options for typical cities and suburbs. What they don’t have are options for great urban locations for folks who want to be able to walk or ride a bicycle to work, shop, and eat. Options for attracting the growing number of car-free and car-lite households (of a variety of ages.). Options for folks who want a large variety of small local cafe’s rather than a very few options of chain restaurants.
BTW, I my comment was mostly tongue in cheek. 🙂
By “affordable” the study in question bases its calculations on median household income, which is nearly $40k/year in Minneapolis. That means around $12-15k can be spent annually–which is to say over $1000 monthly–for a rental unit to count as “affordable”. This whitewashes the fact that there is indeed a crisis in truly affordable housing–for those making half of the median income or less, let’s say, or larger families with only one parent working–and puts a glossy veneer over the fact that low-income and otherwise marginalized Minneapolitans are being forced out of their neighborhoods and communities with each passing month. Let’s not render them even more invisible, shall we?
And moreover, by “millennial”, the author, like many journalists these daze, seems to mean “college-educated, upwardly-mobile person living a trendy White-person lifestyle” a.k.a. a minority of actual millennials.
What would you propose as a solution to the affordable housing problem?
For starters, we could think a bit more critically about whatever random study happens to put our city on top, instead of just thoughtlessly parading them around, stuffing cotton in our ears and pretending we are progressive model citizens in a world where everything is getting better.
Cos, see, it’s not getting better. So I’d say, 1) invest more public money in building affordable housing units as well as new public housing; 2) implement some form of rent control; 3) impose more equality-oriented tax policy in the broader economy to reign in rampant inequality; 4) make all of these things the highest priority conversation in our lil’ world of popular “urbanist” hobby blogging, instead of using this as just another platform to keep property values rising at the expense of the displaceable class.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know better than to have a defeatist attitude toward what is really the central socioeconomic crisis of our city. I have faith in the power of public discourse to move the conversation toward solutions. As with all things, the first step is to admit there is a problem.
Why public housing? What about housing that people can afford to pay for on their own?
Are there options for people living in smaller towns that might provide a better job market to housing cost ratio?
Are there other ways to lower the overall cost of living to leave more funds available for housing?
Public housing because it provides a more stable, more sustainable living situation (providing politicians don’t raze it to the ground) for marginalized families and communities. Rather than living in some poorly maintained old house in an underserved area, and then being forced to pick everything up and leave their communities, schools, friends, jobs, etc. as soon as the neighborhood starts to “turn around” and property values rise, building new, public affordable housing more or less permanently de-commodifies a given piece of real estate, which in turn helps to permeate stability and stable rent into the environs. It also helps generate political unity and agency for these communities, in contrast to a situation where they are isolated and atomized via dispersement into the wider population.
In a world with inequality so extreme, the price of commodities that go into housing construction will always be of a different order than the finances most Americans have access to. Left to the whims of the market, “housing that people can afford to pay for on their own” will always mean increasingly sketchy home loan arrangements, which not only make certain communities more vulnerable to discrimination (redlining, etc.), but introduces excessive risk into their entire economy (as in the lead-up to the 07-08 housing bubble burst).
Oh, and if this is a choice between building new public housing to keep existing urban communities intact and stable, versus allowing the market to force those communities to fragment and disperse to suburbs and small towns, I’m happy to say I support the former. Aren’t “urbanists” supposed to support people living in “urban” built environments?
So, curious about rent control… it seems to put a damper on new construction, which would lead to less density, and less housing stock overall, forcing more people into public housing or otherwise affordable housing.
More people using the resources of public housing, is this feasible? An issue? Realistic? Would it ever pass gov’t?
Public housing has often failed in smaller cities, do you think Minneapolis-Saint Paul is big enough and dense enough to actually support successful public housing?
Which smaller cities are you referring to where public housing has “failed”?
What do you think the threshold for big-ness and density is to support public housing?
By the way both Minneapolis and St Paul have operated thousands of units of public housing for decades, so presumably they are above that threshold.
The only real sustainable solution is more housing stock. A lot more. Public housing is great at providing units for people of limited means, however concentrating poverty has other unintended consequences and is largely why people are so sour on the idea these days. Some of the newer ideas of having a certain percentage of units in new construction be reserved as being affordable or open to section 8 vouchers helps in this regard, because lower concentrations of poverty and mixed incomes generally have had much better results for everyone involved.
The issue we’re running into now is that there aren’t enough rental units for anyone. The rental vacancy rate here is historically low and has been for a while. Even with the large number of new units being added, it’s nowhere near enough to relieve the pressure on the market that’s been pushing rents up and quality of dwellings down. As much as people decry the construction of almost exclusively ‘luxury’ priced apartments within the city (myself included), they do help prices in general by attracting those people who can afford them out of the lower-priced units, freeing them up for people who couldn’t afford the new construction. But something still needs to be done to promote more aggressive construction of housing and incentivize mixed incomes within the same buildings.
This seems to be working well in NYC (% of new apt’s reserved for sec 8). Rent control in NYC does not seem to work.
A great point that Kunstler made in Geography of Nowhere is how this use to be normal in communities and the extent to which it benefited the less wealthy and in particular their children.
Exactly, I know Chicago was a big pioneer of the mixed-income redevelopment of projects too. And we used to have that mix of incomes naturally in cities because there were lots of small buildings on every block of varying ages and qualities (oh no I’m starting to sound like a Jane Jacobs book!). These days most development seems to be on a larger scale, so it leads to monoculture. Instead of a block of 3-story walkups, you get a block-long 3 story building with roughly the same number of units, but none of the variety of the former in terms of pricing, age, quality, etc. Introducing an artificial pricing diversity is just restoring that healthy mix that was lost to economies of scale.
I’m not so convinced that this is working well in NYC. One of the challenges of their “inclusionary housing” program is a remarkably inefficient distribution of affordable housing dollars. I wrote a white paper on inclusionary housing policy for an affordable housing funder once, and there are some serious downsides.
More housing stock/increases in units is important. How to make sure that increase includes a mix of affordability levels is hard to get right. Maybe impossible.
I hear they have a lot of extra housing stock in Detroit.
“Are there other ways to lower the overall cost of living to leave more funds available for housing?”
Probably, but if you’re about to argue that replacing a slew of bus lines with one LRT every 4-5 years is that solution, I’m going to be even more convinced that you people don’t actually care about equity as much as you care about creating a shallow illusion of equity to sooth your deeply repressed guilt and shame at benefiting from privilege.
That’s a lot of psychoanalysis to apply to a bunch of strangers. I mean, this is a transit blog, so I’m not sure it’s really a sign of any broad consequence that the most common topic is transit improvements.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that many users of this website treat transit improvements as the be-all, end-all of urban policy. And then when there’s a new bike lane somewhere, they act as though all urban inequalities no longer exist. Like many other touchstones of liberal policy discourse, the popular “solutions” do little more than whitewashing over the massive structural problems that remain.
You’re right, and ESPN doesn’t have enough political coverage.
Wait, so, all this urban planning stuff is all sport for you? What fun!
Aggressive construction of good, urbanist, public housing!
It may be worth mentioning that Pittsburgh for a long time employed a land tax policy (and still does in some cases) rather than property (land improvement) taxes – which may contribute to more affordable housing.
So Salt lake has the perfecta?
Cheap housing, lots of jobs, robust cycling infrastructure, and mountains.
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This blog needs an affordable housing 101 post. Or seven. Maybe I can do something about that in December. Key concepts:
-affordable housing (subsidized and regulated)
-affordable housing (naturally occurring or non-regulated)
-section 8 (certificates and vouchers)
-overview of where federal and state subsidy is going
What else, folks?
It would probably be helpful to cover not only these topics but also modern housing trends and what affordable infill development actually looks like today. There’s a lot of misinformation going around about what policy tools are effective and or feasible in today’s political climate… would be great to come up with an MN-centric version of this article. http://www.vox.com/cards/affordable-housing-explained/you-didnt-answer-my-question
The effect and effectiveness of price controls.