The streets.mn board and editorial team developed a short series of questions for Minneapolis mayoral candidates related to transportation and land use designed to give voters more information and expand the conversation about these topics. Surveys were sent to all candidates and responses will be posted as they are received. Here are Jacob Frey’s responses:
What do you believe is the most significant land use and/or transportation issue facing Minneapolis in the next 5 years and how do you hope to address it in office?
The most important land use question facing Minneapolis is whether or not the city embraces progressive housing and zoning policies that favor urbanization and affordability. Minneapolis is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, a legacy of redlining and discriminatory government policies like large-lot zoning. Our failure to embrace affordable housing and density in neighborhoods currently dominated by disproportionately white, wealthy residents has allowed the explicitly racist policies of the past to entrench the racial and class inequities of our present. To make Minneapolis a city where all neighborhoods are open to all of its residents, we need to allow more height, higher-quality builds, and more units so that we aren’t depressing the natural housing supply and driving up the cost of housing for residents that can’t afford it.
We must tackle our affordable housing crisis, and stop our practice of segregating all affordable options in impacted areas of our city. Minneapolis has lost 10,000 units of affordable housing in the last 15 years alone, making all the more critical a separate pot of money specifically designated for affordable housing that does not compete with classic city issues. While I am proud to have raised the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to record levels, that $10.5 million figure is still insufficient to tackle the problem. The problem stems from the fact that when the city offers subsidies to develop affordable housing, it comes along with the requirement that housing remain affordable for 15-20 years. However, after that period lapses, the housing can be flipped to market-rate, putting us on a revolving treadmill of trying to build more affordable housing to keep up with that which we are losing. And, we are falling behind. Without critical investments and incentives to build and retain affordable housing for the long haul, our city will lose the socioeconomic diversity that makes us great. Specifically, we should set aside a percentage of the property tax revenue the city receives from any increase in the property values of homes valued at $300,000 or more for a special fund exclusively for affordable housing.
In addition to making it easier to build more housing generally, I would like to see the city devote more financial resources to building public housing. We need a huge amount of new housing, and public housing has to be a part of that.
Finally, I would support forms of incentive based inclusionary zoning policies, but we are prevented from implementing most forms by state law.
How can transportation and/or land use policy address historic imbalances in investments and improve equity? What specific land use or transportation policies will you pursue to achieve this?
Urban density is a progressive issue. Land use policies that encourage density reduce per-capita carbon footprints, provide housing supply to keep up with demand (keeping rent increases in check), and contributes to walkable communities with successful small and local businesses. While increasing density alone is not enough to solve our affordable housing crisis, it is definitely a prerequisite. The people hurt most by exclusionary zoning policies and a dearth of affordable housing are people of color, young residents, and lower-income people, making this an equity issue. I support moving away from exclusionary zoning policies and reducing minimum lot sizes and parking requirements as a means of increasing the space we have available for more housing and for pedestrian access on the streets.
There are several steps Minneapolis should take to move towards a pedestrian and bicycle centered mentality. First, the city should strongly embrace protected bikeways, ideally planter-protected bikeways to make sure that our streets are as safe as possible for bicyclists. Second, we need to make sure that pedestrians can use our sidewalks conveniently and cross our streets safely. Third, I want to use the Mayor’s office to extend city support for trail access the way that I have done so as a City Council Member. I have fought for stop signs at dangerous intersections, planter-protected bikeways, and pedestrian improvements along streets with heavy foot traffic, and I will continue to do so as mayor.
Minneapolis is currently updating their Comprehensive Plan. What key issues would you like to see addressed in this process and the final Plan?
The Comprehensive Plan should allow for both diversity in housing stock and diversity of use. The first goes back to my earlier responses regarding affordable housing and density. The second has to do with the rigid and uncoordinated way in which the city’s zoning currently operates. For so long, our city has had a practice of segregating use – separating residential from business, business from entertainment and commercial, and entertainment and commercial from light industrial. I believe that diversity of use helps create vibrant and safe neighborhoods. When activity and schedules are uniform (for instance, in a business district with people arriving at 8:30 am and leaving at 5:30 pm), there is immense activity for short stints with dead time in between. Conversely, a diversity of use creates a constant in-flow and outflow of people, which puts eyes on the street throughout the day and night and improves safety. Additionally, a diversity of use creates interesting street life with excitement and vibrancy.
The city recently hired a new public works director. What type of support should the City provide this position to achieve the best results for all residents (for example: people who travel by foot, bike, transit, and car)? Are there other department directors that need additional support to create sufficient land use or transportation changes to achieve the goals of the city’s Comprehensive Plan?
The city should fully fund department efforts (and those of public works director Robin Hutcheson) to assist a growing pedestrian and bicycling mentality, as these modes of transit do more to further environmental and social justice ideals. Beyond financial and staff support, I would also offer political support because having a clear and strong voice from the Mayor reduces a disjointed approach from the city council.
Support provided, however, should not only be given to our public works director. The director of CPED similarly needs strong backing if forward-thinking transportation policies are to be realized. This means absolutely means expansion of BRT and light rail. But it also applies to modes not yet marketed. For example, within 5 years we will likely have fully-autonomous cars mass produced in our city. When combining fully-autonomous cars with ride sharing and electric we can produce a trifecta of environmental sustainability, convenience, and repurposing of public space that can quite literally transform our city. Consider the amount of space devoted to parking, whether in ramp form or on-street. With the onset of vehicles that do not need to be parked by a given destination we can transform previously underutilized space to magnificent public realm improvements. This planning needs to happen now.
Both street and development plans continue to be controversial across the city. As Mayor, how would you lead the City to address concerns about development impacts? What recent controversial street or development project would you have managed differently?
It is easy for DFL candidates in Minneapolis to support pro-growth and pro-density developments and policies in the abstract. Where candidates set themselves apart is in their ability to make it happen. As a Council Member, I have been willing to defend affordable housing, density, and height even when it was difficult. The 3rd Ward (where I represent) has accounted for approximately 40% of the total growth in the entire city, we have pushed for substantial increases in affordable housing along the central riverfront, and we have negotiated excellent outcomes for the community ranging from added green space to improved lighting and pedestrian amenities.
As far as a controversial street project I would have liked to see done differently, I wish that we had made the bike lane on 3rd Avenue planter-protected. While I am a strong supporter of the bike lane improvement and use it several times a day, I believe we missed an opportunity to add greening and protection to a key cross-town route.