Affordable Housing

Based on the analysis of the City’s current supply of rental housing, there is an immediate need for rental housing at both ends of the affordability spectrum. On the one end would be upscale, amenity-rich properties that would appeal to young professionals and early retirees who currently must search outside the city for such options. On the other end of the spectrum would be subsidized units with two or more bedrooms for very low-income families, which are essentially non-existent in Richfield. ~Report Coverletter, Stantec Consulting Services

On April 16 of this year, Stantec presented their Richfield Housing Inventory and Needs Assessment at a Special Meeting of the HRA, Planning Commission and the City Council – I know that I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was surprised by the presentation but having a long background in data I knew that before I reacted I needed to look into the root data and see how the presenter arrived at his conclusions – the following is the first part of my assessment.

The most critical thing to keep in mind is that the report in its current form does not normalize the data which significantly complicates any meaningful interpretation. Also at question is their odd selection of “peer communities”. While a comparison of communities adjacent to (Bloomington, South Minneapolis, Edina) or nearby Richfield (Eden Prairie) is to be expected, the inclusion of the other suburbs is subjective and in this instance I’m deeply concerned that it implies correlations that are neither relevant nor appropriate.

Needs Assessment

I would like to point out that three different members of our city council stated very clearly at the onset that the scope of the project was to create an inventory of existing housing. Yet, the following areas were identified of potential need.

1. Two and Three-Bedroom Units

Report: Therefore, in order for Richfield to diversify its supply of rental housing it should look for ways to increase the number of two-bedroom units either through new construction or perhaps rehabilitation of existing units.
2. Newer Properties with Modern Amenities and Features
Report: This lack of newer rental options with modern amenities and features is limiting the City’s ability to retain longtime residents and attract new, younger residents who want more modern rental housing, particularly young professionals who work along I-494 or in Downtown Minneapolis.
3. Subsidized Units Appropriate for Families
Report: To put the lack of subsidized housing into context, consider Richfield’s peer communities. Among the 11 communities analyzed, the overall percentage of general-occupancy rental housing that is subsidized is 6.4%. In Richfield, the percentage is less than 1%. Therefore, in order for Richfield to simply meet the peer community average, it would need to construct close to 300 new subsidized units.
4. Senior Housing (All Types)
Report: The problem is that subsidized senior housing from this era was designed mostly for single women, which at the time made up the vast majority of need. Although older, single women still dominate the need for subsidized senior housing, there are many more low-income older couples today than there were 35 years ago.

In a previous blog post I gave my “2 cents needs assessment” to post against Stantec’s $24,000 needs assessment and am very proud to say that I was not very far off even if it was just on one of their four points.

My assessment:

….while Richfield has a good supply of affordable rental housing for efficiencies and units with 1 or 2 bedrooms, there is a critical gap in the supply of affordably-priced rental housing for units with three or more bedrooms.

I was pretty dead on.

I also said…

What probably won’t be discussed in the report is the appropriate thing to do

I was apparently dead on this prediction as well too.

So what is the solution?

My solution from my blog post is modified somewhat to fit Housing Report assessment that Richfield needs to build newer rental options with modern amenities and features and that the lack of such amenities is limiting the City’s ability to retain longtime residents and attract new, younger residents who want more modern rental housing, particularly young professionals.

  1. Convert many of the one bedroom units in older 1960s Class C apartment buildings that Stantec identified as needing renovation into subsidized three bedroom units to help the families in need of housing that can meet their income (Assessment 1) and also raise Richfield’s ratio of Subsidized Units appropriate for families (Assessment 3).
  2. Replace the lost market rate one bedroom units with newly constructed one bedroom units like those at Woodlake Plaza which would help attract higher income young professionals (Assessment 2) Include 10%-30% one bedroom subsidized units in those development for low wage young professionals seeking modern amenities and features.

What is NOT the solution? (and why)

Building new large scale, income-restricted apartment complexes with 2-3 bedrooms such as the proposed Pillsbury Commons; while it will make Ron Clark plenty of money to spend at the Galleria, using the Stantec data it is a poor decision for Richfield because, if we build new, large scale income restricted 2-3 bedroom rental housing, yes we will be filling the need but without removing older one bedroom units we will be adding to Richfield’s already massive affordable rental housing market NOT strengthening the tax base.

My Gap Analysis

There is still a gold mine of data with some interesting conclusions for anyone willing to take the time to slog through it.

Fun with data

Richfield Rental Housing Inventory report Table 17: Annual Household Income by Age of Householder and Tenure 2010

I found that by consolidating the base numbers and removing the non-peer peer communities an interesting trend appears (it is critical to note that I have not altered any data – what I’ve done is to remove areas of segmentation such as age).

Annual Household Incomes of less than $10,000
South Mpls 1,478
Bloomington 1,360
Richfield 1,024
Edina 813
Eden Prairie 582
Annual Household Incomes of less than $10,000 as % of Population Less than $10,000
Richfield 2.9%
South Mpls 2.06%
Edina 1.69%
Bloomington 1.64%
Eden Prairie 0.95%
Annual Household Income of $150,000 or more
Edina 5,241
Eden Prairie 5,610
Bloomington 3,476
South Mpls 5,080
Richfield 710
Annual Household Income of $150,000 or more as % of Population
Edina 10.93%
Eden Prairie 9.23%
South Mpls 7.09%
Bloomington 4.19%
Richfield 2.02%

Conclusion: Richfield is not only the top city with Annual Household Incomes of less than $10,000 as percent its of population AND the bottom city with Annual Household Income of $150,000 or more as a percent of its population but we are the only city that has a greater percentage of its population with household incomes of less than $10,000 than household incomes of $150,000 or more. So which is more important? If our goal is economic diversity and sustainable, supportable and responsible growth, is it more important for Richfield to increase its percentage households of incomes of less than $10,000 or does it need to increase its percentage of households with incomes of $150,000?

Misleading Data

Also if you inspect the data you do find that it may not represent the real situation. For example take the following finding in the report:

Richfield has very few subsidized units; less than 1% of its general occupancy (non-senior) rental stock is subsidized. In contrast, its peer communities have an average of 6.4% of their rental stock as subsidized units.

Yet we need to consider the fact that in Edina, one of their subsidized developments Yorkdale Townhomes with 90 units was built on Richfield’s border and within the Richfield School district.

So the report lists Edina having 154 subsidized units making 3.2% of Edina’s rental housing stock as subsidized is misleading because it does not fully impact the infrastructure of Edina. If you subtract the 90 units that were built in Richfield’s School district Edina would actually have 64 units making 1.3% of Edina’s rental housing stock subsidized.

Richfield in contrast would actually have 131 units if you added the subsidized rental housing built within its school district boundaries making for an actual 2.7% of rental units that are subsidized. Still not quite 6.4% but I strongly suspect that upon investigation many of the subsidized numbers would not hold up similarly as Edina’s didn’t.

Additionally, even if you think it is a stretch to consider Yorkdale Townhomes in Richfield’s subsidized housing numbers it is still important to point out that Edina has 4,803 rental units, Richfield 4,857 – based on population that means that Richfield has one rental unit per 6.85 people and Edina has one unit per 9.69 people – that’s about a 45% difference.

Next …

This is not the end of my analysis of the Richfield Housing Inventory Report. I also completely left out Needs Assessment, Senior housing which I think is very important and does have and should have a very important place in Richfield’s rental housing plans. Unfortunately, I have to volunteer my time to crunch numbers so I can only squeak out my analysis and assessments as time allows. But guaranteed I will be posting on this subject more to this blog and the Facebook page.

Richfield High School 1958

Richfield High School 1958

First, let me start out by saying I am impressed with the work the current high school principal and school superintendent are doing. That said, let me also say that was not always the case.

While I don’t have children of my own I worked for eight years with children that had emotional and behavioral problems. Several years I worked in the Minneapolis school system and for three months I worked at Richfield High School working with what would be considered level 5 high school students (students with quite a bit of behavioral problems and needed to be removed into their own classroom and building).

This was back in the 1990’s. Richfield’s schools were just starting to change, taking on more racially and economically diverse students. Funny thing, from my observations the Richfield School District had almost no idea how to handle those newcomers and even worse, they really did not want to deal with them. I know it is a trite and overused mediphor but an ostrich with it’s head in the sand would fit well. It appeared that the school administration were more interested about reaching retirement and passing off the problems than actually dealing with them.

I was no fool. Having worked on the frontlines with children with behavioral issues I knew it has a loosing battle if the administration was not competent on the issues at hand or worse, not willing to back you up. Hence, I left after three months. At the time I did not live in Richfield. Maybe things would have been different if I had actually some skin in the game.

I did know this, no one was dealing the problem realistically at the time, instead acting like it was still Richfield 1980s and before. Problems were ignored, some of the high school kids I worked with were shuttled off to Community/Technical Colleges for day classes even though they were not making progress in our classroom. The reports that came back from the Community/Technical Colleges were that the kids were having behavioral problems there as well, but hey, at least we didn’t have to deal with them.

Big mistake

The Richfield School District is now dealing with a graduation rate of 67.1% and a drop out rate of 4.2% and test scores that are consistently across the board below state averages for subject proficiency. As I said before, I am impressed with the work the current high school principal and school superintendent are doing. But it didn’t have to get this bad if we just took the blinders off several years earlier and dealt with the issues back then.

We have a chance to deal with housing issues realistically today and not pretend like it is “Richfield 1980” and pass on our bad decisions to future Richfield citizens in 2020 or 2030. We can recognize that Richfield is an integrated community and has lost its status as solidly middle class and has entered the ranks of the lower class (sadly, just as much of American society has done).

Kübler-Ross’ The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

It appears that many city leaders (this includes church and business leaders too) are still in stage one – denial. Like I mentioned before they still strongly hold on to the belief that this is “Richfield 1980s”.

After working with Richfield Commoners United and have the opportunity to flyer and meet with Richfield citizens around the city I believe their are few who are still in stage one. Unfortunately many I talked to appear to be in stage two – Anger. People are pissed and scared at the changes occuring and want someone to blame. City Hall is always a perennial favorite to blame, but unfortunately so are the new arrivals to Richfield. Many of the newest arrivals are people of color and new immigrates, both of which usually have lower incomes than the established white residents of Richfield. However, blaming them would be directing their anger at the shadow rather than the substance of the issue which is rather discriminatory housing practices by real estate agents and mortgage companies as well as discriminatory housing policies that concentrate low income people of color in certain inner city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs.

I do hear a lot of bargaining as well: “If the city puts up Pillsbury Commons I am going to put up a for sale sign on my house!” Depression is what scares me the most. It is when people give up and do move away or simply stop caring and investing in their homes and community. That is what can do serious damage.

I am hopeful that many will make it to the final stage Acceptance and begin to work with the situation realistically and accept Richfield as an integrated and low income community and work to stabilize it racially and economically to keep it from falling into resegregation – a fate that befalls communities that can’t get out of the first stages of grief.

To illustrate my point, I provide a clip from Monty Python. The skit is about a man, Dennis Moore, and his misguided and poorly thought out attempts to level economic justice by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. It goes well in the beginning, but Dennis is a one-trick-pony and not a very critical thinker. So he keeps robbing and robbing until the rich are poor and the poor are rich causing him pause to say “this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought!”

Monty Python - Dennis Moore

His original actions may have been motivated by the believe in economic justice but lack of understanding of the deeper issues topped with his lack of creative problem solving and sticking to the only thing he could do well lead him to be a major (if unintended) player in carrying out major social injustices.

Richfield’s City Hall – Viva la 1980s!

Many of the Richfield movers and shakers have been around since the 1980s and 1970s. I know this because I went to high school back then and was a political cartoonist for the Richfield Sun (Now Richfield Sun-Current). I moved away when I went to college but came back and bought a house in 2002 and was amazed to find some of the same people in power and even more amazing was that while the world and Richfield had changed dramatically they had not nor had their policies.

One example was the love affair with senior citizen housing at 66th and Lyndale. By 2003 they had created a large fixed income/senior ghetto and were effectively cutting off the blood supply to the business community so that even a Dunn Bros. or Quiznos couldn’t survive there. However, they created a great climate for medical storefronts like a dialysis clinic or for discount dollar stores.

What worked well in the 1980’s with the Lake Shore Drive Condos didn’t work so well thirty years later when repeated over and over and over…

This is clearly going on with the affordable housing issue right now. Richfield 1970/1980 was very white and very middle class, diversity and affordable housing were clear issues that a progressive thirty or forty-something would have seen and should have been concerned about. But fast forward to 2012 when Richfield is now one of the most diverse suburbs in the metro area, even more diverse than many areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It also now has one of the most affordable home owner and rental housing stocks in the metro as well.

So the issues toward these should change. Instead of “how do me make Richfield more diverse?”, it should be “how can we understand each other better?” and more importantly, instead of “how do we make more affordable housing for those with low incomes?” The focus should be on maintaining the quality AND affordability of the existing rental stock not adding more and more low income housing when the older forty to fifty year old rental apartments are running down.

If being a champion of social justice is what is wanted then they need a better understanding of the deeper issues and to start creatively problem solve as well as take unpopular political risks by holding accountable the Metropolitan Council and wealthy cities like Edina who continue to shirk their responsibility of helping the poor with low income workforce housing.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

Are churches in Edina only for show?

The City of Richfield has just hired Stantec Consulting Services Inc. to conduct a Rental Housing Inventory and Needs Assessment and are paying them $24,750 to do so. And for the cost of $0 will I will give you the Needs Assessment answer and much earlier than Stantec:

  1. the market for for-sale housing had decreased significantly from recent years
  2. while Richfield has a good supply of affordable rental housing for efficiencies and units with 1 or 2 bedrooms, there is a critical gap in the supply of affordably-priced rental housing for units with three or more bedrooms.

Richfield has affordable rental housing, lots of it. In fact, it has so much (55% affordable) that the Metro Council did not require Richfield to build any affordable rental housing. THE CITY STILL DID.

You see, Richfield has an amazing amount of Class C Rental housing, that is apartments that are 30-40 years old and considered to be less desirable than Class A or B apartment housing. More so, many of those units are one bedroom or efficiency. So while we have a 55% affordable rental housing market it is lacking in rental units of three or more that can support large families.

I can tell you this because the city is paying Stantec $24,000 to answer a question that is already well known. However, Stantec’s report will make it “official” and it comes from an authoritive source and they can once again commence with building low income housing.


What probably won’t be discussed in the report is the appropriate thing to do. The City of Richfield will simply try add more affordable housing to a fill a multi-family niche

in an already swelled low income housing market in Richfield. Instead the appropriate thing to do is what has been done in other cities and that is to rehab some of those older rundown Class C apartments from one bedrooms and efficiencies into 3 bedroom units. This results in more multi-family housing which the Metro Council wants and the rehabbing of marginal rundown Class C apartment buildings (if done right) will improve the surrounding neighborhood. There would be a loss of one bedroom and efficiency low income units but with Richfield at 55% low income rental it actually still wouldn’t hurt Richfield’s affordable housing standing. Edina could then pick up the slack and build one bedroom or efficiency low income rental units to offset the loss since they have most of the low wage jobs and a large waiting list for low income housing anyways.

But which Apartment Buildings should be Rehabbed?

Unfortunately there is no shortage of Class C apartment buildings in distress in Richfield. One set of apartment buildings that would be good candidates ironically are right next to the proposed Pillsbury Commons site on Not-So-Pleasant Avenue and 76 Street. The apartments have been suffering from the lack of good maintenance for years and have been a headache for nearby neighbors. They are the right size/density and if converted and manged by a respected, qualified non-profit property management company that specializes in affordable housing, they could be an asset to the neighborhood rather than a blight. Oddly enough the city staff, Planning Commission and HRA appear to look at projects like Pillsbury Commons in a vacuum with little interest about the surrounding issues with problem housing as if it would have no impact on the development.

Very interesting to compare the Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative with the Grandview small area plan. Even though Edina received a Metropolitan Council Livable Communities grant of $100,000 for the planning process. I can find nowhere in their minutes, agendas and meeting notes any mention or thought given to helping out the less fortunate with affordable housing. It seems like an ideal situation for creating affordable housing since the city already owns a good chunk of the site.

The Metro Council and the City of Richfield seemed to have stacked the deck in the Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative inorder to set the agenda to make it seem like the creation of affordable housing was a given more info

in the planning process.  They brought in the organization “Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation” to help facilitate the meetings with the Corridor Housing Initiative. Looking over their web site ( they appear to be more of a organization that does community planning for social services rather than an urban design agency like say; Close Landscape Architecture and Cunningham Group Architecture, which were selected to be co-lead consultants on Edina’s Grandview project. I am a strong believer in not just doing brick and mortar improvements but to help the lives of people as well. It is interesting that Edina in all of their planning process completely ignored that.


Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative:

Grandview Small Area Plan: