Pleasant Ave and 76th St

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.

The following was a message emailed to the Richfield City Council on the proposed development by Ron Clark Construction on the former city maintenance facility site.

I am writing to clear up a misunderstanding by some City of Richfield workers and City Council members that the protests to the Pillsbury Commons project is a NIMBY reaction by the neighbors not wanting the poor in their neighborhood.

Their reaction is due to two issues:

1. Disregard to the planning work and out come done by the neighborhood with Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative

2. Metropolitan Council’s Formula for Allocating Affordable Housing which lets wealthy communities like Edina off the hook for their share responsibility


Back when the City did its “Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative” in 2007-2008 what came out of it was plan for the 76th Street and Pleasant Avenue site  was low to medium density  residential mix (2 – 3 story height limit) that included different household sizes and incomes (low and moderate income families). This is what the neighborhood told the City and what the planners said would economically work. The neighbors understood and were fine with the development including a mix of affordable and market rate housing. It was supposed to be designed for public safety, including “eyes on the street.” (1)

Unfortunately Ron Clark Construction’s proposal meets none of the criteria developed by the neighborhood in the guidelines. The proposal is now for a high density development which is out of character of the neighborhood. Instead of mixed income it is made up completely of low income housing units. By making the development all low-income, the renters there will wind up being stigmatized as the people living in a “low-income” development. One of rationals for having mixed income developments to prevent stigmatization and to help integrate people into the community.

Livable Communities Act

The Affordable Housing Goals through 2010 set by the Livable Communities Act (LCA) for Richfield was 757 units for owner occupied housing of which Richfield produced 262 obtaining 34.6% of the goal. For rental none was required (55% of Richfield’s existing rental units are considered affordable, one of the highest perentages of affordability in the South Metro – In Minneapolis 67% rental units are considered affordable) however Richfield produced 43 units of affordable rental housing in spite of the fact that none were required.

However during that same time Edina the Affordable Housing Goals through 2010 set by  LCA for Edina was a modest 170 units for owner occupied housing of which Edina produced 3 obtaining 1.8% of the goal. For rental  the goal set by LCA for Edina was 31 units of which Edina produced 8 units obtaining 25.8% of their modest goal.

(2) (3)

Richfield Working Class Takes Low Income Housing Burden for Edina Upper Class

At 70 units, Pillsbury Commons takes the creation of affordable housing burden off the neighboring community of Edina since is the proposed development is being used as a dumping ground for low income housing in Richfield with little regard for them or the neighborhood around them.

Attached is a page from “Metropolitics” a book written by Myron Orfield, Professor of Law; Executive Director, Institute on Race & Poverty at the U of M and a former State Representative. He writes about Exclusionary Zoning – a zoning practice to make it impossible to build housing for anybody but the affluent effectively cutting out the working poor by adding budget busters zoning requirements like large lot sizes, large street sizes, 2-3 car garages, custom built kitchens, etc… In his book he points out that Edina was one of in the eight communities in the Twin Cities area practicing Exclusionary Zoning.

Oddly enough while the Metropolitan Council’s own 2006 Report to the Minnesota Legislature on Affordable and Lifecycle Housing  stated that within the City of Edina zero affordable rental units were created between 1996 to 2005. Currently they say that Edina (the home of Ron Clark Construction and Design) only needs 212 units while Richfield needs 765.

Flaws in Metropolitan Council’s Formula for Allocating Affordable Housing

This is number is arrived at by a very flawed and inherently biased formula that makes sure the poor stay out of the areas of the wealthy. (4)

Here it is:

Affordable housing needc = (HH growthc * K1) *

{ 1 + (Jobs/Workersc – 1) + (0.30 – Existing aff housingc) + (Transit Adjustmentc) } * K2

In a nut shell, if your community diversifies its land use by having commercial or industrial and creates jobs OR is progressive and has mass transit the guidelines say you need to have more affordable housing units in your city. However, if you keep mass transit out or build your city to be a gated bedroom community and let your neighbors build commercial/industrial your community gets rewarded with little to no affordable housing units in your city. Another piece of the formula is Growth. How many housing units do you plan to build in the future. Edina, did much of its low/medium/high density housing development (between York and France) during 1996 to 2005 the years they built zero affordable housing units according to the Metropolitan Council.

Jobs is another part of the Metropolitan Council’s formula for allocating affordable housing.  Edina has low wage jobs and lots of them. Attached is a map created using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Studies which shows where the low-wage jobs actually are – and not many are in Richfield. Both Edina and the area round the  Mall of America are the hot spots for those jobs and yet, both are virtual ghost towns when it comes to low-income housing.

U.S. Census map showing areas with low wage jobs.

You will find that now Edina is open to affordable housing and at least willing do it lip service now that they have shut the housing development door. This is because the Metropolitan Council’s affordable housing program has been criticized for rewarding participation rather than results. Critics of the Metropolitan Council say that focusing on the LCA ignores the state Land Use Planning Act, which they believe requires the council to determine the region’s affordable housing needs and each city’s fair-share allocation to meet that need. (5)


I have discussed this with many of my neighbors and given that the City so wontedly disregarded the careful and costly planning done with the 76th Street neighborhood during Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative currently there is little good will or trust with City Hall that they will behave in a ethical or transparent manner on this project. Still, I am hoping that the information here will open some eyes on the true nature of this conflict which is one of the wealthy communities such as Edina, not taking their fair share of affordable housing and instead doing community planning that shuts out the working poor. This is also an issue of a flawed Metropolitan Council formula for affordable housing which lets these wealthy communities off the hook.






So back to writing about the developments on 76th/Pleasant and 76th/Lyndale. It will be interesting what the developers will have to offer as far as “Green Housing” practices, that is what are the materials the development is made of, what kind of energy conservation and usage does it have, etc… Some can add on to the cost of the development, but can the developers or the city get grants to defray the costs? One developer did mention it during the community meeting but unfortunately it was quickly passed over.

At the public meetings/workshops held by the city of Richfield and the Corridor Housing Initiative the words “affordable housing” were stressed again and again, and those words were met with suspicion by neighbors attending. Unspoken were fears of subsidized housing “Section 8” housing, prison and drug halfway houses, rental property packed with uncontrollable tenants that become a neighborhood blight and nuisance soon after it is built.

History of affordable housing

In truth, most of Richfield was subsidized back in the day, but back then no one looked at the VA loans and federally insured mortgage programs which reduced mortgage leaders risk as “government welfare” but they were and they worked. Richfield developed into a cute bedroom community with returning veterans being able to afford the thousands of new houses been built in spite of the large scale housing shortages that occurred during World War II.

Richfield is now an inner ring suburban taking on the traits and trends that once only effected its neighbor to the north, Minneapolis. One thing that hasn’t changed sadly is a lack of affordable housing. However, the general attitude to subsidized affordable housing has become more negative. It is probably most certainly in part to early public housing programs which dumped subsidized housing in one or two neighborhoods, creating instant slums, creating problems so deep no neighborhood or city could effectively deal with them. Planning, in part due to lawsuits preventing dumping, have changed how cities deal with housing.

Livable Communities Act

The Minnesota Legislature created Livable Communities Act. In that act local Twin City government had to come up with effective affordable housing goals for the upcoming decade and LCA provides funds to communities to assist in the carrying out of those plans.

This is a voluntary, incentive-based approach where the communities are offered carrots, such as funds for redevelopment of blighted sites, to create affordable housing.

While this may work well in general, it does have a few gaffs that I can see, one is that communities that may need the development the most get the most affordable housing, while not the dumping as with public housing projects in the past it still creates concentrations of poverty in some communities.

Because it is voluntary, affluent Twin City communities because of their wealth and little need for state money, can (and do) opt out or set very low affordable housing goals.

What is “Affordable”?

The Metro Council considers it “affordable” if it costs 30 percent or less of the total income of a family of “low or moderate income”. So if you create McMansions for multimillionaires you are still out of luck getting LCA funds.

So what is Low income in relation to affordable housing?
For home ownership the Metro Council defines it as housing that is affordable to buyers earning 80% of area median income — in 2007, a household earning this income could afford a home costing approximately $206,800.

For rental housing the Metro Council defines it as housing that is affordable to renters earning 50% of area median income — in 2007, a household earning this income could afford to pay $883 per month for rent and utilities for a two-bedroom unit.

So what does this mean for Richfield and the developments for 76th Street?

The developments seem to be guided by the City of Richfield’s attempts to meet the goal set for it in Livable Communities Act (757 owner units and 0 rental of which at 256 units built 33.8% progress to goal has been made)

It is hard to sort through the data and I am sure I am making a mess of it but it appears Richfield though not having met its goal, is doing well. The Metropolitan Council Housing Performance Score for Richfield was 77 out of 100 with 24.3% of this units affordable at 50% or less of Regional Family Income in 2000. However, this seems to be unequal between owner and rental affordability . Only 9.1% of owner housing units in Richfield are deemed affordable where as 55.7% of the rental units are deemed affordable. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a rental population in Richfield that needs to be helped, according to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2000 over 1,600 were either spending over 30 percent of there income on housing or in conditions of over crowding in rental housing in Richfield.

Um, yeah, sure so?…

Richfield, does have an need for affordable housing to serve its own population, as do most communities and while most of its focus has gone into end-of-lifecycle housing resources little has been allocated elsewhere to singles or families with children.

It appears that the biggest problem is with owner housing and that there is a good deal of affordable rental housing in Richfield. However, according to the numbers that does not mean there is not a problem with affordable rental or no need to create it.


I have taken down my forum and have replaced it with this blog. The numbers showed that people were going to this site and viewing the forum but not participating, which I am not really surprised at. I decided it would be better would to blog and I can just post information, links, resources, as well as my ramblings related to the development going on at 76th Street, if viewers want to respond they comment on my postings otherwise happy reading.

A couple of resources to get going are:

Corridor Housing Initiative (CHI) web site featuring their work with Richfield (thus far)

As the City of Richfield describes it:

“The Corridor Housing Initiative (CHI) is a proactive
planning process to assist the planning, design,
and development along major corridors.”

Basically they are a process convened by the Center for Neighborhoods to go into neighborhoods and be some what of a mediator/coordinator between city, developers, and the neighborhood.

At worst, CHI may be bit of a dog and pony show if the city that sponsors it really has no intent to actually listen to the community and already has its preconceived notions on what would be good for the area and is using CHI simply as a tool to show that they had “citizen involvement”

At best, it really is a great way to get people to become involved in the discussion of what is developed in their neighborhood.

Whether it is successful at what it does depends on the extent the community, if they care enough to turn out for the process and of the agenda and experience of the city staff and politicians.