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.