Minneapolis’ Public Housing Agency Wants to Open 150 Units a Year. Who’s Going to Help?
Leaders of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) have set a goal of opening more than 150 new public housing units in each of the next five years.
According to the agency’s strategic plan, these 150 units should also be “deeply affordable” — meaning they’ll be available to families making less than 30% of area median income.
It’s an ambitious target. Over the last five years — between subsidies to developers and MPHA’s own projects — the agency has averaged closer to 100 new units of public housing annually.
But MPHA “cannot build 150 units by ourselves,” said the agency’s director, Abdi Warsame. “We don’t have that capacity.”
To achieve that goal, governmental and non-governmental organizations must work together: The housing authority can tie vouchers to newly-built units. But it’s largely up to developers to actually build these units — and they need tax credits, philanthropic support, and the ear of city, county, regional and federal officials.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey recently announced the formation of a working group that will bring representatives of all of these entities into a room several times per year — and attempt to get everyone on the same page. While the group won’t necessarily shepherd individual projects through to completion, members will work to create a more cohesive system for churning out a greater number of affordable public housing units each year.
“We can award a project-based voucher. But that doesn’t mean that a developer can get that off the ground — because there’s other factors. That’s what we will address through this,” Warsame said.
“That’s what we’re looking for — to streamline the work, get more resources, get the tax credits, make sure that the state is talking to the city, the city’s talking to the county,” Warsame said, adding that he’s hoping to integrate school-based programs to ensure children living in public housing also have support.
Frey will chair meetings of the new “Public Housing Preservation and Expansion Convening.” The group’s gatherings will bring together elected and unelected leaders from the city, county, state and federal governments, as well as representatives from the MPHA, Minneapolis Public Schools and the Met Council.
Public housing residents will also have a seat at the table, along with the heads of, respectively, the McKnight, Minneapolis and Pohlad Family foundations. The Family Housing Fund will also take part and provide a project manager for the convening.
“No one agency can do this alone,” said Ellen Sahli, president of the Family Housing Fund, a Minneapolis-based non-profit working to expand affordable housing options. “No housing authority, no government entity can tackle this problem and be effective solo. By combining our efforts we can each make a valuable contribution to achieving and addressing this challenge.”
Frey, Sahli and Warsame were among the dignitaries announcing the formation of this work group late last week at the State Capitol, where MPHA had just asked state lawmakers for a one-time $45 million cash infusion to help cut down a repair backlog on the public housing authority’s stock of single-family homes.
Frey recently announced that Minneapolis produced a record number of affordable housing units in 2022. Last year, developers in the city created 264 new “deeply affordable” units — meaning the city produced more units of affordable rental housing in one year than in each of the previous three years.
But those figures refer to rental housing development more generally; preserving and expanding the public housing portfolio is the goal of this convening.
Securing the funding isn’t the only challenge facing the public housing stock, Frey said — it’s ensuring the right people are available to help MPHA and the city spend the money most effectively.
“This is going to require all of us stepping up”, Frey said. “Of course, we’re going to do our part. Money is part of it … But once you can leverage that money to get additional investors, it helps even more. To get those right people in the room to make sure that we’re properly coordinating is huge.”