* Up Date – More Video and follow up on Buy, Build & Rehab with Nekima Levy-Pounds and Betsy Hodges*
Candidates for Minneapolis, Minnesota Mayor came to Plymouth Congregational Church on Nicollet Avenue on October 2, 2017 to participate in the Forum on Affordable Housing hosted by Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County and Make Homes Happen MPLS. Invitations were sent to candidates that had an organized campaign staff and had raised at least $5000 for the election cycle. Seven potential Mayors – Nekima Levy-Pounds, Jacob Frey, Al Flowers, Tom Hoch, Betsy Hodges, Raymond Dehn, and Answar Rahman – discussed affordable housing policies with each other and with Moderator Curtis Gilbert. The organizers encouraged the candidates to engage with each other as they answered, or didn’t, the questions put to them. This set the stage for a nice exchange of Minnesota-friendly ideas and barbs. Hodges, Frey, and Hoch channeled the frivolous DFL Convention in a series of skirmishes more like the rough play of a contact sport in the yard, than a strategic contest of deeper politics projected through the prism of identity and viewed through the lenses of respect, love, humanity, and justice. Ranked choice brings distinct value to a Place or Show for candidates and blunted the sharper edges, I think. Even when the gist became pointed and raw, or the rhetoric became personal and real, the tone remained civilized and blunt.
The interactive format and sliding time limits determined on the fly by Gilbert naturally broke the 90 minute forum by question. If you prefer candidate-specific videos use the links in the New Hughes coverage of the July 5, 2017 Mayoral Forum on Climate Resilience and Energy Access. Four months later, 7 of the candidates are featured in 6 videos that together comprise the complete Mayoral Forum on Affordable Housing. I appreciated the efforts of people within the host organizations preparing a set of candidate-specific questions in the 4th round. If you watch only one of the videos make it this one. Its a challenge at near 20 minutes, but it reveals much about the Mayoral hopefuls asking for your ranked votes in Election 2017. For those intrepid readers that prefer to watch the forum unfold in chronological order, get started with the Opening Statements.
The first question got right to the point. How should Minneapolis work to ensure enough safe, high quality, affordable housing for residents? What would they do as Mayor to make it happen? It was no surprise that the answer quickly became money and how to fund affordable housing programs. The candidates did not lack for ideas. From municipal bonds (Dehn), to developer linkage fees (Flowers), property tax levies (Hodges, Frey, Hoch and Rahman), budget cuts, surcharges, and all manner of dollar shuttling. Al Flowers got to the root of the matter when he talked about priorities. Near the 8:20 mark, just after Frey has spoken his piece, Hoch asked him why he has not done as Council Member the things he promised to do as Mayor? Frey responded with a list of new housing in his Ward.
Question 2 was about the balance between development and gentrification. Mayor Hodges was the first candidate to respond. Her decision to code switch displacement for gentrification would came back throughout the evening. Her opponents rejected the change so quickly and soundly that Hodges put displacement in the back-seat for the rest of the night. When Hodges promised to talk about inclusionary zoning, at the 2:15 mark, Levy-Pounds asks why still talk about something for which the research has been done? Why not do it? The Mayor points to a lack of support from the City Council. Later, near the 7 minute mark, Frey stands to answer the question. He starts with a good definition of gentrification. Frey makes no mention of inclusionary zoning. Nekima Levy-Pounds follows up her question to the Mayor by citing examples of inclusionary zoning and challenging the city to pass ordinances making it happen. She reiterates a point made by others, the real goal is to give every resident the means to afford housing in the city.
Question 3 asked Mayoral candidates how they would protect tenants from retaliation by landlords for reporting problems and biases to the city or other organizations.
The highlight of the night was the inspired 4th round of questioning. Volunteers from the host organizations researched each candidate and prepared a unique question for each one. This brought more questions into the forum. It was fair because everyone had a chance to join in on any question, and they did. A good part the discussion revolved around property taxes and the general fund. Frey suggests diverting dollars from the general fund to pay for affordable housing. Rahman wants to stabilize property taxes and pay for it by cutting wasteful and bloated budget items. Hodges seem to prefer continuing to apportion through the general fund. The Mayor tried to suggest that Rahman, Frey, and Hoch did not understand how the property tax works, but ended up saying the same thing. Levy-Pounds made the most of it when she was asked to give an example of a city housing program for which Minneapolis could do a better job. Nekima pulled out her phone and related the story from a number of Northside women about problems with the Buy, Build, and Rehab program and getting no help from the city. Surely the city can do a better job and listen to residents when they have problems with city programs. Pivoting to Frey and Hodges, Levy-Pounds asked why the city was not responding to these residents? Had these problems been fixed when the program was renewed? The Mayor promised to investigate, and assured Nekima that a lot of people have told her that city housing programs have been successful. Council member Frey deferred comment with a quote-worthy shrug, “I don’t have a lot to add”, he said, accidentally summarizing his campaign.
- Up Date – From Nekima Levy-Pounds 10/8/17: “We have a meeting set for next week with Betsy and the women to discuss the problems with the program. A couple of women came to my office on Friday and showed me some of their paperwork. One woman was forced to take out multiple small second mortgages (7) in order to buy her home. The city can and should do better.“
- I broke out the Candidate-Specific Questions video by candidate. Uploading soon. Will link at end of this article. Because the questions were written for each candidate based on their campaign information, these offer as concise a survey of the contenders for Mayor of Minneapolis that I can render at this time.
The last question, #5, came from the audience. Did the candidate support rent control in Minneapolis? Most deferred to the State Laws that do not support renters, but Dehn and Flowers did not concede and spoke against any preemption of local ordinance by the State.
The forum organizers did not name a winner or endorse a candidate. Their purpose was to raise the issues of affordable housing with the next Mayor of Minneapolis. Regardless of which of these candidates takes office and with whom they govern on the City Council and Park Board. They fulfilled that purpose and I hope that my efforts have magnified that success by creating an alternative way to access the forum in addition to the live-stream and unedited archival footage. Watch it.