Legislative Commission Hears Greater Minnesota Perspective on Housing

November 15, 2021

The Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability heard testimony about the challenges of preserving housing and attracting new housing development in Greater Minnesota.

The Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability met on Nov. 2 to discuss housing trends and residential development needs in Greater Minnesota.

Watch a recording of the meeting

Testimony and discussion focused primarily on the challenges that Greater Minnesota communities have in preserving existing housing and attracting new residential development across the housing spectrum.

The agenda included testimony from Roseau County, Heartland Lakes Development Commission (representing Hubbard County and City of Park Rapids Economic Development Commission), Olmsted County, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Association of Small Cities, and the Home Builders Association of Fargo-Moorhead.

Housing challenges

County officials expressed the immense challenges Greater Minnesota local units of government face when it comes to attracting any new development. Roseau County Commissioner Jack Swanson stressed that free-market supply and demand is not solving challenges in Greater Minnesota. This is because builders are not building out in the county, despite city and county support, due to a lower return on investment.

Heartland Lakes Development Commission Executive Director Mary Thompson echoed Roseau County’s message and stressed the need for state and federal assistance. Builder engagement is also needed to build workforce housing for residents who don’t qualify for low-income housing but can’t afford to build a new market-rate, single-family home. Thompson also described a successful model that Hubbard County is pursuing to provide infrastructure for single- and multi-family lots in an attempt to attract developers.

Olmsted County Housing Director, David Dunn described a similar situation in the less populous areas of his county. He talked about county efforts to assist cities and townships that pursue fee waivers to attract developers. Olmstead County has also provided assistance to residents using their local housing trust fund.

Importantly, when asked about zoning impacts to affordability, all three county representatives agreed that local zoning is not an issue in Greater Minnesota and it is not local policy that negatively impacts residential development.

Incentives over mandates

Representatives from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Association of Small Cities stressed the importance of incentives over mandates, which is also a key priority for the League. They urged legislators to consider policy and funding solutions that help communities address locally identified housing needs.

Both organizations echoed previous League testimony that one-size-fits-all legislation, without any regard to the differences in regional markets and local priorities, would impede local flexibility and create more challenges than solutions for greater Minnesota.

Builder comments

The Home Builders Association of Fargo Moorhead focused on state building code issues and compared requirements in Minnesota and North Dakota. Testimony also focused on costs for infrastructure necessary to support residential development.

Commission members were interested in hearing more about innovative local efforts that provide local resources in exchange for a builder advancing local priorities such as affordability. The League looks forward to continuing to highlight innovative policy efforts that cities are deploying across the state to attract residential development across the housing spectrum.

The commission will hold its next meeting on Dec. 14. The agenda will be posted in December on the commission meeting webpage.

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