Thursday, May 19, 2016

Affordable housing: so what?

Certainly in the case of what the plant needs, the thought of the need will only affect action if you want the plant to flourish. - G.E.M. Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy" 

Let them eat cake somewhere else

When Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis was in town recently he met with some local nonprofit leaders. The meeting has become a bit notorious in some circles since then, mainly for Kashkari’s response to concerns raised regarding affordable housing in Rochester. Hearing that there was “cheap” property thirty miles out, he is reported to have concluded that the solution to the city’s affordable housing problem was clear: people who can’t afford to live here can live out there.

Kashkari is not alone in this view. Certainly one way to solve the city’s affordable housing problem is to conclude that it’s not necessary to provide it.

Surely we would have heard something

You could also take the view of some of the business leadership in town that if there was a problem finding affordable housing their employees would have said something about it to human resources. No one has, so there isn’t.

Of course these are businesses large enough to have human resource departments. Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, this view prevails.

But let’s say this view is correct - at least as far as these employers not having heard anything. The first question would be: did you ask? The second: why would they tell you? The third: how many of your employees are stressed about affording the house they are living in or the apartment they are renting?
US Census data illustrates the share of Olmsted County households paying too much for housing has jumped from 7,900 households in 2000 to 14,900 households in 2010. More than one in five owner households and more than two in five renter households pay over 30% of their income for housing. 

What do you need to buy a house for anyway

Kashkari is also said to have said, no one expects a waitress to be able to buy a starter home. OK. Let’s say that’s what no one expects. How about maybe just being able to rent a one bedroom apartment? Anyone expect a waitress to be able to do that? 60% of renters cannot afford the average market rent in Rochester.

So what

Knowing that a plant needs water to flourish does not mean you will water the plant. Unless you want the plant to flourish, you will not bother. Similarly, simply knowing there is a shortage of affordable housing in Rochester - and there's plenty of data to reasonably conclude there is - does not mean affordable housing will be built in Rochester. Unless Rochester wants to provide it, Rochester will not bother.

So: do we want the people who work in Rochester to be able to live in Rochester?


  1. Yes, I definitely think that we need affordable housing in Rochester, especially that is close to the major providers of low-paying jobs (Mayo, among others). Improved public transportation also is part of the equation, as many people who need affordable housing also need accessible public transit that operates nights and weekends.

  2. Yes people that work in Rochester should be able to live here. Here is an older post, but I still think pretty accurate.

  3. It boils down to if there is a way--and there is from evidence-based best practices--to build out a DMC focus pillar of "Livable City" for all, why not? As Stephen Covey says: "Begin with the end in mind." Can we not agree the end is Livable City for all? Good to see that CNG and In the City for Good and many others are working on this topic: