Frey: Affordable rental housing in Minneapolis surged last year

Five men stand in a room and look toward the crowd
Minneapolis Housing Policy and Development Director Elfric Porte speaks to reporters at the Leef North Office Building, which is part of an affordable housing development in north Minneapolis.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Calling Minneapolis “a beacon for the rest of the state,” Mayor Jacob Frey on Wednesday unveiled new numbers showing that the city is helping to produce more affordable housing than in the past.

The number of affordable rental housing units created in Minneapolis last year was about three times higher than the yearly average for most of the last decade. 

Frey said the boost in new affordable rental housing was due to a vast investment since he took office. He estimated that Minneapolis has spent about $320 million in city and federal funds to support affordable housing since his first budget in 2019. 

“Where we’ve been doubling down in terms of money, it is having an impact. Where we are doubling down to give people a foundation from which they can rise, it is having an impact,” Frey said. “These are historic numbers, and we would put our numbers, our data and our results up against just about any other city in the entire country.” 

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In 2022, the city reported that 919 affordable rental residential units were produced. The yearly average before Frey took office, from 2011-2018, was about 322, according to the city. The units are all designated as affordable under the area median income. 

Minneapolis officials pointed to the success of developers in building projects like the Northside Artspace Lofts, which include 100 designated affordable housing units. They also say groups like the City of Lakes Community Land Trust and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity have been successful in creating permanently affordable housing, including a new townhome development in the city’s Harrison neighborhood.  

Frey said his administration’s focus has been on affordable housing serving families that make 30 percent or less of the median area income, with 264 rental residential units produced last year. For a family of four, that would be an annual income of about $35,000, according to Elfric Porte, director of Housing Policy and Development. 

“What it does is it gives people who are experiencing homelessness that next rung on the letter to pull themselves out,” Frey said. “Previously, in many cases, that rung didn’t exist. It still doesn’t exist for far too many people in our city and in our state.” 

Porte said additionally, the city supports affordable homeownership, with the agency helping about 5,000 households to become homeowners in the last five years. About 70 percent of the people the city helped with financial wellness counseling, down payment assistance and homeownership programs are people of color, Porte said. 

As rents have gone up while incomes stagnated, the city of Minneapolis has invested in supporting affordable housing, said Minneapolis Council Member Jeremiah Ellison.

“[There were] lots of things we couldn’t have foreseen but the one thing that we did, what our staff did, and that we did as a council and invested in as a city was more affordable housing,” Ellison said. “I think it’s going to have an incredible stabilizing effect across the city.”

Minneapolis voters in 2021 approved of a ballot measure to allow the City Council to craft rent stabilization measures. A working group last year recommended that the city cap residential rent increases at 3 percent, although Frey has said he’d veto that policy. Any rent stabilization plan that council passes needs final approval from city voters.  

In the coming months, Frey said the city will cooperate with other jurisdictions to try to preserve public housing that’s in need of repair. The mayor also said that his administration will continue to support homeless shelters and programs like Stable Homes Stable Schools, which gives rental assistance to families who Minneapolis Public Schools identify as in danger of becoming homeless.