To the editor:
On the historic night that brought a modicum of justice to George Floyd’s family, our City Council discussed a study commissioned by the Housing and Redevelopment Authority. This was fitting because the plans for future housing in Northfield may have implications of racial inequality.
Northfield clearly needs affordable rentals as a part of our housing solution. Rental apartments, however, are only the first link in a “housing chain” that is broken when other affordable options are not available. According to Habitat for Humanity, 66% of Northfielders live in owner-owned homes, but less than 2% of homeowners are people of color. Our neighborhoods, particularly those developed during the 90s, are segregated de facto by race and income. When renting is the only option for the disenfranchised, we force them to live with little chance of upward mobility.
As a member of Northfield SHED (Northfield for Sustainable Housing, Environment, and Development), I call on our city leaders to embrace a vision of diversity that addresses the needs of all classes, incomes, and ethnicities. To do so, the city must integrate life-cycle housing into future development plans.
Life-cycle housing allows people to cycle through various home options in the housing chain, to fit their stages in life. Despite what some developers are claiming, affordable options do exist: tiny homes, row houses, duplexes, quadraplexes, condominiums—in mixed neighborhoods where millennials, families with children, and retirees can mingle. Some homes might be available for contract for deed, enabling renters to move to ownership—in appropriate-size houses, sustainably built, for all ages and physical abilities.
If we want economic justice in Northfield, we need a vision to match it.
Before the Planning Commission and the City Council approve any plans for any new development, either infill or community expansion, we must insist on creating density with sustainable plans such as Daniel Parolek’s “Missing Middle” housing, Ross Chapman’s “Pocket Neighborhoods” or David Samela’s modular “Village on Rivoli” –whose homes in St. Paul will sell to owners whose incomes are 80% or below the median.
Why just “warehouse” our workforce in apartments when the city has the opportunity to create at least some options for ownership? We must incentivize developments that allow citizens to gain financial equity. To do anything less is a dereliction of the city’s duty to lift up all its residents and succeeding generations.