Officials Question City Housing Policies

Following a recent redevelopment failure, the need for a comprehensive housing policy was recognized.

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On the heels of June's Pillsbury Commons housing development controversy, members of the Richfield City Council, along with city staff and officials from both the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) and Richfield Planning Commission met earlier this week to develop a strategic vision that will guide future residential development.

While outlining strategies and future steps needed to develop such a policy, questions posed at City Hall on Monday made it clear that work remains to be done if the hoped-for Richfield housing vision is to become a reality.

“This first meeting is really more about putting together the process,” said Richfield City Manager Steve Devich.

Just a few of the many considerations officials will be taking into account before specific policies are established include:

  • What mixture of affordable and market-rate housing is desirable in either a neighborhood or new residential development?
  • What constitutes affordable housing in Richfield? 
  • What are the current gaps in Richfield's rental housing?

According to 2010 U.S. Census statistics, more than 12 percent of Richfield's population lives below the poverty line—meaning affordable housing will remain front and center for city officials. While the Met Council asks that cities meet certain requirements in developing affordable housing units, at Monday’s meeting it remained unclear exactly what those goals mean for Richfield.

Also of concern is the city’s lack of diverse rental housing—much of Richfield's "housing stock" is comprised of one-bedroom rental units. Because there’s little “move-up” rental housing, individuals and families looking to rent two- or three-bedroom apartments are often forced to go elsewhere.

"If you're looking for a one-bedroom, Richfield's your town," Community Development Director John Stark joked.

Richfield also lacks newer rental housing developments with modern amenities and features—like dishwashers and in-unit washers and dryers—that are an attraction for many renters.

Adequate options for seniors looking to rent, especially people who require any form of living assistance, also remain in short supply.  

Stark emphasized that, while keeping in mind gaps in senior living options, when crafting new housing policies Richfield would be wise to focus on the needs of its future residents. The “youngest” city amongst its neighboring communities, half of all families moving into Richfield between 2004 and 2007 were under the age of 34.

Although the strategic vision should further codify city housing policies, Richfield hasn’t been working entirely without a net; the city’s comprehensive plan, established in 2008, does call for distinct housing goals.

Meant to maintain and enhance Richfield’s community image while ensuring a sufficient diversity in the city’s housing stock, the comprehensive plan, along with an informal “balance” philosophy established by the HRA in 1998, will both be clarified by the new Richfield housing vision.

City officials and staff hope to next identify a facilitator who will work as a go-between with City Hall and community members. Officials also expect to line up experts from local universities to assist in crafting more specific guidelines before policy is created.

Barry L. August 24, 2012 at 05:03 PM
We all hope that instead of bringing in outsiders that city staff would ask first of the community to have a voice in the housing.


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