Community Solutions Podcast- Guest: Olga Parsons

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In this episode, Jason and Andrew welcome Crystal City Council Member, Olga Parsons. No matter where you live in MN, this is podcast is for you. Over the past three years (since 2015), there has been a group of newly elected city council members that have been willing to break the mold. Their innovation has caused Crystal to implement policies not straight out of the latest American Planning Association trade journals, but to craft ordinances and draft planning that represents Crystal. Some of what they have done is starting to be discussed in other cities, but there is a long way to go. So, pull up a chair and listen to all that has been accomplished in three short years, and dream about what is possible where you live. Where are all the other people with the skills and intellect to do these kinds of things where you live? Stand up and be counted!

Just launched!!! At the beginning of each episode Jason quotes some song lyrics that have to do with the subject matter of the podcast. Andrew never knows what they are, but now he can… and so can you! We just launched the Spotify playlist: “Community Solutions Music From the Podcast“! You can listen to Roundabout from Yes after listing to Episode 30 on Roundabouts… or kick back and enjoy a rocking playlist just for the thrill of it. We add a new song every week. Subscribe and enjoy!

Don’t forget that you can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify, or go out to the PodBabble Podcast Network!


February 7, 2018 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

Community Solutions Podcast- The Truth About Complete Streets

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In this episode, Jason and Andrew discuss Complete Streets. Maybe you’ve heard of them and maybe you haven’t, but I can guarantee that you’ve most likely seen them. No matter where you live in the United States: big city or small town, rural or urban area… cities and counties are passing complete street policies. What does this mean? What are they really? Are they as fantastic as advertised? We discuss it all here so you can talk to your community all about it.

Just launched!!! At the beginning of each episode Jason quotes some song lyrics that have to do with the subject matter of the podcast. Andrew never knows what they are, but now he can… and so can you! We just launched the Spotify playlist: “Community Solutions Music From the Podcast“! You can listen to Roundabout from Yes after listing to Episode 30 on Roundabouts… or kick back and enjoy a rocking playlist just for the thrill of it. We add a new song every week. Subscribe and enjoy!

Don’t forget that you can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify, or go out to the PodBabble Podcast Network!

February 1, 2018 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

Community Solutions Podcast- Do Levy Limits Work?

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In this episode, Jason and Andrew discuss the idea of placing levy limits over local governments. It sounds like a good concept, right? Set the maximum for property tax increases and spending is held in check… unless it’s not. Do levy limits work, or do they cause local governments to get creative in new types of taxes and fees, raise other existing taxes and fees, or a combination of both? We’ve had them before. What happened? Is there a better way to cap tax increases? I hope that this conversation helps you to think about levy limits in all of its pros and cons to make an educated decision on where you stand.

January 24, 2018 at 2:27 pm Leave a comment

A Great 21rst Century Way to Destroy a Community

By Andrew Richter

And here is how our country is being ruined…….

The Golden Valley City Council met in a work session Jan. 9, to address the need for affordable housing in the city and how local governments can protect low income renters.

The lack of affordable housing has become a worrisome housing trend throughout the city, the metro area and the entire country as a whole, according to Emily Goellner, associate planner for Golden Valley. The state of Minnesota has addressed this downward trend by requiring cities to provide affordable housing opportunities — specifically to establish plans and programs that meet the existing and projected regional housing needs and to develop strategies to promote the development of low- and moderate-income housing.

Really? So people are coming to council meetings demanding lower rent or you got a talking points memo from the APA or the Met Council?

Beyond that, the Metropolitan Council — the regional policy-making body, planning agency and provider of essential services in the Twin Cities region — has studied how much affordable housing the region needs and has allocated a portion of that need to communities throughout the region so they can incorporate needed land into their overall comprehensive plans to make affordable housing possible in Minnesota suburbs. State law, however, does not give the Met Council the ability to force cities to build affordable housing.

Not yet anyway……

Golden Valley’s action plan

The city began addressing the need for more affordable housing in January 2017. The council met to discuss the housing shortage with staff again in April and August.

“Since August, we committed to completing six items immediately,” Goellner said. “We did accomplish all six of those items.”

The city’s six goals included monitoring the housing conditions in the city and taking inventory of housing stock; including strong language in the city’s comprehensive plan to address affordable housing policies; adopting a mixed-income housing policy; attending and establishing good relationships with the Safer Tenants and Renters program; promoting the Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing program with the Greater MN Housing Fund; and expanding the legislative priority of affordable housing.

Huh? What the hell?

While affordable housing is difficult to define, conversations in Golden Valley referred to such housing as households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income. The average rent in Golden Valley is more than $1,200 monthly, according to city staff members. To address this housing shortage, the city has formed a community housing team, comprised of residents, renters, congregations, social service agencies, landlords and housing advocates, to push for the preservation of affordable housing, prevent displacement of neighbors and create access to new affordable housing.

Housing shortage? I thought the rent was too high?

Furthermore, the city has been actively participating in the Affordable Housing Preservation TOOLS work group. The city work group includes representatives from member cities like Minneapolis, St. Paul, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Edina, Richfield, Eden Prairie and Brooklyn Park; along with Hennepin County and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The city work group seeks to implement initiatives to help protect low-income families by preserving affordable housing.

Let me translate that; you are going to manipulate the housing market by playing favorites and handing out subsidies and changing zoning laws.

“We’re researching four policies right now,” Goellner said. “The first is the advanced tenant notification. This policy would protect tenants once the sale of a NOAH property has occurred.” The policy, Goellner said, would give tenants and local government entities a 90-day advanced notice prior to the sale of the property.

“For 90 days, under this policy, there can be no substantial raise in the rents, no additional screening criteria and no non-renewals of those existing leases,” she said. She explained that, at the end of the 90-day period, some of those actions could be taken, but it would at least allow the tenant 90 days to make alternative housing arrangements, as opposed to only 30 days to make arrangements.

So even if a lease is up and ownership changes hands, the tenants will now get an extra 90 days? This is a breach of contract!

In conjunction with this policy, is a policy in which NOAH property owners would be required to notify the city of the sale. The intent of this policy is that it would allow the city to keep a database of NOAH properties that are for sale and potentially reach out to preservation buyers with the goal of keeping the property affordable. Goellner explained that this would prevent one of the potential causes for the shortage of affordable housing — developers buying old buildings in mixed-income areas and increasing the rent.

The other problem, she explained, is that many developers approach cities with the intent to build new, luxury apartments in mixed-income areas, contributing to the displacement of the community’s low-income households.

“Another policy that we’re still pursuing is the prohibition of the discrimination of Section 8 voucher holders in the city,” she said. The Section 8 Protection Ordinance prohibits the denial of prospective tenants simply for using Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers or other subsidies to help pay rent. The ordinance would prohibit the denial of prospective tenants simply for being a Section 8 recipient.

So that means that they are going to make everyone take Section 8? No freedom of choice!

Currently, housing providers can refuse to rent to individuals solely because they have a housing choice voucher. Goellner explained, this voluntary approach makes it difficult for families to access housing, particularly housing in opportunity-rich communities and neighborhoods.

“This ordinance ensures that voucher recipients are assessed as any other applicant would be,” she said. “This allows families that rely on housing vouchers to have an equal opportunity to acquire housing. The last policy that we’re working on right now is that non-renewal of leases must be for cause.”

The Just Cause ordinance prohibits a NOAH property owner from terminating a tenancy without good or just cause. Just cause reasons for terminating a tenancy would include nonpayment of rent, violating the lease, damaging the apartment, disorderly behavior or disturbing the peace, hosting an unapproved holdover subtenant or having chronically late rent payments.

Currently a lease can only be terminated for a just cause, however, state law allows for no-fault, non-renewal of leases with only 30 days of written notice. Therefore, residents with positive rental histories can receive notices to vacate or non-renewal of leases for no reason, known as involuntary displacement. Extending the just cause requirement would require the same reasoning for lease non-renewal, Goellner said.

So what you are entitled to a live at a certain place? Owners can’t decide who they want as tenants?

Council’s thoughts, next steps

One of the suggestions made by Golden Valley city staff members during the meeting was to set aside a portion of the general fund budget to cover the cost to conduct housing inventory within the city every five years.

“We have the smallest staff and HRA budget of the nine cities involved in the city work group which will affect our ability to enforce and administer these policies,” Goellner said. “When you first look at these, they seem quite simple, but as you start to think about different scenarios in how we would begin to enforce and administer these programs and how they would be defended in the case of a lawsuit, there’s a lot more work that we need to conduct. While cities have a very important role to play, there are some state laws that act as barriers to some of the policy ideas that we have. There’s a lot we can do to enable and encourage affordable housing.”

Why don’t you just stay out of the free market!

The majority of the council members were in favor of having a discussion about potentially setting aside levy funds to boost HRA assistance and provide some kind of financial incentive for property owners to update or remodel affordable housing units, but the members were not prepared to have that discussion that evening.

“We simply don’t have the bandwidth as a city in terms of leading the charge on some of these issues,” Councilmember Larry Fonnest said. “We don’t have the staffing or budget to be at the forefront of this charge, but we are definitely at the table. I think it’s a discussion worth having.”

Councilmember Joanie Clausen said she would not be prepared to discuss the potential of designating tax payer money to such a cause until she’s heard from all stakeholder groups and residents.

“We have a lot of priorities in the city and we need to sit down and address those priorities,” Clausen said. “We have debt we’re really trying to tackle. We have a responsibility to hear both sides and all of the information so we can make an informed decision.”

Clausen said she wanted to hear from affected property owners and urged the council to approach the Section 8 ordinance with caution as the City of Minneapolis is currently facing a lawsuit on the issue. She reminded the council that each member has been entrusted by the residents to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars and that these types of discussions can not be rushed.

“I do not want our city to be facing a lawsuit,” she said.

Mayor Shep Harris asked the council to give staff members one of two directions — to continue meeting with the work group and see what comes from it or to move forward and try to present a draft ordinance on the just cause and advanced notification pieces separate from the work group.

Councilmember Gillian Rosenquist said she would be in favor of the just cause and 90-day notification ordinances. The Section 8 piece, she said, needed more attention because of the litigation and unknowns.

Oh God…..

“In looking at Ms. Goellner’s list of possibilities of things that we could be doing, a lot of them are only possible with an HRA or some kind of financial foundation,” Rosenquist said. “If we’re not doing what comparable communities are doing in terms of an HRA, we need to be having that discussion. We’re at a turning point in this city. I’m not prepared to move forward, but I know that this is something very important to our community.”

Rosenquist concluded her comments by requesting staff members “stay the course.”

“Staying the course doesn’t mean let’s see what happens in five years; the pace has actually been impressively fast,” she said. “We are making a sea change.”

Clausen echoed Rosenquist’s comments and said she was not prepared to direct staff members to start drafting potential ordinances before gathering more information. Councilmember Steve Schmidgall and Fonnest agreed.

“What’s been critical to me all along is that I consider this more of a regional thing,” Schmidgall said. “I think it’s absolutely critical that our community move forward in step with the other eight or 10 communities involved.”

Oh Schmidgall must have been awake for this meeting…..

“This is an issue which has long-term implications, not only for our city, but also for the entire region and the state and it will affect the quality of people’s lives,” Fonnest said. “With the exception of one meeting with property managers and landlords, folks that are in those positions within our community are not at the table. We can build a castle in the sky, but if the property owners are not on board, there’s going to be a lot of push-back and a lot of effort that may not bear fruit.”

So you are going to improve Golden Valley by adding more low income housing and by forcing in more section 8 vouchers! That’s a future I can believe in!

Fonnest requested that city staff members make a concentrated effort to inform managers and property owners in the city of these discussions, explain the city’s long-term goals and present a plan illustrating how the two parties can work together.

“I’m supportive of the advance notice and the just cause ordinance, but I think we have to be practical in our pursuit and realize that there are legal hurdles out there that others are going to have to jump on our behalf,” he said.

Harris said he was in favor of beginning to draft ordinances to address the three points — Section 8, just cause, and advanced notification.

“My biggest fear is that we have another NOAH property that turns,” Harris said. “To me, one of the number one priorities as a city is to ensure people’s safety. To use a scenario, let’s say I am a victim of domestic abuse and I need to make numerous calls to the police. Fortunately, I feel comfortable calling the police because I know under state law, I’m not going to get kicked out immediately. However, I am not going to call the police because when my lease is up for renewal there’s nothing to potentially protect me from having my lease not renewed. Even though our city has ordinances when it comes to nuisance and state law does not count domestic abuse as a nuisance, there’s still little protection for individuals. Though domestic abuse does not count as a nuisance under state law, there’s nothing preventing a landlord from not renewing that lease because of the repeated police calls to their property and that puts me in a position,” he continued. “I’m being abused, my children are being abused; this is the only place I can stay right now. And now, I have to choose between picking up the phone and calling the police and possibly being kicked out of this apartment in six months when my lease is up and having to find another place for me and my kids to live or just continuing to take the abuse. Unfortunately in some cases, the decision is not to pick up the phone. Do I have any facts that this is happening in our community? No, I do not. But, is it a potential? Yes. And that concerns me.”

OK can anyone tell me what he just said?

Before moving on to the next agenda item, the council heard from Christine Hart, community developer and community action partnership.

“We are a service agency working with low income residents,” she said. “We have homeless prevention services and we do provide services around housing stability and getting people out of the shelter system and into housing. That being said, we are able to help seven families a month across the entire county and we get over 100 calls per month. This isn’t going to change without some systemic solutions.”

To learn more about Golden Valley’s housing market visit City staff members have developed a 43-page document outlining the supply, cost and demand of housing in Golden Valley. To listen to the full audio of the council/manager work session visit:

Residents are also invited to attend The Community Housing Team monthly meetings. Contact Ruth Paradise for more information at

Good Lord… poor people in Golden Valley are just going to continue to watch your city decline…..this is the way it’s done; slowly change ordinances, zoning, density requirements, and use taxes as a way to manipulate what happens. There’s no freedom of choice, no free market principles, and no personal liberty or responsibility. If you are in Golden Valley get out now!


January 20, 2018 at 10:38 pm Leave a comment

Community Solutions Podcast- Why We Need Caucus

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In this episode, Jason and Andrew discuss the importance of caucus to the cause of local politics (and as a result state and national politics, as well). We get so lost in the idea of a straw poll mattering one way or another. State and federal politicians (and politician hopefuls) use caucuses one way, but as voters on the local level, we need to look at caucus in a completely different way. Some folks are calling for an end to this practice in favor of a pure primary. We argue that if we lose the caucus system, we lose the battle for local control. Find out why, and then get involved at your caucus this year!

January 17, 2018 at 5:06 pm Leave a comment

Community Solutions Podcast- History of the Met Council

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In this episode, Jason and Andrew discuss the history of the Metropolitan (or Met) Council. The Met Council was created in 1967, pursuant to federal legislation. It gave the organization the power to manage wastewater treatment networks. It’s powers have grown incrementally by state statute to include transportation, land use, housing, and parks. Do you know if its creation was at the hands of republicans or democrats? Are you sure of that answer? This organization wants to grow from seven counties to eleven. It’s never enough power. This podcast is not only useful if you live in that eleven county area. It is also useful if you live in out-state MN, as you have the Minnesota Association of Development Organizations (MADO) and its ten member regional development organizations doing much of the same work. The legislature must limit its power at the very least, or at the very most #endthemet!

January 11, 2018 at 1:23 am Leave a comment

Community Solutions Podcast- City Code Task Force

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In this episode Jason and Andrew discuss an idea that they have floated around for a while, the City Code Task Force. What is that, you ask? Well, cities have way too many laws. Some are dictated by state law, some are necessary to the running of a city, some are outdated, some are overly punitive, some are duplicative… So, how do we get get a handle on local ordinances? How do we streamline the rules we are governed by? Some will say to just let it be until an ordinance causes a problem. This however creates an overabundance of laws that we can’t ever hope to understand or follow. It becomes cumbersome, and too easy to break the law. What if residents of a city came together to go over a city’s ordinances and told their government how they want to be governed? Enter the City Code Task Force. This sounds great in theory, but it’s even better in practice. This is our case study from Crystal, MN, who had great success with the Task Force. Now other city’s are asking how to do the same thing. This should be the way things are everywhere. Here is our story.

January 4, 2018 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

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