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By John Rask, 2019 Housing First Minnesota President
We’ve arrived at Q4, 2019 and this is the last of my four columns. It seems like a good time to reflect on our accomplishments during this amazing year.
Most powerfully, we’ve found our voice and have truly assumed the leadership role in statewide conversations about inventory and affordability. We have bent the arc of these discussions substantially. We are the organization protecting the American dream of homeownership in Minnesota. In fact, we’re really the only enterprise equipped with the knowledge of the industry, the modern, comprehensive advocacy platform, and perhaps most importantly, the will to take up the fight.
Just a few years ago, if you were to have sat in a Legislative hearing on housing, the entire committee agenda would have been about housing subsidy and low-income housing programs. You would not have heard about the challenges that market-rate housing is experiencing and about the regulatory decisions that have and continue to drive up housing costs. Today, we’re having an entirely different discussion. We have changed that narrative, and it hasn’t been easy. How did we do it?
Research. We produced research—our first major research paper, Priced Out: The True Cost of Minnesota’s Broken Housing Market, was followed by our just-released study of permits, Building Permits: Boosting the Bottom Line for Cities. We launched a powerful digital issue advocacy campaign toward influencers called Priced Out.
Courts. We used the courts as we filed a lawsuit against the city of Dayton regarding roadway impact fees, a practice they have yet to cease despite Harstad v. Woodbury.
Communications. We have used our communications platforms, such as this Digest and our Housing Industry News, which reaches every licensed contractor in the state, all building officials, mayors, legislators, and other key influencers. We’ve also been extremely successful at generating media coverage—and that’s by design.
Lobbying. And we’ve lobbied successfully. Our efforts resulted in the formation of the Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability and the Senate Select Committee on Homeownership and Affordability. Both of these legislative bodies will dedicate time and resources to better understanding what’s driving our inventory and affordability challenges and then, proposing solid legislative solutions for the full body to consider.
Regulatory Affairs. Of course, we’ve been engaged in other advocacy efforts as well. Most notably, we’ve been extremely active in the code development process with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, which is set to release final versions of the codes in the near future. We believe our efforts have prevented expensive code changes and we anticipate the most reasonable code revisions in years. Our affordability arguments are making a difference as code officials weigh the benefits of new requirements against their costs.
While achieving these demonstrable results, we’ve also continued to advance in other areas. With our Parade of Homes and Remodelers Showcase, we’ve innovated significantly, reworking our guidebook content, enhancing builder and remodeler listings both online and in print, experimenting with new advertising concepts, and beginning efforts on a Parade of Homes app, which we’ll launch in the spring of 2020. The next step in the evolution of our home tours is to leverage this powerful platform and beloved consumer brand to tell the story of homeownership and elevate awareness to bring public support to our advocacy challenge of reimagining housing in Minnesota.
Project Build Minnesota, which we helped to found, continues to gain footing and is growing as a recognizable brand promoting construction industry careers in Minnesota. The nonprofit has a strong website and social media presence; a growing outreach effort to counselors, school administrators, county fairs, job and career fairs, and community organizations; and will launch new training efforts in 2020 that are actually going to put students through a short-course in construction. At our Builders and Remodelers Show, we brought in six teams of two students to construct adjacent walls and frame in windows. In 2020, we anticipate 12 teams of four students, and each will build a functioning playhouse that charities can use as fundraisers. We are also working on a Boy Scouts of America Explorer Post in construction in collaboration with several other construction-related associations.
Workforce is part of our advocacy story—as we seek to reduce the cost drivers making Minnesota unaffordable, we bring forward the challenge of an adequate workforce to build what is necessary. Policymakers are listening and have agreed to discuss the idea of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds onto a job site.
If the advocacy, Parade of Homes, and workforce development efforts aren’t enough, we’ve launched two major money-saving benefits for our membership this year. Our new auto program with Jeff Belzer dealerships brings a $750 discount on every truck or vehicle you purchase. And our new Housing First Minnesota Health Plan will launch this quarter providing much-desired discounted health insurance for member companies through Blue Cross Blue Shield. This isn’t just a discounted prescription program or a super-high deductible crisis plan, it’s the real deal, a fully insured plan. Watch for more about this tremendous new offering in the coming months.
With the issue of building affordably so prominent, the desire of today’s youth to work in an industry that meets a cause, and the growing awareness by consumers of climate issues, green building is getting attention. We launched our Designated Green Path Builder program this year, and already some 30 members are enrolled. We expect this program to grow.
We also hit 20,000 Home Performance Reports issued by Minnesota’s Green Path this year. That’s 20,000 new homeowners who now have information about their HERS score and their air exchanges. The program has become so substantial that RESNET asked us to present at its annual conference. The demonstrated success of our builders in providing such a high-quality product with an average HERS of 51, fourth-best in the country, has been important in conversations about the new energy code. In other words, Green Path is yet another way in which we advance our advocacy agenda of homeownership and affordability.
Our charitable arm, the Housing First Minnesota Foundation, has been engaged in powerful discussions as it narrows its mission and vision. Our vision: to end homelessness in Minnesota. Our mission: to work in partnership with others to provide safe, durable, affordable housing for Minnesota’s homeless, veterans, and others in need. This effort, too, contributes to our efforts to protect the American dream of homeownership for Minnesotans. We help to move people from homelessness to housing stability, and ultimately hope they can enjoy the tremendous pride and benefits of homeownership. Several projects are in the works and we anticipate breaking ground on at least one this fall—a Homes for Heroes project to build a transitional facility for homeless veterans.
I know I went long—but as I said at the beginning, it’s been an amazing year. This doesn’t even cover all of our efforts. What’s most important is for you as a member to know and appreciate that your association is working very hard to advance the dream of homeownership. We are deeply concerned about the ability of our children and their children to own homes, and it’s a value worth fighting for. I hope you agree and will seek to get even more engaged and inspired by our work.
What an honor it has been to serve this great industry and this powerful association. I do believe we are making a difference and that motivates me. Let’s finish 2019 strong.