As the Rochester City Council and Olmsted County Board gathered this week to discuss housing needs and opportunities, it was obvious voices were missing from the conversation.
As John Errigo of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund reviewed findings from a recent study conducted by the former Cornerstone Partnership, he noted discussions with developers indicated support for inclusionary housing policies that would create more clarity, reduce time for gaining approvals and level the playing field for projects. However, it raised a question about whether there is an agreement among all area developers.
"I wouldn't use the word consensus," Errigo said. "Developers will have differing opinions, but more than one developer said that."
We've heard developer support for taking action to create more affordable housing options. Mike Paradise of Bigelow recently sat down with the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board and told us as much, but he also noted needed voices have been missing from the conversations.
He noted a 2014 housing summit drew only two people directly involved with local construction. He and Joe Weis of Joseph Development joined a conversation dominated by people from nonprofit and government agencies.
"I was a little bit concerned about the fact that you weren't getting all the right players involved in the whole thing," he told us, noting they were invited but opted not to attend. He added: "It's really hard to get them to come in and sit down at these meetings and participate, but they need to."
Errigo and others can report endlessly about what they hear from builders and developers, but too often the words fall flat until they are heard from the sources. Unfortunately, the builders and developers, as well as real estate agents and bankers, often are busy with business during the week and evenings, and weekends offer precious family time.
Yet, they need to find time to join the conversation, which is why we're excited to hear Steve Borchardt, housing initiative director for Rochester Area Foundation, is hoping to spur those discussions. He's planning to bring builders, developers and others together to discuss obstacles to creating affordable housing, as well as potential strategies.
"Hopefully, I can convince them to participate in something like this," Borchardt said, noting the builders and developers have been maligned in the past, but many people forget many also took a hit during the economic downturn.
We're hoping Borchardt's efforts can make builders and others comfortable with talking about their concerns and potential solutions. Maybe that comfort also will allow more open conversations that can help guide public policy and address the need for affordable housing.
Simply talking with Paradise demonstrated to us that there are numerous ideas that could help alleviate some need. Among them, Paradise suggested finding ways to encourage new construction to fit the needs of aging baby boomers, which could strengthen the overall market by opening their larger homes for sale. "We have to have an overall healthy housing environment," he said.
To do that, we need to hear more concerns and ideas. Monday's meeting between the county board and city council was a good step along the way, but it also highlighted that there is a long distance to go.
Hopefully, more travelers will join the journey by ending speculation and helping forge the best path for all.