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Patrick Sexton: Housing policy discussion is vital to regional growth

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Pat Sexton
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Do you want to abruptly end conversations? Say "housing policy," and people won't even make an excuse. They just bolt.

But housing policy is not only interesting — really! — it is vital to continued job and population growth. As people move to Rochester, as Steve Borchardt from the Rochester Foundation is fond of noting, they generally want a roof over their heads when they go to sleep.

But what kind of housing is desired? Some say we must only build in the urban core because that's what millennials and senior citizens want. A few propose levying steep fees for suburban housing so only rich people could afford it. Using government to prevent people from buying a home in the suburbs is the ultimate in NIMBY (not in my back yard).

For a century we've heard "sprawl is bad, density is good," but as one person has noted, "sprawl is caused by affluence and population growth. Which of these do you propose to inhibit?"

Generally, when someone says "density" many people hear "rental," and it turns out a clear majority of people want to own their own homes. Drawn from a recent study from the Urban Land Institute and other sources, here are some facts about the suburbs:

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In the 50 largest and most urbanized metropolitan areas in the US, suburbs account for 79 percent of the population and 75 percent of adults aged 25 to 35.

Since 2000, suburbs have accounted for 91 percent of population growth.

Since 2014, 68 percent of employment growth was in the suburbs.

Seventy-six percent of the minority population in the top 50 metro areas lives in the suburbs.

Eighty percent of current millennial homeowners live in single-family houses, and 70 percent of the entire generation expects to be living in one by 2020.

While suburbs have more jobs, families, and are more diverse than urban areas, some folks still prefer living in the city. Great! Sustainable communities need strong cities and suburbs to thrive. It would be silly and arrogant to prevent people from living downtown. So to coercing people to live in the city.

A sensible, realistic and intelligent policy would support all type of housing.

See? Isn't housing policy exciting? Hello?

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Patrick Sexton, of Rochester Township, is the Southeast Minnesota Association of Realtors government affairs director and a member of the Post-Bulletin Community Editorial Advisory Board.

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