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Wayzata is a premier suburb located 11 miles west of downtown Minneapolis. With a population of 4,500 people, Wayzata is a tight-knit community which is known for its vibrant downtown and picturesque setting on Lake Minnetonka. A popular destination for visitors, Wayzata’s downtown is home to a number of specialty shops, boutiques, professional services, and restaurants.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: IOCP ignored Wayzata Affordable Housing Taskforce report it helped create

Assertions from non-profit should be challenged

As a member of the 2009-2010 Wayzata Affordable Housing Taskforce, I would be remiss if I did not speak to the latest IOCP development of six new affordable rental units to be located on the site of their old headquarters at 110 Grand Avenue. After viewing the April 18th Planning Commission minutes, it became very clear that the IOCP chose to ignore and dismiss the Wayzata Taskforce recommendations and at the same time misrepresented the affordable housing market in Wayzata to gain city and public approval for this project. It was disappointing to learn that the final Taskforce report summarizing recommendations and policies to be used when affordable housing projects were presented to the city was not referenced nor made available to the Planning Commission or City Council members to help guide the decision making process for this project.

The Affordable Housing Taskforce was created to study the issue of affordable housing as it relates to the City of Wayzata. Our objectives were:

  1. To determine if the city can accommodate more affordable housing. 
  2. If so, what type of housing should it be; what should it look like?
  3. Where could it be located?

The Taskforce felt it was important to first determine the need for affordable housing in Wayzata. According to the 2009 Wayzata Affordable Housing Taskforce Narrative Report, “It is clear that the city of Wayzata had met the Metropolitan Council Livable Communities Act benchmark goals in 1996 and nearly doubled the affordable rental housing benchmark goal in 2009.” (pg. 7)

In Addition, per our discussion with Guy Peterson, Metropolitan Council Housing Director, we learned that the City of Wayzata is in conformance with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. Just because IOCP continues to claim there is a dramatic need for more affordable rental housing in Wayzata does not make it true. Just because they claim that we need more affordable units to meet the Metropolitan Council housing goals does not make it true.

The Taskforce reviewed the housing study done by the Wayzata City Assessor, who determined that 15% of owner-occupied homes were considered affordable at the 80% area median income. This figure drops to 9% for those making 60% of area median income. The conclusion was that the city is lacking in owner occupied starter homes. The Taskforce recommendations were to focus efforts in the area of affordable owner-occupied housing and NOT rental properties. As Wayzata is a 3.2 square mile city this will prove to be challenging. Land values in Wayzata are high. Given the fact that IOCP owns the 110 Grand Avenue property, this would have provided the perfect opportunity for them to do what is right for the city!

A viable option for IOCP would be to work with the West Hennepin Affordable Housing Land Trust (WHALT), an organization that assists in the development of owner-occupied affordable housing. I contacted the WHALT office and learned that, although their current focus is to develop foreclosed properties for owner occupancy, they are very interested in helping Wayzata due to its unique position as nearly built-out. They stated that there is definitely funding available on a case by case basis and they want to further explore an opportunity to make owner-occupied housing a reality. Why was this option not pursued?

It is noteworthy that IOCP’s Phil Milne, Housing Board member, also served on the 2009-2010 Wayzata Housing Taskforce and participated in decision-making and report writing. And, Kim Vohs, IOCP Housing Director, attended a number of Taskforce meetings and was present when the final draft of the Affordable Housing Policy Statement was written. Therefore, IOCP was well aware of the need for affordable owner-occupied starter homes and the directives of the city.

The rationale behind owner-occupied starter homes is to enable families to build equity in their first home and then, hopefully, go on to purchase a larger single family home within Wayzata.

IOCP seems to carry a key to the city and has gone unchecked far too long. The assertions they make regarding the need, type and statistics for affordable housing in Wayzata need to be challenged. Although this project is already approved, I am asking IOCP to adhere to what is true and right for the city by halting this project. The Taskforce Policy Statement MUST be taken into consideration!

A copy of this report can be obtained through the city offices.

Sandy Maclean
Wayzata

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