|Governor Rudy Perpich||Governor Mark Dayton|
In January Star Tribune writer Lori Sturdevant wrote a column identifying several program start-ups of former governor Rudy Perpich that Mark Dayton should emulate. In his day Perpich, who was Dayton’s mentor, launched bold initiatives, although sometimes unusual (e.g., the chopstick factory), for education, economic development, and general state promotion.
In her column Sturdevant didn’t include affordable housing as a Perpich success, but she should have. During his final term as governor, Rudy Perpich initiated a process that brought attention and consensus around a comprehensive approach to a range of housing challenges then facing the state. Because similar challenges exist today governor Dayton should consider Perpich’s approach.
In achieving this accomplishment, Perpich’s first step was to create a commission of housing industry leaders to assess housing needs facing the state and to develop recommendations for the legislature. Perpich called for the commission because he saw that there were a range of interconnected housing concerns weighing on Minnesota families and communities. Homelessness had been increasing, particularly for families, and rents and mortgage payments were outpacing the purchasing power of lower income Minnesotans. The state’s aging housing stock, particularly in rural areas, was at risk due to homeowners having incomes inadequate to maintain the housing. Because so many closely linked issues were surfacing, it seemed prudent to pursue a more comprehensive approach than the state had been taking in its housing policy.
Furthermore, these challenges were appearing in the era of “devolution,” when federal funds diminished and basic responsibilities were devolving to state and local governments. With federal housing support declining by 80%, as the commission reported, new thinking was urgently needed. Perpich decided to join several other governors by calling for a newly crafted state response to at least partially fill the breach left in wake of federal cutbacks.
In 1989, the recommendations of the commission received bipartisan support in the legislature. Governor Perpich was able to sign into law a number of new initiatives that strengthened the partnership between state and local governments and the private sector, initiatives that ultimately helped tens of thousands of Minnesotans secure decent homes. In doing so, as studies have subsequently shown, Minnesota families affordably housed found the stability that enabled them to become more self-reliant, children not forced to move improved academically, and in many cases getting homeless people off the street actually saved the state money.
With Mark Dayton in his final term in office, Minnesota faces a set of housing challenges closely resembling what Perpich saw 25 years earlier. Homelessness is at record levels, particularly for families with young children, and increasingly for aging baby boomers. Housing costs have been far outpacing incomes of renters. New housing is desperately needed in rural job centers. And, once again the federal government is undergoing a financial retrenchment associated with a substantial rollback in housing assistance.
Since housing challenges persist, Perpich’s work in this area cannot be deemed a complete success. But governor Dayton would do well to draw from his predecessor’s understanding that the state’s housing needs should be put in the spotlight and addressed comprehensively.
MHP 25th Anniversary Footnote: The commission established by Governor Perpich, led to coalescing of housing advocates in the Twin Cities area with the objective of promoting rental housing and capacity building strategies in the commission’s report. This advocacy continued as the commission’s recommendations were brought to the Minnesota legislature. The advocates, seeing the success of their efforts, decided to create a new organization which they named Minnesota Housing Partnership, to carry on state-based housing advocacy.
Chip Halbach is MHP's Executive Director.