Feb 25, 2019

Board Member Spotlight: Board Chair Jim Roth

Tell us about your background and why you care about expanding housing opportunities.

When I came to my current position at MCCD over 16 years ago, I had very little knowledge of or contact with the housing industry. My previous experience was in workforce development. But, as I was thrown into the role of advocate for affordable housing, I quickly learned of the many challenges our nonprofit housing members faced, and the limited resources they competed for – amongst themselves, as well as with the many for-profit developers.

I am pleased that MCCD and the many advocates collaborating at City Hall and the State Capitol over the past decade have enjoyed some successes in bringing more resources to the affordable housing industry. However, as we now all know, we are losing more affordable housing every year than we create. More and more Minnesotans are becoming cost-burdened in securing or maintaining their housing.

The need for developing new affordable housing, while preserving the existing stock is attracting greater attention these days. Advocates, along with developers, have raised the visibility of the worsening affordable housing market, and policymakers have taken notice. Local, county and state governmental agencies are stepping up, as is the business community. But we have a long challenge ahead. I appreciate the work of the Family Housing Fund in this effort, and am proud to Chair an engaged and knowledgeable Board of Directors.

Why were you interested in serving on the Family Housing Fund board?

When I came on the board in October of 2011, I was not your typical “recruited and invited” board member. Following a series of meetings between MCCD board members and Tom Fulton, the founding President of the FHF, it was agreed that MCCD should have a permanent seat on the board. The intention was to bring the nonprofit housing developer perspective to the board, and also allow for more transparency from the FHF to our members. In my mind, it’s been a win-win for both organizations.

What housing aspirations do you have for the region?

Simply put, it is my hope that one day, all residents of the region can find an affordable home in any community where they choose to live. That said, I have to admit I am not particularly optimistic that this can be achieved, but the effort to achieve that aspiration must continue.

What is one area where you think people generally fail to think big enough – and what is your vision for change?

I’m sure there are plenty of areas that people don’t think big, but that to me, doesn’t equate with failure. Scholars, researchers, private citizens can think big, and perhaps bring forward some new ideas. But big, dramatic proposals that might have merit, don’t come without risks. Speaking as an affordable housing advocate, I have to think, “What will get me the votes I need to get something enacted at City Hall or the state capitol?” Reaching too far with a big, bold policy change or appropriation request can turnoff even those electeds that care about the cause.

That’s not to say there aren’t times to make a push. But it has to be well thought out, timed well, and carried out by a credible advocacy coalition. MCCD’s Make Homes Happen Minneapolis (MHHM) is one such example.

With many of our housing members and other community advocates, MHHM set out to raise the visibility of the growing need for affordable housing in the city, and to encourage a greater commitment to fund it. By coordinating a series of candidate forums on affordable housing for city council seats and a mayoral forum during the 2017 campaign season, the group drew a good deal of media attention, as well as many strong supporters among the candidates.

Recognizing the momentum created and the opportunity presented, MHHM went “large on the ask.” For the previous 15 years, the city generally met a stated goal of $10M to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. MHHM decided the timing was right to push for $50M for 2019 — a number five times greater than any previous year, and a figure thought unrealistic by many. While the final approved amount was $40M for affordable housing, MHHM was recognized by Mayor Frey for their efforts to push him and the council.

While there was great appreciation for the city’s support within MHHM, work remains. The ultimate aim for the group is to work with the city to find a dedicated funding stream(s) to continue this level of annual commitment. To achieve that goal, MHHM will continue the strong collaboration of advocates, research funding ideas from across the country, and work closely with the city to identify possible sources.

What do you do for fun?
Biking. So right now, I’m not having much fun.

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