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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Steve Elkins (DFL)

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My Legislative Initiatives

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Dear Neighbors,

I have heard from many of you about how difficult the recent rise in crime has been. My colleagues and I are committed to supporting our local communities to ensure that everyone feels safe. You can read a letter we sent to our local mayors, chief’s, and other critical staff promising action this session.


Crime Reporting
Edina representative Heather Edelson is spearheading a legislative effort to support our suburban police departments in their efforts to stem the current surge in crime. As part of that initiative, I was asked to convene an interagency workgroup to examine barriers to the sharing of crime data among cities, counties and state agencies including the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. 

The criminals behind the current wave of car thefts and carjackings are not operating within the confines of individual cities and so the crime analysts who work proactively to identify crime hotspots need to be able to view the data at a regional level, not just a city level. 

My colleagues frequently ask me to pitch in by lending my career experience in information management technology to help with the data related aspects of their legislative initiatives, and I’m always happy to help out. I have been working with the cities, the counties and the Department of Public Safety on other data sharing projects, so extending that cooperation to work on this project was a natural.

Make it Safer to Use Transit 
The editorial by this title in Thursday’s Star Tribune refers to my transit safety bill (HF1306) which has already cleared all of its House committees on bi-partisan votes and awaits action in the Senate.

Legislative Initiatives
One of the first things you learn as a new legislator is that to have an impact you should focus on a few subjects where your life experiences provide valuable insights that you can build upon to become a trusted expert on the subject matter. 

I’ve taken on two very important and especially complicated legislative initiatives this session that have required a tremendous amount of research and stakeholder engagement. One of them is consumer data privacy, which leverages my experience in information management. I’ll discuss that bill in my next bulletin.

The other is housing affordability, which builds upon my local government experience. There is currently a severe shortage of entry-level starter homes for millennial generation families, who have now reached the age where they are forming new families and trying, often in vain, to purchase their first family home. Most of the new housing being built today is at price points that are far beyond the reach of young families and as a result, the marketplace competition for the existing stock of starter homes is fierce, leading to a sharp escalation in the prices of small older homes.

In part, the high cost of new homes is due to construction labor shortages and high prices for lumber and other building materials. However, the biggest single problem is a shortage of construction-ready lots upon which new starter homes can be built. Both nationally, and in the Twin Cities, the supply of available buildable lots is at historically low levels. The local Realtors Association reports that the median price of a buildable lot in the Twin Cities has more than doubled to almost $200,000 over the last decade. To get to the price of the finished home that can be built upon that lot, you typically have to multiply the price of the lot by 3 to 4 times. If you look on Zillow for the prices and availability of new homes being built in the developing suburbs, a typical price is in the $500,000-$750,000 range and very few new homes are available for less than $450,000.

Last summer, the Star Tribune published a front-page expose about exclusionary zoning practices in the Twin Cities that are driving up the cost of new housing. Shortly thereafter, I announced the first draft of my bill that would reform the State’s zoning laws to make it easier for both for-profit and nonprofit housing developers to satisfy the demand for entry-level workforce housing. I had first described the roots of this problem in my own StarTribune editorial back in 2019. The initial draft of my bill received favorable press coverage over the summer in the StarTribune, MinnPost and the Minnesota Reformer. The institutional barriers to the construction of affordable housing which are embedded in municipal zoning ordinances are recognized as nationwide issues, however, there are peculiarities in Minnesota zoning and property tax laws that pose unique challenges. These laws have not been scrutinized by the legislature for over 25 years and it’s time for reform.

Examples of the abuses that my “Legalizing Affordable Housing Act” bill is designed to address include zoning provisions which:

  • Require minimum lot sizes which are so large that only expensive executive homes can be built on them.
  • Require large minimum home sizes
  • Require every home to have a three-car garage
  • Require every new home to be faced with stone, brick or hardiplank
  • Require that excessive amounts of land be set aside as open space without compensation to the homebuilder
  • Require that excessive amounts of land be that set aside for ridiculously wide roads
  • Prohibit duplexes or granny flats (note: did you know that Bloomington has always allowed duplexes in its single-family neighborhoods?)
  • Allow NIMBYs to block the construction of multifamily housing – even new senior housing, and even when the city’s own comprehensive plan allows it.

Perhaps the most troubling problem is the growing tendency for cities to throw their own zoning ordinances out the window and insist that every housing development be individually negotiated through “Planned Unit Development”, a micromanaging process which slows the process and adds risks that homebuilders have to build into the price of their housing.

Part of the problem is that the State’s property tax rate structure incentivizes cities to over-zone for “profitable” expensive executive housing as a strategy to build their tax bases and hold down property tax levels. I will have a second bill which would remove that tax incentive.

Right now, I’m hard at work assimilating all the feedback that I’ve received from cities, developers and affordable housing advocates to get the final version of these bills ready to be introduced at the beginning of the 2022 session in a few weeks. Stay tuned!


Town Hall - Save the Date

Join Representative. Edelson, Senator Franzen and me for our Early Session Town Hall on Thursday, February3 at 6:00 PM. This will be a virtual town hall held on Zoom, so be sure to join us here. I look forward to seeing and speaking with you all as we discuss what to expect this session!


COVID-19 Update

Governor Tim Walz announced the launch of the next phase of the ‘Kids Deserve a Shot’ vaccine incentive program to encourage families in Minnesota to get their kids 5- to 11-years-old fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It is paramount that we vaccinate our children so they can learn in person as much as possible. You can learn more about the ‘Kids Deserve a Shot’ program here. Here are some important details on the incentives:

  • Families in Minnesota who get their 5 to 11 year olds fully vaccinated in January and February can get a $200 Visa gift card. To be eligible, kids in Minnesota ages 5-11 must receive their first and second dose between January 1 and February 28. Registration will open at 10:00am on January 24, 2022 and close at 11:59pm on February 28, 2022. Learn more here.
  • Later this spring, there will be drawings for five $100,000 Minnesota college scholarship drawings for all 5-11 year olds who are fully vaccinated. Details will be released soon.

Families in Minnesota can visit to find local vaccine clinics. Families can also check with their pediatrician, family medicine clinic, or local pharmacy about appointments. In addition, please be sure to watch for vaccination clinics being offered at schools or other community locations around Minnesota.

Keep in Touch

Don’t hesitate to reach out if I can provide any assistance. Please follow me on my Facebook page for further updates and invite your friends and family to do so as well. 

Thanks for the honor of representing you at the Capitol. 


Steve Elkins 
Representative, District 49B 
Minnesota House of Representatives 
515 State Office Building 
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 
St. Paul, MN 55155 
(651) 296-7803