Photo via http://thecuckingstool.blogspot.com

A few months ago, the StarTribune ran an article by Stephanie Audette titled Tension builds in Edina over teardowns. The article highlighted the recently growing trend of people buying homes in Edina just for the lots. The new homeowners tear down the existing home and rebuild a new (bigger! better!) home on the same lot. It was a fine article, mostly about how Edina has adopted a new Construction Management Plan to lessen the temporary impacts the construction process has on neighborhoods (things like parking, noise, truck traffic, dumpsters, etc).

This trend can only mean positive things financially for the City of Edina. Their least desirable housing stock will regularly be removed and replaced with (most likely) high end construction. Property values everywhere will increase and the City will collect more taxes. Along the way they’ll probably require the new builders to replace some aging public infrastructure in places (like sidewalks or curbs). And to top it off, the likelihood that the new owners will be relatively affluent suggests that the residents will have plenty of money available for discretionary spending at local shops. Other than residents who are annoyed by truck traffic, it’s really hard to identify any losers in this situation (but I’ll try anyway).

  • Some folks will mourn the loss of architectural integrity of the neighborhoods. Older bungalows are being replaced by new homes 2 or 3 times the size of the old homes. This is subjective, but some people feel very strongly about it (the word “monstrosity” appears several times in the comments at the StarTribune site). I am sympathetic to residents concerns about the sheer size of some of the new homes.
  • Some existing residents will feel pinched by the rising property taxes. It would be very frustrating to be a long-time homeowner and feel like you could no longer afford to pay the taxes on your home due to escalating property values. Still, it’s hard to feel too bad for someone whose principal complaint is that their home is now worth way more than it used to be worth.

And yet, despite my inability to determine exactly who is losing in this situation, it certainly feels like overall we’re losing wealth as a society (or at least acting inefficiently), since most of the homes being torn down are perfectly usable homes in respectable condition. Since there are thousands of homes in much worse condition in other parts of the Cities that could be torn down at a much lower cost (or empty lots that are practically free), from a societal financial efficiency perspective, investment in Edina seems misdirected. But we also understand that society is not investing, individuals are investing, and what is best for the group is not necessarily best for the individual.

Readers, this topic is admittedly way outside my area of expertise, so I’m hoping you can help me answer the following questions:

1. Is tearing down perfectly usable homes in order to build new homes problematic in ways other than the subjective metrics like the architectural integrity of a neighborhood?

2. What policies could or should be in place that would help redirect some of this investment into other neighborhoods that could arguably use renewal more than Edina?