Missing Middle Housing Transect Diagram

Dear City of Minneapolis

My open letter to City of Minneapolis officials and staff regarding the disposition of a vacant, city-owned lot.

I’m disappointed to see the recent article in the Southwest Journal, “Project with most parking wins vote in Lyndale neighborhood.”

I am urging you and city staff to choose the 32+ unit apartment proposal that serves the interests of Minneapolis rather than the overparked townhome court which protects the interests of those with a free parking space they wish to protect.

Despite serving on a neighborhood board and being on a housing and redevelopment committee elsewhere in the city, I find it quite troublesome that existing residents can vote to keep out new residents (and, by extension, vote to make Minneapolis housing less affordable) because they want to preserve access to their slice of an unpriced public good — on-street parking.

“That block of Nicollet is pretty jammed for parking,” said one neighbor. That block of Nicollet also lacks any sort of pricing to deal with demand, such as meters. Of course people want something for free… Why pay tens of thousands of dollars to build a garage, or hundreds of dollars a month to rent one, when the city provides storage for dozens of peoples’ largest piece of personal property right out on the street for free?

But this has huge opportunity costs. Capital and real estate devoted to the storage of cars comes at the expense of capital and land devoted to the housing of Minneapolitans. When we choose to allow fewer people to live on a street because we would rather have an easier time finding free parking, it means fewer people can live in a high-demand neighborhood. It means less affordable housing.

I find Brad Bourn’s statement encouraging, where he notes that “Our vote will have some influence, but it will not be the final say.” This is a city-owned parcel, and the city should ensure that it has the highest and best use when selling to a developer.

Between the two proposals, which will have the bigger contribution to our tax base? Eight townhomes with two car garages on the bottom facing a suburban-style driveway court? Or a building with at least 32 dwelling units in the high-demand $900 to $1,100 per month price point? There’s potential that the finished product of the 32 unit design would have at least double the assessed value of the eight unit townhome court. Is it worth giving up that tax base to protect people’s subsidized parking?

But tax base shouldn’t be the city’s only concern when accepting an offer for this city-owned parcel. We should also look through the lens of the city’s stated goals. If we want to increase equity, build great places, and reduce disparities, we ought to pick the developer who will produce 32+ units rather than eight. One neighbor said, “given the bedroom counts (24 in the townhouses, or 30-plus for the apartments), the resulting density is fairly close in each project.” While that literally understates the difference between the two actual proposals, it also understates the difference in units and price points rather than just comparing bedrooms. As most of us who live in single family houses know, not all bedrooms are created the same in terms of housing people. Most of us with extra bedrooms have guest rooms, home offices, TV rooms, or hobby rooms. That’s well and good for those who can afford larger homes, but there are already plenty of large homes available in Minneapolis and in the Lyndale neighborhood. What we are lacking – especially with demographic trends towards smaller households – are small, affordable apartments. While $900 to $1,100 month may not be “affordable” to all, it’s relatively affordable for new construction in the area, and these new units will keep the pressure down on developers turning older affordable units into renovated less-affordable units elsewhere. This is a huge net win for housing affordability in Lyndale and in Minneapolis.

Finally, more residents means more amenities and services for Lyndale neighbors (except free parking, I guess). It means more shops and services due to a larger local market, it means more demand for increased transit service and amenities on Lyndale Ave, and so on.

More units means more tax base for our city. More units means more equity and housing affordability. And more units means more quality of life and amenities for existing neighbors. Please urge city staff to choose the Randy Hobbs apartment proposal for this city-owned lot.

Matt Steele

About Matt Steele

Matt's passion is fostering resiliency in local transportation and land use decisions. He's at @matthewsteele.