Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing Shortage Rooted in Downzoning of 1970s

Efforts are underway to preserve existing “naturally occurring affordable housing” (NOAH) in Minneapolis. A $25 million loan program created by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF) will provide non-profit housing organizations with low-interest loans in order to purchase and preserve existing NOAH properties.

What is a NOAH property? The GMHF site puts it this way:

NOAH stands for Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing. It refers to residential rental properties that are affordable, but are unsubsidized by any federal program. Their rents are relatively low compared to the regional housing market.

NOAH properties are typically Class B and Class C rental buildings or complexes with 50+ units, built between 1940 and 1990. Rents are lower-ranging, generally between $550 and $1,200 per month, affordable to low- and moderate-income households.

A vast majority of current NOAH properties in Minneapolis were not built to provide affordable housing. They were built as market-rate apartments, and have gradually become less expensive as time passes. As a building ages, it becomes more affordable, meaning that “a 50-year-old home is typically occupied by someone whose income is about 60 percent lower than that home’s first occupant.“ I’ve rented in Minneapolis for over 15 years, and the newest building I’ve been able to afford was built in 1968.

Graph demonstrating increase of housing affordability over time

Graph demonstrating increase of housing affordability over time

If aging housing stock is the key to affordability, why aren’t we seeing more multi-family buildings age and become affordable? In the mid-1970’s, the city stopped allowing them to be built. Around this time, neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis lobbied to change zoning rules in order to prevent the construction of 2.5 story walkup apartments. These efforts were largely successful. From the October 11, 1975 Star Tribune, under the headline “Anti-apartment zoning approved”:

Extensive zoning changes to prevent the spread of apartment-building areas in four south Minneapolis neighborhoods were approved unanimously by the Minneapolis City Council.

How extensive were these changes? Zoning maps from the 1970’s provide some insight into where zoning changes were made.

Zoning map of Lowry Hill East and Whittier neighborhoods from 1972

1972 zoning map of the Whittier and Lowry Hill East neighborhoods on the right. R6 zoning allows for apartments to be built as the highest potential land use (though less intensive uses, such as building a triplex or converting a single-family home into one, are also allowed)

Map of Lowry Hill East and Whittier neighborhoods from 1975

1975 zoning map of the same neighborhoods. Much of the R6 zoning has been replaced by more restrictive R2B zoning, which only allows for the construction of duplexes as the highest potential land use.

In the above, we see areas that were zoned R6 (apartment zoning) changed to R2B (single-family and duplex zoning). If the above zoning map looks like some diabolical jigsaw puzzle, it’s for a reason. Existing multi-family buildings were largely “carved out” in order to allow those buildings to be rebuilt in the event of a catastrophe. This means many areas zoned R6 already have existing apartment buildings on them, making them poor candidates for new construction. (It rarely makes financial sense to tear down an apartment to build a new one.) Further changes in the zoning of this area since 1975 has further diminished even medium-density land use possibilities (such as fourplexes), and has restricted high and medium-density zoning to very small areas, many of them also already occupied by existing apartments.

Map of Lowry Hill East and Whittier neighborhoods from 2016

2016 zoning map of Lowry Hill East and Whittier. Note most R6 zoning has been pushed into a very small section of these neighborhoods, and has largely been replaced by R2B.

This downzoning was not just limited to the Lowry Hill East and Whittier neighborhoods. Large swaths of south Minneapolis nearest to downtown underwent similar changes in order to prevent the construction of apartments. The area that was downzoned is closest to the downtown core, bounded by Hennepin to the west, Hiawatha to the east, 36th Street to the south, and I-94 to the north.

What impact does this have on the future of NOAH in Minneapolis? By artificially limiting multi-family housing construction over 40 years ago, the decisions of city leaders and neighborhood homeowners  has directly contributed to our current and ongoing affordable housing shortage. The lack of housing constructed since 1975 means very few additional NOAH units will be coming online anytime soon.

The negative impacts of these zoning changes are amplified by our rapid population growth. Minneapolis has added roughly 40,000 residents in the last 7 years, which has made our affordable housing shortage even worse. With limited areas where new apartments are allowed, property management companies have turned to renovating existing NOAH buildings and raising rents, hence the need for a NOAH preservation fund. While preserving these existing NOAH buildings is important, Minneapolis cannot preserve its way out of a housing shortage.

Current zoning that limits the construction of new housing has encouraged property management companies to snap up the limited supply of older apartment buildings. A 20-unit brownstone, where I once rented, sold for $450,000 in 2010, and now has an estimated worth of $1.5 million–all without any major renovations! No new apartments have been built nearby, forcing renters who wish to live in the area to choose between only a few available buildings. This massive spike in value is also shared by other nearby housing; due to scarcity of available housing, the value of single-family homes and apartment buildings nearby have risen in a similar fashion.

Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) apartments in Whittier

Two small examples of NOAH buildings, constructed 100 years ago but which are largely prohibited today due to zoning restrictions (and parking requirements).

While the misguided downzoning of the 1970s may have been done with good intentions, such as preventing teardowns, the effects of these downzoning efforts have created a housing shortage across the city. Property values are soaring in areas like Lowry Hill East and Whittier, where high demand combined with restrictive zoning has made it difficult and expensive for those who want to live in these desirable areas. These neighborhoods have access to amenities like high-frequency bus lines, walkable neighborhood interiors, nearby lakes, shopping, etc. Restrictive zoning means that instead of allowing more residents to enjoy the benefits of city living, these benefits are only available to those who either purchased property decades ago, or those who can afford to pay a premium for access to these increasingly desirable amenities.

Moving forward, we need to assess how the downzoning craze of the 1970s has contributed to the housing shortage that exists today. It’s time to re-examine these changes in the context of our current housing crisis and come up with a compromise that allows more housing to be built.

To quote an old Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The same applies to housing. If we want future generations to have access to naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH), we need to build housing now, and we need zoning that allows for it.

 

Additional maps:

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #24 from 1972

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #24 from 1972

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #24 from 1975. High-to-medium density (R3 to R6) areas removed in favor of more restrictive R2B zoning.

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #24 from 1975. High-to-medium density (R3 to R6) areas removed in favor of more restrictive R2B zoning.

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #25 from 1972

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #25 from 1972

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #25 from 1975. Again, we see areas where apartments were previously allowed changed to prevent their construction, replaced with R2B zoning.

Minneapolis Zoning Plate #25 from 1975. Again, we see areas where apartments were previously allowed changed to prevent their construction, replaced with R2B zoning.

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24 Responses to Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing Shortage Rooted in Downzoning of 1970s

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary June 30, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    Nice article! A couple of thoughts:

    First, the images you use to represent 2.5-story walkups are somewhat charitable considering that this zoning change took place in the 70s. I expect that the reaction was more targeted toward prevailing apartment styles of the time than ~1920s brownstones. (I don’t find that 70s-era apartment building all that objectionable, but I acknowledge that the larger size and materials are not as visually compatible with an older neighborhood)

    Second, I agree with your assessment of “how we got there”, but I wonder what it means now. Recent zoning changes in this area got negative reactions from the pro-development urbanist community. But today, is anybody building 20-story walk-ups? I know of a couple of examples, but it seems like the vast majority of new apartment construction is in the 100-to-300-unit range per project. Does this downzoning in the interior of the neighborhood matter today if the type of housing it restricts isn’t attractive to develop anyway?

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino June 30, 2017 at 8:55 am #

      We’re definitely starting to see smaller (and cheaper) projects in Minneapolis. Not 20 unit, but there’s definitely a 70ish unit with 40ish parking spaces on three-ish house-sized lots apartment building template that’s emerging. A lot of it is the parking requirement reform a couple years ago, and probably also that the boom has continued this long and makes lenders feel more confident. This will get better with eliminating the sideyard setback requirement, and we approved doing that in commercial zoning on Monday and will start working its way through council in a couple weeks. Would be good to also do that in, say, R3 to R6. Right now it’s pretty hard to build a 20 unit building in Minneapolis in the areas that would support it.

    • Anton Schieffer
      Anton Schieffer June 30, 2017 at 9:10 am #

      I see your point, but I think the downzoning was aimed at stopping apartments (and the people that lived in them) generally, rather than being a backlash against a particular architectural style. Minneapolis currently has rules that require a mishmash of materials and textures on the facades of buildings, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if those rules were borne of the same era.

      I think developers chase larger projects because they’re the highest rate of return for investors, and that’s partly due to the limit on how much R6 zoning is in a neighborhood. Our current housing shortage has created a very hot market for new housing construction, and investors can get bigger returns on larger, fancier buildings (especially given current construction costs). No one is going to build a walk-up apartment when for a few dollars more they could build a 5-story building with double the capacity.

      My hope is that by creating more capacity for housing (and building it today), we ensure the next generation isn’t dealing with the same NOAH shortage that we are.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini June 30, 2017 at 9:44 am #

      As you note, there are several examples of smaller-scale apartments that have gone up recently. There’s the 10-unit single lot building at 2008 Bryant, the 4-unit (each with 3-4 bedrooms) “Rocket House” at 28th/Dupont (along with several variants of this design being used by the Turkey Guys), and the Turkey Guys branched up to the Boutique28 building. Lander has built several smaller-scale buildings like Motiv (~40 units), the 36th/Grand 3-story 24-unit building, his 4-story 25-unit proposal at 32nd/Hennepin.

      We don’t see 2.5 story walkups anymore because of ADA regulations (which are good, necessary). Fair Housing Act and other modern codes have also constrained the allowed layouts in smaller buildings if you want to avoid the cost of an elevator. MSP is an even more car-centric region than it was in the 1960s/70s – driving a greater demand for parking (even as demographic changes make parking-lite development a bit more palatable). And of course, land prices are higher now than they were in the 50s which certainly adds to the challenge of making a smaller project cash flow.

      But. My take is that while there certainly are some developers out there with the ability to thread the many overlapping regulatory needles to create these smaller structures, it’s somewhat a lost art. And that’s because, by and large, the number of lots that allow even modest small-scale infill are vanishingly rare. As I have detailed in a few posts here (as well as obnoxiously on Twitter), even very small redevelopment requires at least R5 in Minneapolis. With so few opportunities out there, urban-minded architects, developers, and property managers shifted their focus to the large 5-6 story buildings where allowed (and renovating old homes or building new ones in their place on the bottom end). And until recently, even the many lots zoned R2B could not convert to a duplex by-right due to lot size requirements (at least in Minneapolis). Re-allowing this would very likely unleash a wave of people pouring their talents into that small-to-mid sized market.

      I challenge your theory that the reaction to 50s-70s era walkups was mostly due to architecture or style, whereas people would have accepted more beautiful brownstones people love. Most of the city zoned out those beautiful brownstones between the 20s and 50s, because people flat out didn’t like apartments (it was in the SCOTUS ruling for Euclid v Ambler!). It was only the 50s Comp Plan directing growth in concentric rings near downtown that allowed all the walkups we see in Whittier, Powderhorn, Marcy Holmes, the Wedge, etc – wiped out mostly in the 70s.

      Finally, I think people gloss over the many very handsome examples of post-war apartment/condo architecture like these ones. Whether or not “visual compatibility” is a worthy policy goal is a wholly different discussion, but I think with a little more zoning leeway we’d have seen more good looking buildings.

    • Julia June 30, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

      When I hear phrases like “not visually compatible with” in conjunction with what is allowed in an area, my alarm bells go off, particularly given Minneapolis’ history of racist zoning policies/racial covenants, white-dominated neighborhood boards, and (barely) coded racism under the guise of classism that seems to underly virtually every push for downzoning I’ve heard of.

      Who is the arbiter of “visually compatible” and what makes it so acceptable as grounds to exclude people? I’m all about human-scale buildings/land-use (which is still absent from just about all of Minneapolis’ policies in my understanding). But as a mixed-race Minneapolitan whose family was NOT “visually compatible with” either each other or the dominant whiteness where I grew up, and who had this pointed out on the regular, I get really uncomfortable with presumptions of visual matching equating in any way to being welcomed or belonging.

      If we want to talk about set-backs, scale, pedestrian generators, windows, doors, awnings, walls, block size, building-to-building street widths, curb cuts, vehicle speeds, crossing distances or any of the other aspects of land use that truly impact other people’s basic experiences of a space, I’m all for that. But I think we need to be on guard for claims based on an aesthetic purity test because at best it has its roots in a lazy and careless understanding of what makes good places for people and at worst it’s a cover for/reinforcement of continued racial segregation.

      Again, don’t think that’s what you’re intending. Just something I’ve thought about a lot both as an urbanist and having a lifetime of the “not visually compatible” line thrown at me as a human from the same people who protest development as “not visually compatible.”

      • Rosa June 30, 2017 at 7:24 pm #

        Exactly. I’d love to see an exact timeline of court rulings about restrictive deeds and downzoning, because with just a general overview it sure looks like zoning just replaced older forms of segregation.

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards June 30, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

      “Does this downzoning in the interior of the neighborhood matter today if the type of housing it restricts isn’t attractive to develop anyway?”

      In the last few years Lowry Hill East was starting to see small scale development in areas zoned R6 (4plexes, a 10-unit building) and the response was to tweak the zoning to restrict it, followed by a further downzoning of the neighborhood interior in 2016. If you find a way to build it, certain vocal residents bang the drum for a downzoning. We can’t pretend that zoning doesn’t matter. Let’s see what gets built if we let it happen.

      Also need to add that I love having the opportunity live in a building that’s not “visually compatible” with the neighborhood. It’s great for people who can’t afford to live in a museum piece.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini June 30, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

      (submitting this without any links since that flagged the comment. mods can delete the original pending one)

      As you note, there are several examples of smaller-scale apartments that have gone up recently. There’s the 10-unit single lot building at 2008 Bryant, the 4-unit (each with 3-4 bedrooms) “Rocket House” at 28th/Dupont (along with several variants of this design being used by the Turkey Guys), and the Turkey Guys branched up to the Boutique28 building. Lander has built several smaller-scale buildings like Motiv (~40 units), the 36th/Grand 3-story 24-unit building, his 4-story 25-unit proposal at 32nd/Hennepin.

      We don’t see 2.5 story walkups anymore because of ADA regulations (which are good, necessary). Fair Housing Act and other modern codes have also constrained the allowed layouts in smaller buildings if you want to avoid the cost of an elevator. MSP is an even more car-centric region than it was in the 1960s/70s – driving a greater demand for parking (even as demographic changes make parking-lite development a bit more palatable). And of course, land prices are higher now than they were in the 50s which certainly adds to the challenge of making a smaller project cash flow.

      But. My take is that while there certainly are some developers out there with the ability to thread the many overlapping regulatory needles to create these smaller structures, it’s somewhat a lost art. And that’s because, by and large, the number of lots that allow even modest small-scale infill are vanishingly rare. As I have detailed in a few posts here (as well as obnoxiously on Twitter), even very small redevelopment requires at least R5 in Minneapolis. With so few opportunities out there, urban-minded architects, developers, and property managers shifted their focus to the large 5-6 story buildings where allowed (and renovating old homes or building new ones in their place on the bottom end). And until recently, even the many lots zoned R2B could not convert to a duplex by-right due to lot size requirements (at least in Minneapolis). Re-allowing this would very likely unleash a wave of people pouring their talents into that small-to-mid sized market.

      I challenge your theory that the reaction to 50s-70s era walkups was mostly due to architecture or style, whereas people would have accepted more beautiful brownstones people love. Most of the city zoned out those beautiful brownstones between the 20s and 50s, because people flat out didn’t like apartments (it was in the SCOTUS ruling for Euclid v Ambler!). It was only the 50s Comp Plan directing growth in concentric rings near downtown that allowed all the walkups we see in Whittier, Powderhorn, Marcy Holmes, the Wedge, etc – wiped out mostly in the 70s.

      I think people gloss over the many very handsome examples of post-war apartment/condo architecture, I can provide pics another time. Whether or not “visual compatibility” is a worthy policy goal is a wholly different discussion, but I think with a little more zoning leeway we’d have seen more good looking buildings.

      • Julia June 30, 2017 at 7:27 pm #

        One thing I don’t see mentioned is what downzoning does to existing duplexes and triplexes or the ability of property owners to split their existing buildings into multiple units.

        I’m curious about that both historically (the loss of units, whether official or not) and currently (how would upzoning potentially be able to help shift some of the giant single family houses around to higher and better uses without other policy changes or major building permits).

  2. Scott June 30, 2017 at 10:58 am #

    Minneapolis leaders in the 1970s did lots of stupid things to compete with the suburbs including blocking off Nicollet Avenue for a Kmart and tearing down half of downtown to create parking. At the time cities across the country, including Minneapolis, were losing population and dealing with increases in crime. I agree the downzoning seems ill-conceived in 2017, but until recently the City Council/ Planning Department/ economic development experts thought this was the stuff that had to be done. It is a relatively new phenomenon that people are moving back to the city, want to live in high-density apartments, and that a sizable number of City leaders understand that.

    Also, I agree that much of the push back in the Wedge was to the style of those 60s and 70s-era buildings, which are kind of ugly IMO.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 30, 2017 at 11:58 am #

      If there weren’t people who wanted to live in apartments here, then the downzoning would have been unnecessary, no?

      Also, my understanding of the history here (which very well may be wrong), is that this downzoning was not the work of the city planning people but rather a push by neighborhood residents who wanted to keep renters out.

      • John Edwards
        John Edwards June 30, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

        Yes. The 70s downzoning was driven by a vocal group of residents who dislike apartment buildings and generally resent living in a neighborhood full of renters (strange, considering the neighborhood has always been high renter).

        The neighborhood had a smaller scale downzoning in 2016, driven by the same dynamic, including some of the same people from 40+ years ago. http://www.minneapolismn.gov/cped/projects/LowryHillEastRezoningStudy

      • Rick Pietrzak July 4, 2017 at 12:24 am #

        More often than not, renters are a transient population. They have no stake in the neighborhood in which they live. Like it or not, when you have areas with a high level of rental property, property values suffer. You can also have higher levels of crime.

        If you own the property you live in, you are going to have some pride in it and take care of it. You are going to care what happens in the neighborhood and community that you live. Renters can just pick up and move if the area goes to hell in a hand basket.

        Zoning can be used as a way to spread this burden out around a city or to keep it in a certain area. It all depends on who is running the city at the time and what the needs are.

        • Dana DeMaster
          Dana DeMaster July 5, 2017 at 9:15 am #

          Census data really belie some of these assumptions. Nationwide according to the 2015 ACS, 72% of renters lived in the same place a year previously. This is compared to 93% of homeowners. Sure, more homeowners were in the same house a year ago, but 72% isn’t exactly transient.

          Renters tend to be younger than homeowners, which makes sense as younger people haven’t had time to save up a down payment or may be changing jobs more frequently (I know when I graduated I had a job a year there for a while until I settled into the career I’ve been at for 15 years). According to the 2015 ACS, 36% of renters were under age 35 compared to 10% of homeowners, but the proportion of homeowners to renters between ages 35 and 44 was almost the same -16% of homeowners vs 20% of renters.

          Analysis of Current Population Survey data (which includes questions about voting, volunteering, and participation in community groups as a measure of neighborhood involvement) shows that length of residence is associated with higher community involvement, not whether someone owns or rents. Long-term renters have similar community involvement rates as homeowners with similar tenures in their housing. People with higher incomes and education are more likely to participate (and be home owners) as well. (McCabe, B. “Are Homeowners Better Citizens? Homeownership and Community Participation in the United States” Social Forces (2014) 91:929-954)

          Also, according to the 2015 ACS via the Wilder Compass website, 64% of residents in Calhoun/Isles, 45% of residents in Highland Park, 40% of residents in Longfellow, and 65% of residents of Hopkins are renters. I consider each of these pretty great neighborhoods or cities and don’t see them as areas of high crime, decreasing property values, and lack of investment.

          We could also likely think of dozens of anecdotes of renters being positive forces in their communities. For example, when I rented in Windom I was on the neighborhood advisory group and when I lived in CARAG I was very involved with our block party planning, planting flowers in a community garden, and volunteering at a local clinic.

          So, how do we stabilize housing for renters and welcome people in our communities so they can participate? How can neighborhood groups be more welcoming spaces for people with lower incomes and lower education levels? What can we do to engage our community rather than dismiss them?

        • Joey Senkyr
          Joey Senkyr July 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm #

          “If you own the property you live in, you are going to have some pride in it and take care of it.”

          Hoo boy is it easy to find counterexamples for this assertion.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller July 6, 2017 at 10:27 am #

          You’ve nicely repeated the stereotypes. I don’t think there’s any data to back any of them up.

          Also, there’s nothing that says your neighbors in the single family home next door aren’t renters. We’ve got two that I know of on our block, both of which have had the same residents for years.

          Renters don’t mean lower property values, poorly maintained properties do.

        • Rosa July 7, 2017 at 11:49 pm #

          Lots of renters are very stable in the neighborhood – they may move around within boundaries but stay in basically the same place, participating in neighborhood institutions and having a very good web of connections (often multigenerational.)

          Property owners on the other hand if they stay long enough get old and stop being able to keep up with the property. Or they get stuck in a devaluing neighborhood and can’t afford to do upkeep or sell. Or they viewed the place as a “starter home” and then get stuck for whatever reason and don’t care. Plus, the renters are living in a place SOMEONE owns – if ownership made a person care about the place and the neighborhood, every single home and apartment building would be in great shape. That’s just not true.

          You can’t generalize about a person’s criminality just by whether or not they own their home, and stability comes from a lot of things, including the general regional economy and rental laws. Viewing renters as a burden makes it harder to have stable mixed-income neighborhoods.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary July 8, 2017 at 11:07 am #

            Although many homeowners take good care of their property, I agree that it’s not fair to assume all homeowners care (and have the means to take care of it) and all renters don’t care. One thing that really defines rental property is that there is a consistent revenue stream, and it is operated as a business.

            In Richfield, some older apartment buildings have a reputation of being “blighted”. Once in a blue moon, you’ll see something you wouldn’t usually see at a single-family home, like an old mattress in a place you wouldn’t expect. But in general, these properties keep their grass mowed, keep weeds managed, keep trash picked up. Some are called “blighted”, but it often feels more like coded complaints about who lives there, not the actual condition of the property (at least, as seen from the exterior).

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke June 30, 2017 at 1:33 pm #

    Yeah those late 60s apartment buildings suck but are great at the same time.

    • Morgan Bird June 30, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

      So do the 1900s-1920s ones though! Sure most people like the exterior better but if they haven’t been renovated the kitchens are straight garbage.

      • Julia June 30, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

        I’d argue the inverse. If the kitchens have been “renovated,” they’re straight garbage—or at least I have yet to see a kitchen renovation in a 1900s to 1920s place likely better than what it replaced, ignoring the environmental waste of pointless “upgrades.”

        One of the things that sold me on my place was the 1920s kitchen, with its original (hardwood but painted) cabinets and large enamel sink with drain board. I looked at an otherwise similar place that had a 1990s “renovation” and couldn’t imagine cooking in it. Bad/unworkable counter heights, low quality materials, too-big appliances wasting energy and space, and a double-basin stainless steel sink (I love washing dishes by hand, but not fighting them into a small metal bin first).

        Seems like there’s a variety of preferences and that’s part of why we need to upzone everything.

      • JP July 2, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

        I’ve lived in one of the two buildings pictured. The unrenovated 13′ x 12′ kitchen is a thing you would have had to pry out of my cold dead hands. Sure, I had to add counter space — and, being myself, some gratuitous open shelving — but that still let me fit in a 6-seat table with room to spare. And I’m with Julia on the appliances. Judging by the pictures I saw of the renovated kitchen in another unit, it would not have given me the same kind of flexibility.

  4. Karen July 12, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    Great stuff. Its interesting that high-end apartments of the past become low end rental opportunities 50 years out. Having lived around Grand and Snelling for 20 years, I saw 1920s fourplex apartments become highly valued – beautiful front sunrooms, wood/character galore. But the brand new apartments, say above the Whole Foods on Snelling with modern kitchens and amenities, do seem to get the highest rents.

    It seems the opposite happens with houses in the cities, the houses that once were built for working class folks or servants, become the hot houses and neighborhoods of today (Beacon Hill etc). I don’t see this happening in the suburbs 50 years out, but the future is hard to predict.

    I really appreciate this article, there is so little real data and deep thinking on zoning/housing policy and I don’t think anyone, even as little as 8 years ago, in 2009, saw the city housing crunch and affordability issue coming like it has, certainly not 40 years ago when people were literally driving out of the cities.

    We are often like old generals, fighting the last war, not realizing till its too late, that this new war needs far different tactics.

    Good news is, we are getting over designing everything for cars and starting to get over limiting supply, at least in cities, and know how to do this better. Now it’s the hard work of turning the ship, fighting the inertia of status quo and elite entrenched interests, and the long slog of changing things bit by bit.

  5. Karen July 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    I still want to know how we can build more neighborhoods like the one I used to live in St. Paul, off Snelling, and say, off of Grand Avenue that seem a very peaceful, and mutually beneficial coexistence of single family homes, fourplexes, two-story flats duplexes, and taller multi-story apartment buidlings with strong commercial/retail strips nearby.

    I lived on a block that had more apartment buildings than single family homes, and yet the single family homes right next to apartment buildings sold for as good as money as any others in neighborhood. You see very big nice single family homes just off Grand avenue that as 2-3-4 and taller apartment buildings galore, and even apartment buidlings among the streets parallel to Grand among the very valuable single family homes.

    The single-family homes mixed in with the apartments still get almost all the goodies of single-family homes – nice yard to themselves, nice tree-lined, fairly quite streets, parking options on property and often in street too, but also get almost all the benefits of denser city areas – lots of nearby by commercial, good transit options.

    Meanwhile the apartment dwellers get the benefits of being around some single-family homes – pleasant yards and gaps to look through, a little less business than denser parts of city etc.

    But we don’t build mixed neighborhoods like this anymore.

    Most of the houses and apartments here are from 1920s, but there are units built in 60s and 70s, they don’t look like the other places, but don’t harm the charm of neighborhood, and certainly, with time, are starting to seem a little more retro cool than they did 25 years ago:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@44.9429037,-93.1633964,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sHJN8InqmfdmVM3T99GXTGQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

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