Minneapolis Comp Plan Review: Access to Housing

This post is the first in a series originally posted by Neighbors for More Neighbors that will take a deeper dive into the draft Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The city is soliciting feedback on the plan until July 22nd, and it is important that they hear input on the elements that will help support N4MN’s goal of homes for everyone.

Photo of a cute fourplex from Scott Shaffer

One of the most pressing issues Minneapolis faces today is the loss of 15,000 homes that are affordable. Restrictive land use policies have created a shortage of new homes, driving up housing costs regionally and fueling the displacement of people who can least afford it. Many of today’s zoning and land use policies stem from early 20th century public and private efforts to exclude people from living in Minneapolis neighborhoods with the best access to transit, jobs and amenities. Our current zoning and land use laws were implemented in response to the FHA’s outlawing of redlining and housing discrimination. Sadly they have achieved essentially the same outcomes. The Minneapolis 2040 Comp Plan is an opportunity to dismantle the institutionalized racist, classist, and exclusionary zoning and land use policies in our city.

We envision a future where all Minneapolis residents have access to safe and stable homes in neighborhoods of opportunity, where new residents arrive to a city with abundant homes rather than outbidding and displacing existing residents. It’s through this lens that we have reviewed the draft Minneapolis comprehensive plan.

Policy 1: Access to Housing

According to the city, this set of policies supports reduced disparities, more residents and jobs, affordable and accessible housing; and complete neighborhoods. The city is going to set out to address this with the following actions:

  1. Allow housing to be built in all areas of the city, except in Production and Distribution areas.
  2. Allow the highest-density housing in and near Downtown
  3. Allow multifamily homes on public transit routes, with higher densities along high-frequency routes and near METRO stations
  4. In neighborhood interiors that contain a mix of housing types from single family homes to apartments, allow new housing within that existing range.
  5. In neighborhood interiors farthest from downtown that are now primarily single-family homes, increase housing supply and diversity by allowing small-scale residential structures on traditional size city lots with up to four dwelling units, including single family, duplex, 3-unit, 4-unit, and accessory dwelling unit building types.

Action 1. Housing in All Parts of Town

The city intends to allow housing to be built in all parts of town (except in Production and Processing areas), this is a change from current policy that only allows new housing in specific zoning types. This important change will allow for complete neighborhoods city-wide: ones where jobs, transit, grocery stores, entertainment, and other amenities are accessible to more residents, and located within easy trip by foot, wheels or transit.

Neighbors for More Neighbors believes we can go one step further, and include housing in Production and Processing areas as well, as long as we clearly recognize the different types of Production and Processing.

  • Too often toxic industrial polluters are located near neighborhoods lacking networks to oppose these projects, perpetuating environmental racism. (Examples: asphalt plants in East Phillips and McKinley)
  • There are many environmentally-friendly industrial businesses that provide good-paying jobs in our city. (Example: Kemps on Broadway)
  • Locating jobs near housing allows people to have shorter and less costly commutes.

Action 2. Highest Density Housing in and near Downtown

The city intends to support the highest density of housing in and around downtown. We strongly support this policy for several reasons:

  • High density housing is more environmentally efficient because it is close to jobs, amenities and mass transit networks. Achieving sustainability goals is dependent on building dense housing in our region’s core.
  • Downtown Minneapolis is the largest job center in the state. By building high density housing downtown we allow more people to live closer to where they work. This relieves congestion on our roadways and allows people to live without car ownership expenses.
  • Currently, many parts of downtown are mainly active from 9–5. By adding additional residents, we help downtown neighborhoods thrive and be safely accessible at all times.
  • When we don’t built up we have to build out, which means sprawl. By building downtown, new and expensive infrastructure like roads, sewers, and water aren’t needed because they already exist. Existing wetlands are retained and our region is more environmentally sustainable.

Action 3. Multifamily on transit & higher density on high-frequency transit routes

Public transit is an important component of sustainability, economic and racial justice, and building cities that are accessible to all residents. Many residents do not drive, cannot afford to drive, or are unable to drive due to age or disability. Public transit ridership continues to increase, with ridership topping 81.9 million rides in 2017.

  • Multifamily housing along transit is essential to connect people with jobs
  • Building dense housing along existing local bus routes will help create demand for high-frequency service and better transit amenities — dedicated lanes, better stop shelters, etc. It also supports the existing investments we’ve made in improving mass transit.
  • Frequency of transit shouldn’t be a factor in the density of adjacent housing. By building dense housing, demand for more reliable and frequent transit is created.

4 & 5 Allow new multifamily housing city-wide

Shaded areas presently only allow the construction of new single family homes.

In neighborhood interiors farthest from downtown that contain primarily single-family homes, the city is proposing greater housing supply and diversity by allowing small-scale residential structures on traditional size city lots with up to four dwelling units, including single family, duplex, 3-unit, 4-unit, and accessory dwelling unit building types. This includes guidelines that will limit height mostly at 2.5 stories (a limit that already exists in the majority of these neighborhoods).

In an effort to reduce confusion about four-plexes (one of the most sensationalized policies so far):

  • 4 plexes = 4 housing units
  • 4 plexes do not equal 4 stories — most will only be 2.5 stories tall
  • 4 plexes do not equal apartments — the ownership model can take many forms
  • 4 plexes exist in all neighborhoods already, this is about re-legalizing them and not mandating that they replace all existing single family homes immediately
  • 2, 3, and 4 plexes are vastly more affordable to move into than single family homes
  • Allowing 4 plexes gives us more middle missing housing instead of single family homes or 300+ unit luxury apartment communities

When it comes to existing land use policy, one of the single worst policies is single-family zoning. Single family homes are the only housing option in over 60% of our city.

When racial covenants and housing discrimination were banned at the federal level, Minneapolis like many other cities adopted exclusionary zoning codes. The result of these codes has been de facto segregation — perpetuating economic and racial inequality in what is now one of the most unequal cities in the nation. Currently, no Minneapolis neighborhoods are affordable to African American households. Latinx households show a similar loss of affordable neighborhoods. (Source)

CURA Gentrification Study: neighborhood affordability by race. See a bigger version. (Source)

Neighborhoods that were redlined before now see whiter and more affluent neighborhoods; all continued via single family zoning. Single family zoning is tied to a culturally-specific conception of traditional family structures. Not all cultures have the same definitions of family or family size, and single-family zoning in Minneapolis has strict occupancy limits that may not include family as all residents define it.

Single family zoning means:

  • You can bulldoze a small and more affordable home and build a very large and expensive single family home.
  • Further separating areas of concentrated wealth from the rest of the city and keeping people out; and maintaining disparities in intergenerational wealth transfers
  • New development is increasingly concentrated in neighborhoods where displacement is most likely and will put pressure on surrounding areas that are not as able to organize against it
  • Decreased access to services, schools, parks
  • Normative definitions of families that do not apply to all residents

Ending single family zoning means:

  • Improved access to neighborhoods with amenities, cleaner air, and neighborhoods with large financial barriers to entry (ones that require big down payments, existing wealth)
  • Allowing people to buy a house and convert it to a duplex/triplex to make it affordable to them
  • Providing options to aging residents wanting to downsize, while having the option to stay in their community.
  • Putting policies in line with the values on our lawn signs of welcoming all people

In addition to ending single family exclusionary zoning, we would like to see the City develop criteria to evaluate and balance of housing types and ownership/rental models within neighborhoods to better identify local housing needs and ensure housing diversity is available.

  • Allow more housing-by-right in high demand neighborhoods so that projects are not delayed for years. Delaying drives up the cost of new development.
  • Provide more opportunities for public housing, community land trusts, and coops to operate; models which which make ownership available to communities that have been historically disenfranchised from ownership; and models that make rental housing accessible to all residents.

What can I do to make this happen?

  1. Go to: https://minneapolis2040.com/policies/access-to-housing/, and comment on the policy discussed in this post!
  2. Send this blog post to 3 friends and ask them to comment on it.
  3. Talk to your friends and family members (who live in Minneapolis) about why supporting housing for everyone is important, why the comp plan matters, and how to comment on it.

About Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is a web developer and linguist from Minneapolis. His free-time is spent on language, folk music and keeping up with politics.