Where is Everyone Going to Live?

The forces of the housing status quo are sharpening their knives in advance of the release of Minneapolis 2040 Draft 2. As we begin a new chapter in this never-ending conversation, let’s go back to the basics.

First, you should know that the current zoning code in Minneapolis basically allows one of two things:

  1. Big buildings and big developers
  2. Tearing down a single-family home to build a single-family mansion

We’re missing all those homes in the middle (“the Missing Middle”). That’s why the battle over fourplexes is relevant. Fourplexes are the homes we used to build, but don’t anymore because we made it illegal nearly everywhere. People still live in them. (Some say it’s an alternative lifestyle, as documented by the Star Tribune.)

The small apartment building is the least expensive modern home that human-kind knows how to build, but we’ve banned them in the vast majority of neighborhoods in Minneapolis. The same bans apply across the region. Why have we banned these homes? Here’s a special episode showing how Richfield homeowners talk about apartments and renters. These sentiments are not unique to Richfield.

Statistics from the Metropolitan Council show that the region has lost a net total of 1,314 duplex/triplex/fourplex units over the last 11 years. Since 1990, Minneapolis has lost just over 6,000 units in that category. At a time when we should be adding lots of new places for people to live, it’s the only major category of home — the most affordable category! — that’s getting smaller over time.

Met Council 3

4 Plex 1

We have a responsibility to attack our housing problems from all directions. We can make more housing legal. We can bring down the cost of new housing to serve more people at more income levels. We can increase funding for deeply affordable housing for people who need it the most. We can offer more renter protections and support from the city, in order to further tilt the balance of power from landlords to renters. We can choose to do all these things.

Minneapolis and the region have added more people than homes over the last decade. This shortage matters for everyone who’s affected by the cost of housing. If we don’t address this massive shortage, we will forever be playing a game of musical chairs where certain people are destined to lose. Here’s a chart demonstrating how far we’re falling behind regionally:

Met Council 2

Now here’s two people on Nextdoor.com in Edina complaining about apartments.

Edina Next Door

Edina Next Door 2

I don’t point out these comments because they’re remarkable, but because they’re everywhere. And the question we need to ask these people is: where is everyone going to live? If the answer is not near you, then near who?

These concerns are not special. There are factions of people in every neighborhood, in every online forum, in every planning meeting, in every part of the region — and all across the country — who say and believe all the same things about preserving nebulous ideas of neighborhood character. But something has to give. We keep making the choice to prioritize the comfort of the already comfortable.

WATCH: Comfortable person poses as “marginalized” person.

This is the lens through which we should view the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. People aren’t being left behind because we added too many homes, but because we added too few. Landlords don’t do luxury renovations on older apartments to serve an upscale clientele because we built too many new apartments, but because we built too few. If we want more homes in more neighborhoods for more people, it’s time we legalized housing.

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10 Responses to Where is Everyone Going to Live?

  1. Scott Walters September 24, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    “Landlords don’t do luxury renovations on older apartments to serve an upscale clientele because we built too many new apartments, but because we built too few.”

    Amen. We need an all of the above strategy. The graphic showing how far behind MSP is in keeping up with population is huge. I think people who live here still think MSP is an affordable place to live, work, start a family, etc. It’s not. We’ve lost what used to be a huge regional advantage…we used to offer higher than median incomes with at least competitive housing costs. That advantage has melted away since the great recession. It’s region wide, but a lot of the growth is in the inner cities. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul need to respond aggressively…and aggressively means encouraging redevelopment of both cities, with duplexes, triplexes, quads, and large scale development, as well as encouraging ADUs. All of the above.

    With real encouragement for additional affordable housing. Massive reduction in parking requirements, and maybe even more radical approaches…yes, we should require more apartments suitable for families, but we should also, perhaps, allow experiments like apartments with private bedrooms/baths but that share the kitchen, laundry, living rooms, etc. among multiple private bedrooms.

    We’ve let ourselves get behind the 8-ball. It’s going to take attention, flexibility, some money, and some time to work our way out.

    • Julie Kosbab September 24, 2018 at 10:44 am #

      I think people who live here still think MSP is an affordable place to live, work, start a family, etc. It’s not.

      There are studies that still designate MSP as such, but a key issue in those studies is the relative basis of the claim. It is more affordable than many job centers, which is different than truly affordable, but the articles about said studies tend to gloss that over.

      “Most affordable” is a factor of sample set.

    • Scott Walters September 25, 2018 at 12:15 pm #

      https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/index/north-america

      Here’s a quick example. We don’t fare too well.

      We score much better than Bermuda, and far better than San Francisco, LA, Boston, Honolulu, and New York. But we always thought that.

      But we are neck and neck with Vancouver and Tacoma, cities I’ve always thought of as unaffordable. Places like Raleigh and Durham, Atlanta, Richmond, VA; and San Antonio range from somewhat cheaper to a lot cheaper. There are cities on that list that I would have thought of as similar or competitive. Omaha and Des Moines are also far cheaper.

      • Peter Voyd September 27, 2018 at 8:46 pm #

        I would take the expatistan study with a big grain of salt. For one, it shows Minneapolis as having the same cost of living as Toronto. I have been to Toronto many times, I have extended family there – Minneapolis is no Toronto, the city of a 1.5+ million $ (Canadian) median single-family house.

        • Julie Kosbab September 28, 2018 at 9:07 am #

          Canadians have a lot less of their income tied up in health care cost, however.

          • Peter Voyd September 28, 2018 at 9:53 am #

            That is true, however, Canadians also have higher taxes (both income and sales). In any case, I speculate that the higher healthcare costs in the US get close to ~5x difference in SFH prices (comparing Toronto to the Twin CIties.)

            I will need to produce some numbers to support this statement, though.

          • Peter Voyd September 28, 2018 at 9:56 am #

            I meant to write that a ~5x higher housing costs in Toronto do NOT come close to higher healthcare costs here (for most people, in my estimation.)

            Also, no 30-year fixed rate mortgages in Canada 🙂

  2. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn September 24, 2018 at 12:32 pm #

    St Paul city council poised to vote on ADUs & the Marshall Downzoning this week. Please email you support for ADUs & opposition to the Marshall Downzoning ASAP.

  3. Andrew Evans September 25, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

    From a North resident perspective.

    “1.Big buildings and big developers”

    Usually in more desirable neighborhoods where there is or would be demand for larger scale apartment buildings. It took the better part of 10 years for PPL to build their apartments off Lowry/Lyndale, and although I’m out of the loop lately, I’m not sure of any wide spread demolition for large buildings yet (other than what the Park Board wants to do along the river), and there are plenty of open multi lot areas for these buildings to go.

    So this won’t really have an impact on us.

    “2.Tearing down a single-family home to build a single-family mansion”

    Yes, the city did seem to have a fetish for tearing down homes and creating empty lots in North. Granted, there may not have been a good way to mothball them an extra 5 years, and the money wasn’t around to rehab them back then, but still. Today, the money is barely there to build new construction on auction lots, let alone buying a whole property (or private lot) and building. So I’m not sure this will have any impact on North for a while. At the very least not until home sales start to stay above $230k for new construction, which is about (correct me if I’m wrong) what it would take to build a new house, unsubsidized. As far as I know there isn’t money for “Green Homes” as there was before, and the usual non-profits (PPL, Urban Homeworks, PRG) aren’t as active as they once were 5-7 years ago.

    Plus we have a metric dung ton of empty lots to build on…

    So this whole thing is again, more of a desirable neighborhood problem, where people who live close to the lakes don’t want to live next to a multi family property.

    Finally, I don’t mind the zoning changes. In fact, we want to build a garage with a upstairs motherinlaw apartment, and I hope that it’s still possible when we get around to doing it.

    I also don’t mind landlords or investors building new duplexes. Some of the worst slumlords I’ve been exposed to were non-profits, and likewise some of the best companies or places to rent are out of town landlord companies and local non-profits. Although personally I like private companies over subsidized and red-taped nonprofits, but that’s just me.

    Also finally finally, no one is going to swoop in without subsidized funds and build duplexes that are below market rate. Maybe I’m wrong, but there isn’t money for that anymore, and any money there was went to single family homes. This 2040 plan is all about getting tax money in, and all about those desirable neighborhoods people want to move to. It won’t have a big impact on regular affordable parts of the city.

    Even if there is money, I’m one of the very few in North who doesn’t mind giving tax money to private landlords. I’m way out numbered and it will be a miracle that money is given to “potential slumlords” before it would be to single family homes and single family house renovations.

    • Andrew Evans September 25, 2018 at 2:30 pm #

      I forgot that this is in my opinion, and I’m limited to seeing North around the sliver that’s Lyn/Lowry and over to Robbinsdale on Lowry, it’s a big area and I could be missing development, and don’t have my finger on the whole pulse of what’s being planned or going on around here.

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