It's fine. Doesn't it look just fine?

Here’s Some Research Backing Up Minneapolis 2040

It's fine. Doesn't it look just fine?

A small six-unit apartment building under construction in Longfellow, minding its own business.

Some Minneapolis 2040 detractors have complained that no evidence has been offered that building more housing where people want to live (i.e. “density”) is good. “I just don’t see it as a way that we would get a measurable impact, and especially from an affordability standpoint,” Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano told the Star Tribune. Another elected official recently wrote in a forum that easing density restrictions is racist and will “reduce the availability of affordable homes.” I’ve heard similar comments from planning commissioners and land-use lawyers.

Is this true? Will the Minneapolis 2040 plan actually undermine its stated goals, and harm people of color and increase the cost of housing? What do the experts say? Well, I have a Hennepin County Public Library Card and a Chromebook, so I thought I would spend an afternoon poking around the staggering expanse of human knowledge I have access to. Here’s what I read:

  • The Economic Implications of Housing Supply by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko. The National Bureau of Economic Research, 2017.
    • Quote: “The available evidence suggests, but does not definitively prove, that the implicit tax on development created by housing regulations is higher in many areas than any reasonable negative externalities associated with new construction. Consequently, there would appear to be welfare gains from reducing these restrictions.”
    • Upshot: restricting housing supply makes housing more expensive.
  • The Long-Term Dynamics of Affordable Rental Housing: Creating and Using a New Database by John C. Weicher, Frederick J. Eggers and Fouad Moumen. Cityscape, 2018.
    • Quote: “The net increase [in the stock of affordable housing stock] from filtering is nearly twice as important as the net increase from tenure shifts, and far more important than the net increase from new construction and demolitions (and other sources of additions or removals).”
    • Upshot: the country’s primary source of housing that is affordable to people with low incomes is housing that was occupied by people with higher incomes 20 or 30 years ago.
  • Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing by Mac Taylor. California Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2016.
    • Quote: “construction of market-rate housing reduces housing costs for low-income households and, consequently, helps to mitigate displacement in many cases… [D]isplacement was more than twice as likely in low-income census tracts with little market-rate housing construction… than in low-income census tracts with high construction levels.”
    • Upshot: high-demand neighborhoods that build housing have less displacement than high-demand neighborhoods that don’t build housing.
  • The Effect of Density Zoning on Racial Segregation in U.S. Urban Areas (PDF) by Jonathan Rothwell and Douglas Massey. Urban Affairs Review, 2009.
    • Quote: “[D]ensity zoning appears to have a strong influence on the pace of racial desegregation in U.S. metropolitan areas from 1980 to 2000. The larger the density score—the more liberal the zoning policy—the larger the percentage decline in Black–White dissimilarity and Black spatial isolation.” (Jargon note: “dissimilarity” and “isolation” are two ways of quantifying levels of how segregated groups are.)
    • Upshot: areas with less restrictive zoning are less segregated by race.
  • Do Strict Land Use Regulations Make Metropolitan Areas More Segregated by Income? by Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen. Journal of the American Planning Association, 2016.
    • Quote: “[D]ensity restrictions are associated with the segregation of the wealthy and middle income, but not the poor. We also find that more local pressure to regulate land use is linked to higher rates of income segregation, but that more state control is connected to lower income segregation.
    • Upshot: areas with less restrictive zoning are less segregated by income.
  • The [Obama] White House Housing Development Toolkit, 2016.
    • Quote: “The growing severity of undersupplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers’ access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions.”
    • Upshot: outdated density restrictions hurt working people by making housing more expensive in cities with lots of high-paying jobs.

The general conclusion that was reinforced for me is that building more housing is good and it would make many people’s lives better. I want Minneapolis to be a more affordable and less segregated city, and it looks like the policies in Minneapolis 2040 are the way to get there. Let me know if there were any studies or papers I missed.

Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.