Homes And Vacancies

Map Monday: New Construction and Vacancy Rates in Minneapolis

Homes And Vacancies

The neighborhoods with the lowest vacancy rates are not seeing many new homes being built.

We know that Minneapolis and it environs have a historically, dangerously low vacancy rate. The proportion of homes that are for sale or for rent is far less than a healthy five percent, so renters and buyers compete for empty units, and sellers and landlords make more money than they would otherwise. We need more homes, so that everyone who wants to live here can.

Is the new housing we’re building going in the areas with the lowest vacancy rates? I looked at data from the American Community Survey and the City Assessor, and I’d say not really. Almost a third of the city’s census tracts (36 of 116) have an extremely low vacancy rate (below one percent), but less than a quarter of the city’s new housing was built in these areas. Most of the very tight census tracts built homes at a slower rate than the city as a whole.

Different neighborhoods face different obstacles to getting enough housing. In wealthier low-vacancy neighborhoods, like Lowry Hill and Lynnhurst, new housing is kept out by zoning laws that prohibit new apartments. Minneapolis 2040 was a big step toward breaking down this barrier. Once the Met Council approves it and the City of Minneapolis adopts it, people will be able to convert mansions into duplexes or triplexes, and teardowns can be replaced by multifamily housing instead of just detached houses.

But the comprehensive plan probably won’t result in more housing in low-income neighborhoods. Investors pass over poorer areas with few vacancies in Seward, Powderhorn, and Willard-Hay, even though there are sites with permissive zoning. This is because developers are drawn to higher rents in the proven markets in Downtown, Uptown, and by the University. Without public intervention, the market will fail to build more homes in poor neighborhoods with tight housing markets, resulting in frustrated buyers and vulnerable renters.

A nonprofit neighborhood-based community development corporation, Seward Redesign (disclosure: also my employer), is asking the City of Minneapolis for support to build mixed-income housing in a low-income, low-vacancy neighborhood, and City Council will vote on it on Friday, April 19th.

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.

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20 thoughts on “Map Monday: New Construction and Vacancy Rates in Minneapolis

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    This is good data. I know so much of maps of population trends is done using census tracts, but I wish census blocks were used instead. Better granularity in the detail.

  2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I do not think that is true at all, but it’s certainly a stereotype that’s been used in the past in ways that foster race and class inequality.

  3. Tom BasgenTom Basgen

    Moderator here.
    A comment was deleted because it was falsely stereotyping folks. fosters constructive conversation. It does not tolerate dog whistles.

  4. karen Nelson

    This is great, very helpful!

    Any chance a St. Paul version coming? Would be really interesting to see metro wide trends also.

  5. karen Nelson

    also, it seems like transit matters, seems like building around transit one big driver of development.

    As aBRT routes are added to north and along Chicago, may spur more development in other areas of city.

  6. Mike

    It does seem a positive that the most dense development is happening along the major transit routes in the city where the infrastructure is best equipped for having a lot more residents.

    1. Rosa

      and building housing in those old light industrial areas doesn’t displace any existing housing.

      But, there is other infrastructure people want – parks, desireable schools, stuff like that. Transportation isn’t the only kind of infrastructure that’s worth building near.

      1. Mike

        True, but in Minneapolis we have an embarrassment of riches in that regards, those same dense build locations in Uptown, Downtown, along the U of M/River are destination areas for parks too – and school choice!

    2. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer Post author

      It’s true that there is a lot of development has good transit service, but some of the areas seeing apartment booms aren’t served by the high-frequency service network: farther north Loop, Marcy Holmes, and Lake Street west of the lakes. (Maybe that’s an argument to extend, realign, and upgrade some routes to serve the new residents.)

      And some areas with the best transit service are seeing almost no construction: Franklin and the Blue Line, Lake and the Blue Line, and Chi-Lake. If you break it down by housing with income restrictions vs. market-rate homes, the concentration is even starker.

  7. Andrew Evans

    I’m not sure how valuable those circles are, with the size limits they are. It would be better, IMO, to see them grow with the number of units, than be rounded down it seems to the next lower band.

    The PPL apartments on Lyndale and Lowry, more than likely are a single dot here, when they represent 75 units. I’m willing to bet there are other projects in North and elsewhere that didn’t cross the 100 unti threshold and are reported as a single house.

      1. Andrew Evans

        Then that project is missing, and I’d have to start to question what else isn’t reported and thus the value of it.

        1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer Post author

          Adam’s right that the size of the markers are proportional to the number of units, but good catch on that PPL lot! There are three rows for parcel 1002924320199, and I mistakenly visualized the wrong row, which said it had 0 units. The assessor data is better reflected in an interactive shiny/leaflet map that I made. I’d be happy to allay concerns about bias/transparency by sharing the code I wrote to develop this visualization:

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