Is It Time To Look Past the Missing Middle?

In the “before-times”, housing advocates in Minneapolis worked with a progressive city council to pass the 2040 Plan. The New York Times proclaimed, “Minneapolis, Tackling Housing Crisis and Inequity, Votes to End Single-Family Zoning”. These were all great achievements, and it is clear that 2040, inclusionary zoning, and other reforms and investments have made real progress on the housing shortage in Minneapolis.

But nine months into the first year under the new rules, one key component of 2040 is not living up to the promise made: there hasn’t been a rush to build new duplexes and triplexes in previously single-family neighborhoods. City Pages broke the story on September 1 that only three triplexes had been built year-to-date, and none of them were new construction.

I wanted to independently verify the numbers, because City Pages did not share documentation of their findings. On behalf of Streets, I filed a data request with the City and received a spreadsheet of all the building permits from January 1 to September 1, 2020. Check out all the data for yourself, and comment below if my reading of the raw data is off in some way.

Here are some facts: For January 1 through September 1, there have been about 7,134 building permits totaling $1.299 billion, including commercial and other non-housing development. A full $713.6 million of that (54.93%) is coded by the city as new builds. These include situations where one dwelling is torn down to build another.

Looking just at those coded as new builds, there have been 50 new single-family dwellings, for a total of 50 units of single-family. For two-family, there were eight new dwellings for 16 total units. For three-family (now allowed with 2040 across the city), there were four new dwellings with 12 total units. There were also three new four-family dwellings with 12 units.

Looking at larger-scale development, there were no new buildings from five to nine units. At 10-99 units, there were 15 buildings with 706 units in total. For buildings above 100 units, there were nine new buildings and 1,715 units in total.

To put that in visual perspective, here are those same numbers with proportional circles.

Source: City of Minneapolis; data visualized by author

Here is a quick stat: 68.30% of new build housing units in Minneapolis were in buildings of 100 units or more.

As to the reasons for this phenomenon, it depends on who you ask: developers, housing advocates or neighborhood groups. One theory is that multi-family development under 10 units is just not profitable, even with historically low interest rates.

One of the most profitable building types right now is the “5+1”, where the first story has a concrete ceiling, and then a five-story wood construction apartment building is built on top. This is very popular for mixed use, where a restaurant, café, or grocery store can be on the first story, and then housing above.

Be sure to check out our interactive map of the data as well!