A duplex and a triplex sit side by side on a hill.

What New Statewide Polling Teaches Us About Housing and Land Use Policy

This year at the Minnesota Legislature, housing and land use policy has received a brighter spotlight than ever before. A group of bills proposing to reform land use and zoning laws, and increase the varieties and quantities of housing that can be built, have received considerable air time in the media and legislature. A very broad coalition has shown up in support of these changes.

Many of these proposed reforms won’t succeed this year. Though a couple of proposals have a solid shot at still passing — most importantly, a reform to state environmental law that would prevent lawsuits against pro-housing city comprehensive plans, as happened with the Minneapolis 2040 plan — major reforms to zoning across the state won’t make the cut this year. But with bipartisan coauthors and a large coalition of supporters, these proposals are sure to return next year.

Last month, Minneapolis-based housing organization Neighbors for More Neighbors (along with coalition partners ISAIAH, Sierra Club and Move Minnesota Action), released a poll asking residents how they feel about housing affordability and these kinds of policy proposals. The results of this poll highlight that housing affordability is a major priority for Minnesota voters, and there is considerable support — often majority support — for zoning and land use reforms to tackle this issue.

In this post, I’ll walk through some of the most important results. But take a look for yourself at the full results with complete question wordings and crosstabs. The poll surveyed a representative sampling of registered voters throughout the state and was conducted by YouGovBlue, a national Democratic research firm.

Key Findings: Statewide Poll

The first takeaway from this poll is that Minnesotans overwhelmingly view housing affordability as a major issue and want the state to take action on this issue. In another question, voters ranked housing as one of the important issues facing Minnesota, among a broad list of topics.

Some of the other poll results deal with the major ideological arguments at play in the Minnesota Legislature. 

The dominant argument advanced against statewide zoning changes this year has been the importance of maintaining “local control” over land use decisions. This argument, often advanced by the League of Minnesota Cities or local policymakers, ultimately stymied many of the proposed changes to land use policy. But when asked about the relative importance of building more homes versus preserving city governments’ power over land use, voters quite strongly expressed support for more homes. 

Another perennial objection to new housing development is that it will disrupt the character of existing neighborhoods. Yet a representative sample of Minnesota voters (unlike the typical sample of citizens in local government meetings) agreed that getting more affordable housing was a bigger priority than protecting neighborhoods from change.

Finally, some of the results give us insight into people’s opinions about specific policy debates. 

For example, the current proposal to amend state environmental law, preventing pro-housing cities from lawsuits on the basis of planning for more density, has much stronger support than opposition among voters. 

One of the most politically controversial proposals of this year’s legislative session would have allowed up to four housing units per lot in many Minnesota cities, and two units in smaller towns and cities. That change will not succeed in the Legislature this year. But perhaps surprisingly, a sizable majority of voters support such a change.

Two other proposals to enable more housing — allowing accessory dwelling units on any residential lot and automatically allowing new housing in commercial zones — also have overwhelming support among voters. 

Although many of the major zoning and land use reforms won’t succeed in the first year that they received a major push at the Legislature, they are sure to return next year. Legislators and activists alike should recognize that Minnesota voters care deeply about housing affordability, and these kinds of proposals have substantial support among Minnesota voters. 

About Zak Yudhishthu

Pronouns: He/him

Zak is a student at Macalester College studying economics and music. He's interested in all kinds of urban politics and policy, and is the student representative for the Macalester-Groveland Neighborhood Council. Tweet him @zyudhishthu or email him at zyudhishthu@yahoo[dot]com.