Big Developers, Big Business, Big Southwest Agree on Mpls 2040

The Star Tribune got big local developer Kelly Doran to talk about Minneapolis 2040, a plan that would allow more housing across all parts of the city. Doran said 2040 was “silly,” and that triplexes won’t turn him a profit. He even sees it as a threat to neighborhood character.

It’s funny because Doran is constructing a five-story building very near to my home (the pile-driving is still ringing in my ears!). Now, personally I’m glad for the additional housing. I couldn’t be happier about the grocery store in the new building. But while we’re on the subject of neighborhood character, Doran’s building takes up a third of a block. It has two levels of underground parking. And I’m sure you can imagine the large volume of complaints about how it would destroy neighborhood character. Continue reading “Big Developers, Big Business, Big Southwest Agree on Mpls 2040”

Group Plans “Legal Action” Against Mpls 2040

Every great battle to keep more people out of a neighborhood ends in a frivolous lawsuit. The heated debate over the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan is no exception. The city’s long-range plan is intended to help Minneapolis equitably accommodate the next 20 years of population growth by legalizing more homes across all parts of the city.
Continue reading “Group Plans “Legal Action” Against Mpls 2040″

Over-Processed Minneapolis 2040 to Begin Next Step In Process

Lisa McDonald, a spokesperson for a group opposing the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan said at a press conference earlier this week, “the City has failed to engage the community in any meaningful way.” McDonald, who is also a former Minneapolis City Council Member, claimed Minneapolis officials “wrap their work in secrecy” and that there hasn’t been an “honest accounting and summary of what citizens really said in online comments, emails, and meetings.”

Continue reading “Over-Processed Minneapolis 2040 to Begin Next Step In Process”

Minneapolis 2040 is back!

Minneapolis 2040 is back! In just a few weeks a second draft of the proposed comprehensive plan will be released by the city. This is a big important document guiding future decisions on street design, housing, land use, and job access.

In an article originally headlined, “Minneapolis 2040 scares the rich. Is that such a bad thing?,” City Pages relays concerns from two Minneapolis City Council Members.

Lisa Goodman, who represents the ritzy lakes-area neighborhoods of Ward 7, tells a sad story:

“If somebody lives in a house they bought 30 or 40 years ago for $300,000,” she says, “and it’s now valued at $900,000, and they can no longer afford the property taxes on it, that’s often the cause of people moving.” 

That’s sad, but tragedy plays out on a sliding scale. Try telling one of Ellison’s [Ward 5] constituents how hard it is to own something worth so much you can’t resist the urge to sell it.

Any plan for how we create a city that’s affordable to everyone shouldn’t be focused on the needs of wealthy people (yes, if you own a $900,000 house free and clear, you are a wealthy person). It should be focused the huge chunk of Minneapolis renters, predominantly people of color, legitimately struggling to afford a home.

If property taxes in exclusive neighborhoods are high, Goodman created that by advocating for policies that concentrate wealth and shut out new neighbors. Exclusionary zoning drives the shortage which promotes skyrocketing property values and higher taxes in these neighborhoods. This result was achieved on purpose.

Linea Palmisano, who represents swanky Ward 13, says her constituents have been subjected to unfair criticism, including from city staff. She suggests there have been accusations of racism, and says that’s “a great way to end a conversation.” Others might suggest many of her constituents would rather not have a conversation about systemic racism and exclusionary zoning.

Speaking of great ways to end a conversation, Minneapolis for Everyone (the group behind all those red yard signs foretelling the apocalypse) has a reaction to the transportation policies contained in Minneapolis 2040. In the Star Tribune (“To cut pollution from cars, Minneapolis wants more neighborhood destinations”) Minneapolis for Everyone co-founder Lisa McDonald says of the Minneapolis 2040 draft plan: “It has no room for cars. They don’t mention cars. They want to get rid of cars.”

(Full disclosure: Minneapolis for Everyone is an organization co-founded by Carol Becker, who is the very weird elected official who recently attempted to trademark/steal the name of this website because she doesn’t like the content. I am currently embroiled in legal wrangling.)

The plan isn’t nearly as revolutionary or scary as McDonald makes it sound. A city planner put it in common-sense terms: “Put the stuff closer together so it’s easier to get to the stuff.” You’re more likely to drive if your destination is further away and harder to get to. In other words, we should make it legal for more people and businesses to exist in more places while expanding options for getting there. Let’s make it easier to not drive.

Minneapolis was built to serve cars. You might say we’ve spent the last 50-plus years using a blueprint called Minneapolis 1970. It’s very easy (and will remain very easy) to drive your car in Minneapolis. You can’t always say the same about walking, biking and transit. Plans for the future should be focused on making those alternatives more viable, if we care about having options for sustainable, safe, and affordable transportation.

Change is hard, especially when you’ve spent generations doing exactly the wrong thing. The truth is, we will probably end up with a Minneapolis 2040 plan that doesn’t go nearly far enough. Transit, bike, and pedestrian advocates will still have to fight too hard for small victories. Driving will remain easy and the vast majority of people will continue to do lots of it. We will continue to take concerns about neighborhood character far too seriously when deciding what kind of person can live in which kinds of homes in which parts of town.

In comparison to the hole we’ve dug for ourselves, these are only the smallest of first steps towards making Minneapolis a more affordable, sustainable, and livable city. If we’re going to take those steps, we need more people willing to say yes.

The Shape of the Minneapolis Inclusionary Zoning Debate

City Council President Lisa Bender

Inclusionary zoning is an umbrella term for a wide range of policies designed to encourage or require the inclusion of affordable units in new housing construction. Here are three example scenarios from yesterday’s presentation to the Minneapolis City Council’s Housing Policy and Development Committee:

  1. Require 15% of a new building’s units be affordable to households making 60% area median income.
  2. Require 10% of a new building’s units be affordable to households at 60% AMI.
  3. Require 5% of a new building’s units be affordable to households at 60% AMI.
The authors of a city-commissioned study on inclusionary zoning, consultants from a group called Grounded Solutions Network, landed on 10% as the sweet spot.
You might be wondering, why not require 30% affordable? Why not 100% affordable? Because, in the opinion of the city’s outside experts, a 15% mandate is “the very outer limit maximum of what we could possibly consider feasible.” Anything higher makes it very difficult for a profit-seeking enterprise to build apartments.
The experts explained why a mandatory, not voluntary, system was the right path for Minneapolis. Offering developers density bonuses or parking reductions in exchange for affordability doesn’t work because the city has already implemented relatively aggressive parking reforms and has virtually no density restrictions downtown (an area that in recent years has added a lot of units — making it the kind of place where inclusionary zoning could make a big impact).
An inclusionary zoning ordinance is something that Council President Lisa Bender has said must be passed alongside the package of zoning reforms contained in the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan. I expect she has the votes to back it up.
If City Council approval of a bold version of Minneapolis 2040 hinges on inclusionary zoning, it’s worth thinking about what that debate looks like.
There are people who will argue for a prohibitively high (25%… 50%… 100%!) inclusionary zoning percentage. These people are:
  • those who think for-profit multifamily housing construction is bad, and that stopping it is good.
  • those who think building an apartment building is wildly more profitable in percentage terms than it actually is.

Then there are skeptics who say inclusionary zoning hasn’t worked in other cities. They see the construction of thousands of new homes as part of the solution (though not the sole solution) to a massive housing shortage and affordability problem. For them, policies that potentially discourage the creation of more homes are counterproductive
The argument from skeptics is that affordable housing is everyone’s burden to shoulder, not just residents of newly constructed apartments and condos. The skeptics say: tax everyone to pay for affordable housing. The owner of a million dollar home in Ward 13 has as much obligation as the renter living in a $1200 Whittier apartment, or the owner of a $500,000 condo. Someone tweeted at me yesterday that the key to inclusionary zoning’s popularity is that it puts the burden on a small and often disliked constituency: residents of apartment buildings that haven’t yet been built.
Inclusionary zoning supporters on the City Council will probably latch on to something resembling the case made by the group of experts the city hired to study the issue. Those experts are recommending an affordability requirement that gives developers a choice: 1) 10% of units affordable at 60% AMI or 2) a subsidy to go to 20% of units affordable at 50% AMI. The city’s experts contend that development would remain feasible in most parts of the city under this system.
The experts also say that while the cost of a new inclusionary zoning regime will initially eat into the profits of individual projects — making new home construction less likely — landowners would eventually start to bear those costs: “Over time, developers who all face the same increased cost will all negotiate for a lower land price.” This would take years, however.
A few alternative scenarios specifically not recommended by the experts would involve the “politically fraught” process of drawing lines on a map to designate the parts of town with strong enough housing markets to bear more stringent affordability mandates. You can imagine how this might upset a landowner just barely on the wrong side of one of these lines on a map.
The city-commissioned report on inclusionary zoning is set to be finished in a few weeks. For more detail on yesterday’s presentation to the Housing Policy and Development Committee, see my Twitter thread here.

Minneapolis 2040: The Final Countdown

Moments ago I submitted some last-minute, under the wire comments on the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan. And I will continue to do so, throughout the day, as the situation merits, right up until the deadline.

YOU CAN KEEP COMMENTING ALL DAY –TODAY– SUNDAY, JULY 22!

Here’s a sample comment you could leave in the built form section:

Interior 1 doesn’t go far enough. Homes already exist in these neighborhoods that exceed what would be allowed under Interior 1. The minimum designation in Minneapolis should be Interior 2. 

Areas that are currently designated Interior 1 should be changed to Interior 2. Areas that are Interior 2 should be changed to Interior 3. Areas that are Interior 3 should have their maximum height raised from three to __ stories.

Or you could simply say:

Exclusionary zoning is dumb and terrible. I can’t believe we still do that. Please let people live their lives, even if that means four households occupying a four-unit house instead of just one family.

But there are so many more comments for you to send — and today is your last day to send them!

Minneapolis is growing. People want to live here. Businesses are hiring workers here. A Minneapolis with many more people needs many more homes — otherwise a lot of people will be displaced. Those homes shouldn’t all be in big expensive single-family homes or big expensive apartment buildings. We need less expensive triplexes and fourplexes, and small apartment buildings too. In order to make that happen we need a zoning code that allows those small-scale homes to happen. We need to legalize housing.

But that’s not all. In a majority renter city, we need policies that support and protect renters, people who are disproportionately low-income, indigenous or people of color. We need a transportation plan that prioritizes people, not just cars. We need to recognize that single-family zoning isn’t just exclusionary, but promotes car-dependence and sprawl that does grave damage to our climate.

Minneapolis 2040 Charts and Maps

Some charts and maps to consider as we close in on the comment deadline for the draft of the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan. You have until July 22 to comment at minneapolis2040.com!

Minneapolis and its neighbors are adding more people than places for those people to live. A housing shortage is a game of musical chairs that hurts those with the least money. The next Minneapolis comprehensive plan needs to help us shift that equation in Minneapolis and set an example for neighboring cities.

Data: Met Council community profiles and 2017 population/household estimates.

 These charts show how the Minneapolis and St. Paul are losing the sort of housing that is least expensive: 2, 3, and 4-unit homes. Why? Because zoning codes make them illegal to build on the vast majority of residential land.

Minneapolis lost over 6,000 duplex/triplex/4plex units since 1990. The city added around 2,500 single-family homes in same period

St. Paul lost about 3,300 duplex/triplex/fourplex units since 1990. The city gained around 2,000 single-family homes in same period.

Below is a map of racially restrictive covenants, courtesy of Mapping Prejudice. Areas of South and Southwest Minneapolis dominated by racially restrictive covenants in the first half of the 20th century are dominated by single-family zoning today.

There’s a direct line from racially restrictive covenants to redlining to restrictive single-family zoning:

The FHA promoted zoning as an effective tool for assuring a “homogenous and harmonious neighborhood.” In the view of the FHA, however, zoning was not enough to accomplish the segregation of races as a means to protecting property values. The FHA underwriting manual made the case for racially restrictive covenants, using language that described people of color as undesirable neighbors in the same vein as nuisances such as odor and high traffic.

In case you missed this post from a few days ago, here’s a chart breaking out Minneapolis residents by renter/owner and income. The low-income, cost-burdened renters are disproportionately people of color; they’re also far less likely to receive a housing subsidy than the high-income homeowners.

This map from Scott Shaffer debunks the notion that low-density zoning keeps the bulldozers away. Right now under existing zoning in Minneapolis, homes are bulldozed and replaced with larger single-family homes — we make it illegal to build anything else. We could choose to allow homes that are cheaper to build, rent, and own. Instead, we’ve chosen expensive housing.
If you aren’t yet fed up with exclusionary zoning, watch my award-eligible documentary film “It’s Always Single-Family in the Twin Cities.”

Minneapolis 2040 Deadline Roundup

There’s just one week left in the comment period for the draft Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan! Concerned residents assured me it would be shoved down our throats, but I’m not sure my throat could handle a lengthier process.

Leave your comments at minneapolis2040.com until July 22. The city will spend a few months synthesizing that feedback into a new draft to be released in late September.

Below I have compiled the latest news on the comprehensive plan, including two presentations to City Council committees earlier this week.

Innovative Housing Types. Minneapolis city planner Brian Schaffer (RIP) says that “innovative housing types” aren’t new. Single room occupancy, accessory dwelling units, co-housing–those are all concepts that are “ages and ages old.” What happened? We banned them.

In a presentation to the Housing Policy and Development Committee, Schaffer showed council members this chart:

Schaffer highlighted these points in his presentation:

  • Largest segment on the chart are the 47,000 homeowner households making greater than 100% area median income ($94,300/yr).
  • Second biggest: 31,000 renter households making less than 30% AMI ($28,300/yr). 
    • 19,000 of those households are severely cost burdened (spending more than 50% of income on housing)
    • 6,000 are cost burdened (spending more than 30% of income on housing)
    • People under 30% AMI are majority POC and majority renter – and “disproportionately both.”
Which of those groups have their housing subsidized? To a much greater degree it’s the high-income homeowner households, says the city’s housing director, Andrea Brennan.

In response to what I thought was an illuminating chart, City Council Member Lisa Goodman told Brian Schaffer: “I don’t need a planning degree to know that people at 30% or lower of the MMI are cost-burdened.” (The acronym for area median income is AMI, and the over-educated Brian Schaffer refused to correct her, even though it was his last week at work and he could have just said “I’m too old for this shit” and given the entire council double-fisted middle fingers.)

FLASHBACK: Lisa Goodman told an economist the same thing about his economics degree in 2016 when she was agitating against an academic study, commissioned by the city, that showed benefits to raising the minimum wage.

There’s a climate change opportunity in adding more commercial zoning in Minneapolis, says city planner Paul Mogush. Nationally, 45% of trips are for shopping, while 15-20% are trips to work. Mogush says, “Based on some research that we’ve done, we know that people in Minneapolis are spending a lot of their retail dollars outside city limits, so there’s an opportunity to capture more of that inside the city of Minneapolis.”

Council President Lisa Bender asked a question about small storefronts in neighborhood interiors that “have been made illegal over time in the zoning code.” Mogush said they’re trying to legitimize existing commercial uses, but gave no indication there would be allowances for more. (Idea: you could send feedback to minneapolis2040.com to ask for more small storefronts in neighborhood interiors).

Say goodbye to everyone’s favorite fit young planner:
Brian Schaffer calls it quits after more than a decade swatting microphones as a Minneapolis city planner. He will be missed. But he’ll always be my brother. pic.twitter.com/WTewlE0toO

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 12, 2018


Looking for a Minneapolis 2040 policy overview? Read this series from Neighbors for More Neighbors. And some thoughts from Our Streets Minneapolis.

I livetweeted Wednesday’s Minneapolis 2040 info session.
One attendee said the meeting left them feeling “ashamed to be alive.” Lisa Bender told the crowd of longtime residents, “You can boo me but I will continue to pause and wait.” Heather Worthington, the city’s director of Long Range Planning, at one point surrendered the microphone to a resident who continually interrupted her answer. Read the whole thread here.

This has maybe been asked about doomsday cults before, but what are these people gonna do for fun after this is over and the world doesn’t explode?

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 12, 2018


Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, chair of the Zoning & Planning Committee, released this FAQ to tamp down an explosion of panic and misinformation.


ICYMI: I published a post in response to an explosion of panic and misinformation–and apocalyptic yard signs.

Start practicing your impassioned speeches. In a committee hearing earlier this week, Lisa Goodman, who is the council’s most vocal critic of the draft, said she was eager for a public hearing in front of the full City Council, instead of just at the City Planning Commission.

BLOOPERS: If you made it this far, you deserve a blooper reel from this week’s City Council meetings. Here’s a bonus blooper reel.

Other cities can’t learn from Minneapolis if we never do the thing that’s supposed to teach these cities a lesson. So I think we’re pretty much legally bound to go forward with the plan.https://t.co/Ml7dZYvZsY pic.twitter.com/o8o73Ulbz7

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 12, 2018

Timeline. Here’s a rough schedule of the comprehensive plan process going forward:
  • July 22 – end of comment period (there’s still time!)
  • Late September – new draft released
  • Late October – public hearing at City Planning Commission
  • December – City Council adoption
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