Lisa Goodman, Leader of the Opposition

Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman is rallying opposition to the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan (you can comment here!). Goodman wants to defend single-family neighborhoods from fourplexes. She wants to protect drivers from bike lanes. As the most prominent and outspoken critic of the plan, here’s a collection of her recent comments on the topic.

(Please note that I resorted to the very extreme measure of attending the annual meeting of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association to get some of these quotes, so definitely send all your money to the Patreon.)

City Council Enterprise Committee (Coordinator’s Update, May 3, 2018) [VIDEO]

Goodman: “The comp plan has proven to be something that has drawn out very strong emotions from myself as one, but many many people, and I feel like we’re heading toward something that is not going to be universally accepted, and there are going to be huge winners and losers.”

Goodman, referring to comp plan: “…a plan that could potentially be adopted on a very split vote with a lot of controversy in the community…”

Heather Worthington (city’s director of Long Range Planning): “I’d like to believe that we are in a position where we can work through that and we can produce a document that has, if not unanimity, has strong support.”

Goodman: “Okay, I don’t believe that. I think that’s a very Pollyanna way to look at it. There’s huge divisions in where people are at and what’s been proposed in this comprehensive plan.”

Goodman: “So if 13 other people, er… it won’t be… If 10 other people on the council say too bad, your constituents are going to get this shoved down your throat, then we’re just going to go with that? And then we’re going to plan the entire city’s strategic plan based on that, with all of that division?”

Goodman: “[The comprehensive plan] has been confrontational pretty much since the minute it was announced.”

Heather Worthington: “The comp plan is drafted based on the 14 goals that the city council adopted in April, 2017, and the six value statements that it adopted a year previous to that. So the comp plan underpinnings, the foundation of that document are based on the values that you as a council adopted. And we have had a very broad and transparent community engagement process. […] I have to reject an assertion that this has not been a transparent process. And I feel that if you have specific concerns we should be discussing those.”

Goodman: “I was here for that process and nowhere in those points did we say put a fourplex on every block. Nowhere did we say take single-family homes and turn them into four-story buildings. And that seems to be what you’re suggesting: that that was in the 16 points. That people thought through that and said to us please increase density everywhere in the city no matter where it is, and let’s eliminate lanes of traffic and put in bike lanes everywhere. That’s not what we said in the points that we made with regard to the comp plan. No one told you to do that, that was you being bold, not the public telling us, telling you to be bold. Maybe there were some people who wanted to be bold, but there were plenty of people who wanted to see more incremental change.”

Goodman: “Everywhere I go, every grocery store I go into, people are very upset about what potentially could happen to the neighborhood that they love and that they don’t like it.”

Goodman: “I too would say I’m in favor of growth. And I am, and I represent downtown so we’ve seen our fair share of it. I’m sorry to pound away at the fourplex thing — it’s not my only objection to the comp plan, but it’s a good example of, well, if you’re opposed to having a fourplex on every block then all of a sudden you’re anti-growth.”

Goodman: “So I’m afraid to even say I’m in favor of growth now because of what that might mean. And should I object to it, then I’m objectified as being against growth.”

Z&P Committee Meeting, (Jackson St. NE, May 3, 2018) [VIDEO]

Goodman: “I totally respect that there are a lot of people who love to live in neighborhoods that have single family homes and fourplexes and duplexes and 4-story buildings — I’m not one of them. I chose to live where I live because of the single-family nature.”

Goodman: “I understand that there’s an attempt, not by anyone on this dais, to get rid of all the small area plans and upzone the entire city, and this is probably fortuitous of things to come.”

Addressing the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association annual meeting (May 9, 2018)

Goodman: “We had an election, the far left won, and now we should expect more bike lanes and a lot more density. That’s not what I heard when I was knocking on doors.”

Goodman: “So the question is, there’s lots more density already in the neighborhood that is causing livability impacts in the neighborhood, when does it stop? And I guess what I would say is, when the public says enough is enough.”

Goodman: “What Mary is saying is, having thousands more people living in the neighborhood potentially is adding to the traffic. She’s saying that’s definitely adding to the traffic, and I would say you’re right.”

Goodman: “The people who want to see more density are definitely commenting. That’s how we get to this point in time. It’s important for folks to comment.”

Resident 1 (sincere): “When the light rail opens a lot of these problems will go away.” [crowd laughs, groans]

Goodman: “What he said was, when the light rail opens a lot of these problems will go away. What will happen is all of us complaining about them will go away because we won’t want to live here. So I guess that’s probably the better answer is we won’t tolerate it, other people probably will.

Resident 2: “Help me understand why we wouldn’t tolerate it. I’m new to the neighborhood.”

Goodman: “Well I think if you’re someone who wants to get on a train and live near a train, then you have to have a train where there’s a lot of density, and most of the corridor doesn’t really have a lot of density. I think you would even agree that the corridor is pretty much single-family homes from West Lake Street all the way into downtown. And even the projections for Penn Ave station project under 1,000 people will take that train when it’s been established 20 years from now. I really think, and I’ve said it for years, we really have to put trains where people ride them, and that means through West End, potentially through Uptown, down Hennepin, down Nicollet. And you know if this project had been planned now, that likely would have happened. I’m happy to ride the train, and I do, and I live in Bryn Mawr because I like the proximity to downtown, but I think you have to put trains where people ride them. And I also have a very strong concern about having more ethanol and more chemicals riding through the corridor. It’s interesting that one railroad that said we have to have a crash wall for protection from these trains that are carrying chemicals and there’s no going around that area and then you run them right past people’s houses and there is no crash wall and they’re filled with chemicals. So I think there’s been a lot of hypocrisy in this process. [clapping] I just call it as I see it, people voted the way they did, and it is what it is. I’m not going to back off of saying that transit should be where people will ride it.”

Live Coverage: Lowry Hill, the Comprehensive Plan, and Affordable Housing

Here’s a lightly edited tweet transcript from last night’s meeting of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. Towards the end of the meeting the organization voted to send a letter of support for a 41-unit building at 1930 Hennepin Ave with a combination of supportive housing for young people leaving foster care, and affordable rental apartments.

Today I will be livetweeting perhaps the most shadowy and secretive organization in Minneapolis. Hardly anyone outside of a tight inner circle knows this meeting is happening. Maybe my most dangerous assignment yet.

I’m here. We have achieved quorum at the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. A guy made a joke about my name, and I told him I’m not that John Edwards.

They’re talking about a plan to “rezone Kenwood along Franklin Ave.” Deadline for feedback is July 22. Nobody said the words “comprehensive plan” but I believe that’s what they’re talking about. They are weirdly uninformed here.

  • “A four story condo could be put up…”
  • “4 story, not just a 4plex…”
  • Then someone throws out the term “R4” (so I think the city’s plan is to legalize the number 4)
  • Hilarious grumbles from Lowry Hill homeowners about lack of affordability. Predictions that any new units won’t be affordable.

Breezy conversation here about latest articles people have read: tax assessment appeals and the recent plan to cut taxes for landlords. A couple landlords on the board here.

Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association annual meeting is happening in two weeks, May 15, here at First Unitarian Church. Guest speaker will be Mayor Jacob Frey. They’re gonna ask him about the “rezoning” (which is not actually a rezoning), among other things.

Board member says, “I would be willing to be planted to ask a question about preservation of the historic character vs redevelopment.”

Talking about Frey and his housing priorities: “…making things affordable sounds great but it’s a fundamentally flawed concept to take a crown jewel in the city and mess with it.”

I may be murdered before this is over. People speaking freely. I’m so glad nobody cares who the strange man is sitting against the wall tapping on his phone. Lisa Goodman is on the agenda tonight, so that’s when things could really get weird for me.

Talking about the wads of cash that flow from the city to neighborhood organizations. Good explanation from a board member outlining the fact that Lowry Hill gets more money than Kenwood because they have more poverty/more renters due to all the apartment buildings along Hennepin Ave.

Somebody asked if there was a journalist in the room so I’ve been outed. Best Website 2018.

Board member talking about how lucky they are that a big chunk of NRP money was invested into affordable housing loan that was paid back to the neighborhood. All that money can now be used for whatever the neighborhood org wants. (I know who helped make that happen: Janne Flisrand.)

LHNA board is now bemoaning the perception this is a wealthy neighborhood. “We are 70% renter.”
Analysis: are there any in this room?

Basically, having a lot of renters along Hennepin should get you cash from the city and immunity from criticism. As you protect the true historic jewel that’s within.

Extended discussion of the bags of cash available for spending here at the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. Annual meeting is next week if some renters want to crash the party, get elected to the board and spend money foolishly.

Somebody said “Hobo jungle.” Discussion of “bleak” situation under an overpass in Kenwood.

Board member wants to get some plaques for neighborhood mansions and other landmarks. Teach people about some historic white dudes.

Anything from the historic committee? Gonna bring in a guy to talk about conservation districts (which is the little brother of historic districts.)

“If we’re looking to stop teardowns, conservation districts are not gonna do that.”

Fear that legalized 4plexes will lead to teardowns and the construction of expensive housing. (imagine: expensive housing in Lowry Hill)

Board member speaking of making a political “compromise with density advocates” by emphasizing ADUs and legalizing maid quarters and illegal basement apartments that currently exist in legal “grey zone.”

What they don’t want are “high priced condominiums.” Very neat how the homeowners of Lowry Hill have embraced the language of concern about gentrification.

Graves Foundation people are here to present update on their affordable housing for young people coming out of foster care. North of Franklin Ave, between Hennepin and Colfax.

Jim Graves: “we’re holding the density down” and they’ve kept curb cut off Colfax. This is in an attempt to satisfy the residents of this block on Colfax Ave. Graves continues, “The planners aren’t with us.” That’s why he wants neighborhood org support.

Board member: “Is there a chance in hell the city’s gonna let you come in off Hennepin?” Talking about curb cut.

Ground floor. Curb cut on Hennepin.

There’s no retail in this proposal. That’s a change from the previous proposal.

Concerns about parking. Proposal includes 13 parking stalls.

Jim Graves trying to smooth over parking concerns, “this demographic [young, low-income] doesn’t have the means to buy a car.”

Board member: “Worst case you’ve got 35 cars parked in the neighborhood.”

Board member worried about crowding on Colfax. They want to a plan that pushes pedestrians and car traffic to Hennepin Ave.

Graves Foundation representative: “All of the foster units will be single residents.” Affordable units could have couples. Graves Foundation has made an initial 10-year commitment to fund supportive services, which they say is an unusually generous length of time.

Board member: “It’s a lot of units for this spot.”
Analysis: 41 units on Hennepin!

Board seeming more favorable to this proposal than the one from last year. Grudging favorability.

Here are some tweets from last year:

“When you go on the nextdoor website we get lot of kids breaking into cars to sell things to buy a hit of drugs… Are these kids curfewed?”

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 6, 2017

“Convince us the kids are gonna be awesome.” Convince me you’re not an asshole!

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 6, 2017

Jim Graves says they’ve presented to the Met Council and they loved it. He had assumed there would be “pushback” against project’s lack of density.

Security cameras and 24/7 staffing (may allay concerns over “aggressive malingerers” which was a phrase used at the meeting held about this project last year.)

Graves people say there’s support from county, including commissioner Greene. They find out next week if they get those funds. Neighborhood org support would help because it’s a criteria used in awarding tax credits.

Best case, construction starts spring of 2019.

Board member wants to make neighborhood org support contingent on keeping curb cut on Hennepin.

Questions about when Graves needs support. Answer: tonight. I sense some of these Lowry Hill folks want to kick the can.

Graves people vacate the room. Board members deliberate:

  • “This is 100 times better than the original.”
  • “We don’t know if the city is ok with this.”
  • “We’ll withdraw support” if curb cut is moved to Colfax.
  • “The political momentum [for more housing] has increased to a fever pitch” and this might be better than a building with more units down the road.
  • “This may be the better alternative.”
  • “This can help to dampen people’s misconception that this neighborhood is upper middle class homeowners against affordable housing.”

Graves people spent a lot of time working with neighbors on the 1900 block of Colfax, as well as Lisa Goodman, trying to satisfy concerns.

Board member trying to soothe traffic concerns: “25,000 cars go down Hennepin every day… I don’t think [this new building] it’s that big of an impact.”

Someone says: “if Colfax residents are comfortable…”
Colfax resident: “I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable.” Grudging.

Colfax resident says there’s still a lot of opposition. But she’s resigned to the fact they can’t change zoning.

Another board member: “This whole thing is like negotiating a divorce. People do not walk away equally happy, they walk away equally unhappy.”

Someone just turned and snapped “off the record” at me. Doesn’t work that way!

Letter of support passes Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. 41 units of affordable and supportive housing for young people leaving foster care is one small step closer to reality.

I got out alive. Please support my courageous reporting this evening.

Live Coverage: Ward 2 Comp Plan Meeting

No surprise: the people with the most housing security in Minneapolis are very vocal about wanting nothing to change. They’re not shy, and you shouldn’t be either. Send your council member an email or ten with your thoughts about the Minneapolis draft Comprehensive Plan. View the plan and comment here:

Below is last night’s Twitter thread as a more readable blog post.

It’s weird to be in that part of Minneapolis that is actually St Paul.

Guy just introduced himself to Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon as a “new resident of Longfellow, used to live in Uptown” and Cam said, “so you grew up.” And a guy from the Wedge said “hey I’m from the Wedge!”

(guy from the Wedge was me)

People complain about government workers, but these two just solved forgetting a power cord for their projector by scrounging up an extension cord at this church.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) April 27, 2018

People at my table are very impressed with the hard copy of these maps: “oooh, you can’t print these at home.”

Cam said “we didn’t print out enough of those booklet dealies, but I can email one to you.”

Heavy representation from Prospect Park at this meeting.

Cam calls once-a-decade comprehensive plan update: “One of the bigger decisions we’re gonna make in a long time.”

Scoop: Minneapolis director of long range planning Heather Worthington says there’s a planner with bundles of post it notes from all the comp plan public meetings on the floor of his office.

Planner says she likes to think of navigating the comp plan website as a “choose your own adventure” book she read as a child. You can click through to explore policy topics and how they relate to plan.

Lady says it’s “really difficult” to get to the “bottom line of what the plan really means.” Also concerns about having a paper copy. Wants PDF version people can print.

Now a question about extending public comment period because of lack of PDF to this point.

Planner starts to speak, then interrupted by resident, “excuse me who are you and what is your role?” These people are very precise.

Comprehensive Plan, once adopted, has the force of law, says planner Joe Bernard. Update to zoning code follows comp plan update over the next few years. Comp plan is not zoning, it’s a guide to inform an upcoming process.

Analysis: one of the dirty secrets of the comp plan is that so many of our current policies conflict with the current comp plan, so concerned residents have plenty of room to fuck with this process going forward.

Not a static document. It can be amended, says Heather Worthington.

Cam calls comp plan a “lever” to get your chosen policies down the road.

Guy (who I’m told is a former planner with the Met Council): “my home is zoned single family, and this plan says somebody can come in and buy my house and build a 4plex. Why are you trying to do away with single family homes?”

Hey guy, you don’t have to sell your home.

Presentation stalled by flurry of questions…

I say legalize 4plexes and small apartment buildings. People will continue to live in single family homes, and buy single family homes for use as single family homes far, far into the future. The sky is not falling. Making something legal doesn’t make it mandatory.

Single family homes keep us not Detroit, says guy.

I feel like there was almost a moment of self awareness when he said we didn’t “go the way of Detroit” because of SFHs, when he said “when, uh…. people moved out”.


— Alex! (@BikeAlex) April 27, 2018

Carol Becker is here and if she tries to have a beer with me I’m grabbing this baby and fleeing this church like a dad in distress.

Look who sat next to me.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) April 27, 2018

Met council planner guy assures us he has an understanding of the issues. “Prospect Park is a mosaic and it works.” Doesn’t want duplexes and 4plexes to go just anywhere because that’s bad “for those of us who have invested in our homes.”

Single family homes are the foundation of everything that’s good about Minneapolis is the gist of this.

Heather Worthington says we’re not banning single family homes.

Cam has asked met council planner guy not to talk for a while because he has used up his quota.

I urge you, if you are a person who exists outside this room I’m in right now: make yourself very loud and visible to your council member and city planners about where you stand on ending exclusionary zoning.

Heather Worthington says housing chapter is least complete in this draft. They are “working on it concurrently.”

Lady asks if anyone has been to a planning commission meeting. Lots of yeses. “I found it very frustrating.”

“I have a 4plex next to me. No problem with it. But it has 4 parking spaces.”

Seward guy says he likes 4plexes! He lives along the river and he sees value in allowing people to downsize and stay in the neighborhood. I like this guy.

Next lady not so much. “We’re being inundated by students.” Says all neighborhoods are different. “We see what’s happened to Como and Marcy Holmes and some extent to us, and we don’t like it.”

Carol Becker plugging her Star Tribune letter. She’s off to the races! “Did anyone see it???” Yes, Carol.

I need a fit young planner to come to my rescue. “We’re gonna see electric cars in the future… Unless you’re gonna bomb the city and start over again…” this plan won’t work. Says her neighborhood doesn’t have triplexes. “We don’t wanna demolish every home… Some parts of the city it makes sense.”

Scott the young dad is speaking. He lives in a 4plex near transit. Looking to become a homeowner, but ownership options are expensive. Holding housing supply down is recipe for displacement. Teardowns are creating giant expensive single family homes.

Sarah mentions climate change and that this plan is about Minneapolis evolving over the next two decades, when Scott’s baby is 20. Then whispers “I stole all your ideas.” Sarah is my mouthpiece.

More supportive comments from @SerafinaScheel and @BikeAlex who are smart people you should follow.

Alex says the house he bought very recently would be unaffordable to him right now. That’s how much home prices have gone up. We need more homes in Minneapolis.

“if yimbys and nimbys and maybe some social justice people came together that would be a slam dunk” says Cam. Lol.

Ethan says he bought his house in 2015 and he couldn’t afford it today. The starter home “window has closed.” Time to expand our definition of starter homes.

Lady chimes in with another data point. Bought home 3 years ago, just sold it. Made $40k.

Analysis: Profiteer.

I see a divide in this room between:

  1. people who own homes
  2. people who own homes but also realize there are other people who don’t own homes.

Lady values opinions of the youth here in the room. She likes bikes and hates climate change and is for social justice. She wants to bridge the divide, but she wants us to know about slumlords. That’s why she can’t support 4plexes, even though she likes the idea. Hates developers.

Analysis: I have had nice landlords. Slumlords are not the extent of our non owner occupied housing supply. More inspectors? This is not an insurmountable problem.

All these students have cars. That’s the reality, says lady.

Downtown is now concrete, says lady.

Analysis: what was it before?

Lady is inundated with offers to buy her home and somehow that’s the problem with this draft comp plan.

Guy says he wants to talk about predatory landlords. Was charged $600 for a broken doorknob. Says he’s the only person younger than 20 in this room. I say you could raise the cutoff to 30 maybe. (But you wouldn’t know it by looking at me.)

Head of long range planning Heather Worthington takes it as a badge of honor that the comp plan process was criticized recently for being skewed to the youth.

The entire population of North Dakota is moving to the region in the next 20 years, says @jdhoudek. Do we want that growth to sprawl out to car dependent suburbs?

Not literally all of North Dakota, but the equivalent.

I hope Cam Gordon has the discipline to end this meeting on time right now because I bet these folks have endurance.

Comment from @kburrows033 says he likes the idea of allowing 4plexes away from noisy polluted corridors because it’s wrong to restrict renters to undesirable areas.

Lady moved to her current home to be close to transit, not have a car. Gets a lot of offers for her previous home, a duplex, which she rents. Doesn’t sell because she feels responsibility to offer quality affordable housing. A good landlord! She’s convinced 4plexes are not affordable to homeowners, but duplexes are. Thinks we need to get more creative about density.

Public education is under the purview of the school board, we have no control over it, says Heather Worthington. It is addressed in the economy section.

Self-described young person from Marcy Holmes is here to warn us against the Ward 3 model. Says not requiring affordable housing has set us back. Calls this room out for lack of diversity.

Noted local dad @edkohler gets the honor of closing this meeting out. Says people are willing to trade square footage in order to drive less. “That extra density, it works for me.”

The Future: Minneapolis 2040

At a community meeting for a street reconstruction last year, a young mom made a passionate argument: it would be a generation, she said, before the street was reconstructed again. This was our only chance to create a neighborhood street where she could safely push a stroller, or walk and bike with her kids. It was an argument that stayed with me, not just for its passion, but because it so obviously placed the question in the right context: we were about to lock in a reality that would endure for decades.

I admit that mothers and children make for unreasonably sympathetic figures, but even if you’re not a fan of moms and babies, the underlying argument is compelling. The city plans things, often years before acting on those plans. And when plans are enacted, we live with the results for a generation. It’s easy to let short-term fear of change overtake the politics of planning for the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children.

Minneapolis is currently in the middle of a multi-year process to update its comprehensive plan — a big picture blueprint on “housing, job access, the design of new buildings, and how we use our streets.” The update is mandated by the Metropolitan Council, and it only happens once every ten years. The current draft comprehensive plan is called “Minneapolis 2040,” and the name is more than just empty, futuristic branding.

In every sense, Minneapolis 2040 is a long-term plan. On zoning in particular, the process of updating the city’s code would begin some time after the comprehensive plan is adopted by the council late this year. And zoning by itself does not transform neighborhoods overnight. As I have written previously, the pace of change in built-up neighborhoods is very slow, even under permissive zoning.

This is all to say: the plan called “Minneapolis 2040” is really, truly, and literally about Minneapolis in the year 2040. The people of 2040 will live with the biggest effects of decisions we make this year. The year 2040 is about the time that babies of today will have jobs, homes, and families of their own. As I write this the day after Earth Day 2018, those grown-up babies of 2040 will also probably wish their parents’ and grandparents’ generations had taken big issues like climate change more seriously.

Are we giving the people of 2040 the chance at a transportation system that moves significantly more people in ways other than private automobiles? Are we making it possible for every Minneapolis neighborhood to affordably accommodate considerably more people than live here right now? Are we promoting increased access to jobs, housing, and transportation in ways that serve everyone equitably?

I have my own ideas of how we get to Minneapolis 2040, and I believe this draft plan is a good start. But mostly I want to encourage you not to consider these questions with anxiety and fear about how the plan will affect you personally over the next few years (answer: hardly at all). These big, long-term questions should be considered with an eye towards the Minneapolis we need to become 20 years from now. It won’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen at all unless we start planning for it right now.

The Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan is open for public comment through July 22. The city is also hosting a series of open houses in May.

Zoning Reform and the Pace of Neighborhood Change

There’s a post on debunking the idea that fourplexes mean four stories. The truth is that Minneapolis’ new draft comprehensive plan that proposes allowing up to four-family homes in currently single-family neighborhoods, would limit those homes to 2.5 stories (the “Interior 1” designation). Honestly, I am someone who thinks four stories is just fine in lots of places and the comprehensive plan isn’t radical enough — but if you’re bothered, the facts should be reassuring.

“Interior 1” in the draft Minneapolis Comp Plan

There’s another point to be made about the pace of change that modest zoning reform would bring to any given neighborhood. As with most things, I like to use the Wedge neighborhood as an example. For the last 40 years, the Wedge has had the most permissive residential zoning in Minneapolis (R6) across many interior blocks (along with a generous portion of two-family zoning). It’s the kind of zoning that, if you can assemble multiple lots, might conceivably lead to a five- or six-story building with a 100 or more apartments.

For people who hate the idea of more neighbors, R6 zoning is as scary as it gets. R6 zoning has been the rallying cry for the Wedge’s anti-housing activists to justify repeated downzoning (two successful, one failed) and historic districts.

What has this extremely permissive zoning created in reality? From about 1975 until 2018, it produced a 42-unit building (which, from the street, appears to be three stories — the fourth story is stepped back), a 10-unit building, and a fourplex. This is all that’s been built in the Wedge interior. When I say “interior,” that’s everything excluding Lyndale Avenue and the formerly industrial/Greenway area south of 28th Street.

Again, this is an area famous for the most permissive residential zoning in Minneapolis. That’s just three buildings and 56 units in 43 years.

On the other end of the spectrum from R6, the “fourplex zoning” (Interior 1) recommended in the Minneapolis draft comprehensive plan is about as  restrictive as it gets, short of leaving in place single-family zoning. Fourplex zoning would limit building heights to 2.5 stories, limit units, and limit lots to a “traditional size city lot.” Meaningful change happens inside the building, with up to four families now able to live there.

Small changes over an entire city can add up. But allowing two-, three-, and four-family homes in formerly single family neighborhoods will not radically transform individual neighborhoods overnight, or even over the course of 40 years. Just because something is allowed, doesn’t mean it becomes mandatory. But it does mean small changes would be possible, creating more housing choice across every neighborhood in the city.

You can comment on the Minneapolis 2040 draft Comprehensive Plan through July 22.

Fourplexes Everywhere? Bold Reform Proposed in Minneapolis

Word has leaked of a very preliminary plan to legalize fourplexes in virtually every neighborhood in Minneapolis. It’s one part of a larger draft comprehensive plan that hasn’t yet been made public. If implemented, it would be the boldest land-use reform in the country, reversing a decades-long trend of restrictions that have contributed to higher housing costs and racial/economic segregation. Here are some reasons I think we should embrace this plan to legalize fourplexes in Minneapolis.

We are experiencing a regional housing shortage. Vacancy rates have hovered around 2% for years. This inflates rents higher than they’d otherwise be. Scarcity is bad for the people who can least afford it. We need more housing.

Rents stabilize when vacancy rates go up.

2.1% vacancy leads the nation. That’s bad.

Now, assuming you agree with me that we urgently need more places for people to live, maybe I can convince you that…

Fourplexes (and triplexes/duplexes) are the most economical and accessible way to create new housing. This applies both to tenants and the small homebuilders who could construct (or convert) them. That’s because these small apartment buildings are more like houses. Small multi-family houses are cheaper per unit to build than your typical multi-lot, 6-story apartment complex or a downtown luxury tower. While it’s important to note that new construction is almost always more expensive than equivalent existing housing, allowing more fourplexes would create a supply of homes that are more accessible than most of the new homes being built today.

People say they hate “big.” Big apartment buildings. Big developers. Big landlords. Big profits. A 40-story condo tower was proposed in Downtown West just last week, and the developer bragged they would be the most expensive homes in Minneapolis. We need to grapple with the fact that our current zoning code has a preference for big developers, big buildings, and big single-family homes–to the exclusion of less expensive mid-scale housing. If you want to open up the housing market to the little guy, then we need to allow the kind of housing that can be produced by a small builder and owned/occupied by a small landlord. That’s a fourplex!

We must end exclusionary zoning that creates nearly all-white enclaves of luxury single-family homes. To borrow a phrase from a friend, maybe “mansion districts” in Minneapolis are a bad thing. It’s time to admit our zoning code plays a role in segregating our city and limiting opportunity and access to our most desirable neighborhoods. The reason Lowry Hill East is more affordable and less segregated than Lowry Hill is tied up with a legacy of redlining and restrictive zoning. Zoning reform doesn’t solve this problem by itself, but we can’t deny the role our zoning code plays in perpetuating it.

If you’re against the idea of legalizing fourplexes, you prefer a zoning code that encourages exclusive neighborhoods and favors the most expensive (luxury!) forms of development. And you can’t pretend otherwise the next time you rail against another big, unaffordable, “out of scale” apartment project.

Fourplexes could be public/subsidized housing. Overly restrictive zoning makes no distinction between public and private; it’s a legal barrier to housing of all kinds. Affordable housing funds are limited–you can stretch that money a whole lot further on a fourplex.

This is a required legal framework for allowing more types of public or subsidized housing even if it also benefits private actors.

The city/county could go buy houses and carve them into 2-4 units at much less $ per net new unit than building new large structures.

— Alex Cecchini (@alexcecchini) March 9, 2018

I like to think of them as an opportunity for income-building. A tri- or four-plex literally comes with income! The key is to get the people who need that boost into them.

— Janne K. Flisrand (@janneformpls) March 12, 2018

i lived in this cute fourplex off 3rd & lake street eight years ago! at the time it was a sober house for women. what a blight on the neighborhood, right?

— taylr (@taylr) March 10, 2018

City of Lakes community Land Trust is essentially trying to promote the idea of housing security through people with less mean buying a duplex or SFH with an ADU so they have an income stream along with their residence. Great Vision by a Non Profit

— MPLS-uptown (@uptownbpackb) March 12, 2018

Fourplexes are unobtrusive, even in places where zoning doesn’t allow them anymore! I’ve noticed that people who already live in neighborhoods full of fourplexes show up at city hall all the time to testify about protecting their “single-family neighborhood.” People live among fourplexes, unaware they’re living among them, to the point they would fight to their last breath to protect their wonderful neighborhood from becoming what it already is–a neighborhood with fourplexes. This is a good post from Scott Shaffer showing how we’ve used extremely restrictive zoning to make existing neighborhoods illegal.

Household sizes are shrinking. The typical household in Minneapolis contains 2.3 people. This is one whole entire person smaller than the average US household size in 1960 (3.33). We don’t need as many bedrooms as we used to. As people age and their families evolve, people often want to continue living in the neighborhood they love; but this isn’t possible in exclusively single-family neighborhoods. Let’s adjust to the cold, hard facts of demographics by providing homes for people who don’t need or can’t afford a three-plus bedroom house.

Saying a particular thing is “allowed” to exist is not the same thing as saying it’s mandatory. Allowing fourplexes does not mean every single-family home must become a fourplex. (And to debunk a concern that was reported on the local internet forum e-democracy, legalizing fourplexes does not mean homeowners will be required to become renters.) The vast majority of people will continue to live in homes that are not fourplexes even in neighborhoods where fourplexes become legal.

If you’re worried about what happens to starter homes: homebuyers are already tearing down smaller single-family homes to replace them with much bigger, more expensive single-family homes. To the degree you believe “starter homes” are still a thing in South Minneapolis, we’re not protecting them. Home values are increasing due to scarcity, and the only thing we can guarantee by maintaining the status quo is that our single-family real estate will be occupied, year after year, by ever-richer families in ever larger single-family homes.

And before you say “Fourplexes alone can’t save us!” remember this is just one small part of a comprehensive plan charting the next 20 years in Minneapolis on topics ranging from equity, sustainability, livability, growth and more (complete draft will be made public on March 22). Fourplexes aren’t magic, but this reform is a necessary break from a status quo that restricts housing choice and uses the zoning code to promote the most expensive forms of luxury housing. And like so many things in politics: the only way an idea this good has any chance is with your overwhelming and extremely vocal support.