Lisa Goodman Calls YIMBYs “Republicanesque” Proponents of “Trickle-Down”

After spending far too much time with the cast of characters from last week’s Zoning and Planning meeting in the editing room (ICYMI: I’m a prominent local anthropologist and documentarian), one thing struck me as particularly notable: Council Member Lisa Goodman calling YIMBYs a bunch of Republicans.

Goodman found a very provocative way to say projects like the Sons of Norway redevelopment will “increase prices” for homes in surrounding areas:

I’m mostly concerned about the impact of projects like this on our future affordable housing goals. It’s almost like we have this Republicanesque kind of trickle-down theory going on. That if you just build a lot more, then that will free up units at the lower level…

Aside from Goodman’s “Republicanesque” and “trickle-down” slurs, I think this is a reasonable, though incomplete, characterization of a YIMBY argument. I do think building a crapload of homes of all kinds and sizes — especially on giant parking lots — is helpful! Hopefully a lot of this new housing comes with less parking, smaller setbacks, in medium-sized buildings without elevators, among other things that keep housing costs lower. I believe more housing supply puts pressure on landlords by giving tenants options, and makes it less enticing for developers to purchase, renovate, and raise rents in older apartment buildings. In addition to this, I believe we need more public money to subsidize housing for people the market can’t possibly serve. The scale of the problem is too big to pretend these solutions are all mutually exclusive.
It’s disappointing that a city council member is legitimizing arguments that make it easier for well-meaning people to oppose new housing during a housing shortage. Vacancy rates remain historically low as our population grows — hovering around 3%! Lisa Goodman represents some of the most expensive real estate in Minneapolis and many of those neighborhoods have been walled off from more housing for decades by exclusionary zoning. Instead of leading, she’s pandering to people’s fears.
We’ve tried the “no new housing” approach as prices have risen; Lisa Goodman should know it’s only made things worse in her ward. It’s an embarrassing pander to tell exceptionally well-off people that more housing in their neighborhood will cause gentrification. And it makes less sense when you consider Lisa Goodman and residents in opposition to the Sons of Norway project explicitly promoted the idea of fewer units on the site; this would necessarily have made each unit more expensive.
Council President Lisa Bender rebutted the notion of a new wave of gentrification in East Calhoun by rattling off the eye-popping “for sale” prices of single-family homes in the neighborhood (from $500,000 to 1.2M), helping to make the subtle point that Lisa Goodman is full of it. Bender added:

I can’t in good conscience as an elected official in the city of Minneapolis force a developer to build multi-million dollar homes at this location. It just isn’t consistent with any of our policies, or the promises that I made when I ran for office. It doesn’t make sense to me to say that we could only build 38 units here. Imagine how expensive those units would be: millions of dollars. 

[In fairness to Lisa Bender, she spoke before Goodman, so Bender isn’t entirely responsible for making the subtle point that Goodman is “full of it.” Blame Lisa Goodman.]

While Lisa Goodman will happily grab credit for disbursing meager affordable housing funds to a few subsidized projects each year, she is hardly an advocate for those who’ve experienced rising housing costs in Minneapolis during her 20 years in office.

When publicly-subsidized affordable youth housing was proposed near the bustling and exceedingly urban intersection of Hennepin and Franklin Avenues last year, Goodman pressured the developer to lop a few stories off the top, causing the proposal to have fewer units. The project is controversial among some wealthy residents of Lowry Hill, both for the size of the building and because it would house young people just out of foster care. One quote among many from an actual neighborhood meeting: “When you go on the nextdoor website we get a lot of kids breaking into cars to sell things to buy a hit of drugs… Are these kids curfewed?”

Goodman has also disputed the contention that housing is made more affordable by removing the substantial added cost of constructing parking. This is a weird thing for her to be in denial about because she has often supported less parking in new development; she has even noted how requiring less parking makes publicly subsidized affordable housing cheaper to build. The evidence on reducing parking minimums is clear and points towards cheaper housing no matter how it’s financed.

While campaigning for re-election last year, Goodman called the idea of allowing people in duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings to live near her wealthy constituents “unconscionable.” A notable sentiment because this is the sort of housing that’s least expensive to build and live in. Goodman thought it more essential to defend exclusionary zoning; she talked about her opposition to new housing in terms of protecting the “investment” of the well-off:

When you buy a house, which is your single biggest investment, one of the things that you take into consideration is the location and what the neighborhood looks and feels like surrounding you. To upend that and make a dramatic change without the neighborhood and neighbors agreeing to it is, I think, unconscionable.

But Lisa Goodman has not always pushed for very strictly interpreting the zoning code to the benefit of the most disgruntled and privileged neighbors. In 2016, Goodman justified her vote to approve a remarkably generous variance for a 600% increase in floor area ratio (FAR) for the 40-story Alatus tower (zoned for 4-stories in a historic district, oh my!), by saying: “We are in a position in the city — whether I campaigned on it or not, and frankly I didn’t — that we should increase density in our city. Not even noted Fan of Tall Buildings in the Middle of Major American Cities, Nick Magrino, could stomach that departure from the zoning code — he voted against it.
Compare the 2016 “Alatus Tower Lisa Goodman” to the 2018 “Sons of Norway Lisa Goodman.”

  • Grants 600% floor area ratio variance for a 40-story luxury condo tower.
  • Says, “we should increase density in our city.”

2018 Lisa Goodman

  • Quibbled over a single story, saying that four stories — not five — was essential to comply with the small area plan by achieving a “graceful” stepdown from east to west.
  • Said housing advocates were “Republicanesque” trickle-downers driving the gentrification of Minneapolis.
I think 2018 Lisa Goodman would rip 2016 Lisa Goodman to shreds for disrespecting the neighborhood and gentrifying Minneapolis beyond recognition.
So my point is, watch my new film [STREAM IT TODAY!]. And please send thoughts and prayers to Neighbors for East Bank Livability, the group who tried their darnedest to stop the 40-story Alatus tower, and who are still screaming at their TV screens a week after watching Lisa Goodman put her whole heart into defending East Calhoun from a 5-story building.