Minneapolis Comp Plan Review: Housing & Development near Transit

This post is the third of a short series that will take a deeper look at some of the specific policies in the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The city is soliciting feedback on the plan until July 22nd, and it is important that they hear input on the elements of the plan that will help support our goal of homes for everyone.

Hamline Station in St. Paul, 108 units of affordable housing, priced at 50%-60% area median income. (Photo: Mike Hicks)

It’s 2018, and we’re in a global climate crisis and a regional housing shortage. One of the best ways to fight carbon emissions is by encouraging people to live near transit. Our regional housing shortage is putting the most pressure on people who rent and people who rely on transit. With incomes not keeping up with housing and transportation costs, we need to solve these problems due to their disparate impacts on low income people and people of color.

By 2040, Minneapolis should expect to have abundant safe housing on transit for anyone who needs it. Those who still need a single occupancy vehicle will still have many housing options to choose from, and will also find their access to transit greatly improved. Minneapolis residents will also find they need to leave their neighborhoods less often, because each neighborhood will have the services it depends on.

Comp Plan Policies and Goals

As part of the Comp Plan, the city has identified the following goals: reduced disparities, more residents and jobs, affordable and accessible housing, high-quality physical environment, complete neighborhoods, and climate change resilience.

These are tied to the following policies, which the Comp Plan will address:

Policy 38: Affordable Housing near Transit and Job Centers
Create more affordable housing near transit and job centers
Policy 80: Development Near METRO Stations
Support development and public realm improvements near existing and planned METRO stations that result in walkable districts for living, working, shopping, and recreating.

We’ll review these policies below, recategorizing the 12 action steps contained within them into 3 categories: Housing, Land Use, and Transportation.

Housing Action Steps

The city will:

  • Maximize opportunities to create affordable housing near transit stations and along high-frequency transit corridors.
  • Improve coordination within the City enterprise and with outside jurisdictions to identify opportunities to increase housing density and affordability along transit corridors and near job centers.
  • Allow and encourage a dense mix of housing, employment, and commercial goods and services near METRO stations.
  • Develop affordable housing near METRO stations.

To improve upon this, the Comp Plan should codify “Location Affordability” as the percentage that a household spends annually on transportation and housing. According to HUD, if you spend more than 45 percent on housing and transportation, then the area isn’t affordable.

Interestingly, some of the cities with the highest housing costs as a percent of income for a typical household have some of the lowest transportation costs. By focusing on improving our transit system and building housing near it, we can make our region more affordable to more people. Existing data shows the most expensive housing is in the neighborhoods with the lowest density. Concurrently, transportation costs are highest in these neighborhoods (Lake District, Southwest and South Minneapolis) because the neighborhoods don’t have a density to support frequent transit. Dense neighborhoods in and around downtown as well as North Minneapolis have the lowest transportation costs because of density and the transit service it supports.

Housing and transportation costs are the largest monthly expenditures. By providing affordable housing and low cost accessible transit, we can reduce the monthly cost burden families face.

Land Use Action Steps

The city will:

  • Identify and pursue opportunities to acquire and assemble property for larger-scale development near transit stations and along transit corridors.
  • Require a minimum level of development near METRO stations to ensure that land is used efficiently near major transit investments.
  • Orient buildings to the sidewalk.
  • Incorporate plazas and open spaces into development and station design.

Requiring a minimum level of development is key. A handful of cities around the country have failed to employ these strategies, holding back their transit system’s potential. From single-family homes that border BART stations in San Francisco to new car dealerships that opened adjacent to an existing light rail station in St. Louis, mis-matched zoning around high-frequency transit leads to under-utilized transit and greater car dependency. When a minimum level of development around transit is required, the environmental, health and economic benefits transit provides are better realized.

Elimination of minimum off-street parking requirements city-wide is a good policy in promoting transit use, but we believe the city must take a step further and institute maximum off-street parking requirements for land around transit stations. We especially like the focus on walkability and ground level active uses. This policy is a very positive step!

We also believe that all high-frequency bus corridors, Arterial BRT lines, and LRT lines should have the same land use and built form policies around their stations. A handful of neighborhoods along the planned Green and Blue Line extensions under the current draft maintain a much lower density than other stations in the city.

Transportation Action Steps

The city will:

  • Ensure that METRO stations are accessible via sidewalks and bicycle facilities.
  • Identify and implement strategic investments to increase connectivity and support development.
  • Break up large blocks into small, walkable blocks.
  • Line main pedestrian routes leading to METRO stations with active uses on the ground floor of buildings.
  • Minimize the impact of automobiles near METRO stations by tucking parking behind and under buildings, by sharing parking among area uses, by prohibiting the establishment of auto-oriented uses, and by prohibiting the establishment of park-and-ride facilities.

Neighbors for More Neighbors strongly supports these policies and action steps for a multitude of reasons. Regional, municipal and small area plans should be aligned so that we get the most out of the significant investments we’ve made and are making in our mass transit system. The action steps are intentional about ensuring housing, multimodal transit options, open spaces, and employers are concentrated at METRO stations. This is a positive step that will create complete communities.

Splitting up large blocks into smaller walkable blocks will do more to make our city feel complete. Presently, there are substantial divides in connectivity as a result of historic and current industrial uses that have created large and hard to navigate blocks throughout large chunks of North, Northeast, and around Downtown.

We are very supportive of this policy — let’s make sure the City knows it through the public feedback process.

Extra reading:

What can I do to make this happen?

  1. Comment on the policies we discussed in this post by going to the following links: Affordable Housing near Transit and Job Centers, Development near METRO Stations.
  2. Send this blog post to 3 friends and ask them to comment on the comp plan website too.
  3. Talk to your friends and family members (who live in Minneapolis) about why supporting housing for everyone is important, why the comp plan matters, and how to comment on it.
  4. Stay tuned for future posts and actions on the draft Comp Plan, and sign up for our mailing list!
  5. Attend the upcoming forums and events.