Minneapolis Comp Plan Review: Housing Displacement

This post is the 5th in a series that will take a deeper dive into the draft Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The city invites feedback on the plan until July 22nd. It is important that they hear input that supports N4MN’s goal of abundant, secure homes for everyone.

Photo of a cute fourplex from Scott Shaffer

Some Minneapolis neighborhoods have been locked in long cycles of low upkeep and intense redevelopment. Neighborhoods like Uptown, Downtown and the University area are seeing more change now, after seeing hardly any for decades. Meanwhile, other affluent neighborhoods have successfully resisted adding new homes, as their home values go up and up. This shortage of homes puts pressure on nearby affordable neighborhoods. As a result, tenants have their housing security threatened both by wealthier neighbors who resist adding more housing, and by their landlords, who can renovate, raise rent, and kick people out. This pattern will continue unless we change our policies, and insist that wealthy, white neighborhoods build more housing.

Sightline: Cruel Musical Chairs.

The parts of town that don’t have enough homes also see the worst displacement. This situation is preventable and was created on purpose. Housing is like a game of musical chairs where people with the most money are always able to find a seat. Building enough new housing, both at market rate and below, is crucial, but it’s only part of the solution to preventing displacement.

Protecting people from displacement involves long-term planning and short-term emergency stop-gap measures. The Comp Plan is clearer on long-term planning goals; we want more detail on short-term anti-displacement policies. We need to keep current residents in their communities and provide space for people to adapt as their needs change.

The city’s proposal

Policy 43 lists some intended outcomes to protect current residents from displacement, but it’s light on specifics. Following are a list of some specifics, separated into a few categories: identifying the problem, preserving existing housing that is affordable, and subsidy programs.

A few of these topics relate to our previous post on tenant policies, so check those out too.

Policy responses

To guard against displacement, we need to identify where it is likely to occur and what causes it. We recommend policies that go into effect automatically when displacement risk rises. We also want long-term solutions that address the root causes of displacement to kick in at the same time.

Possible trigger methods and solutions could be:

Rent increases. 
If rents in a particular building go up beyond a certain percentage, it triggers: 
→ Required meetings with the landlord.
→ Rent stabilization in that building.

Renter tenure
If someone has lived in a place longer than a certain amount of years, it triggers:
→ That person getting longer notice on rent increases or sale.
→ That person getting assistance to stay in the neighborhood if they need to move.

Families with children in schools could get extra protections: kids should not be forced to move during a school term. Relocation assistance programs could also prioritize kids who need to stay in their current school.

Age of buildings.
As a building ages it typically becomes more affordable. Buildings like these are important assets to decreasing strain on subsidized housing programs. If a building is above a certain age, it triggers:
→ Access to renovation assistance, or programs that update appliances without providing a means for a landlord to raise rents.
→ An option for the city to buy and preserve it if the current owner is sellin.g

Neighborhood-wide rent increases
If rents in a section of the city increase faster than inflation, it triggers: 
→ Rent stabilization in that section of the city.
→ Zoning changes to allow more homes to be built in the area.

Existing subsidized units. 
If a building that has existing subsidized units is being taken out of a subsidy program, it triggers:
→ Priority assistance for existing tenants to remain in the neighborhood should they need to move.

Housing Subsidy Programs

The city should explore reparations approaches like a right of return, as a means of allowing residents (or their descendants) who were displaced from a neighborhood to return. Portland recently implemented such a system (which has received its share of criticism). The population of Portland is 6% black, and between 2000 and 2010, 10,000 African Americans were displaced from Northeast Portland.

Portland will provide subsidized rental units and downpayment assistance for first time home-buyers. The program applies to people who were displaced, or who can prove their family was displaced. It also applies to people who experienced heavy urban renewal activity where they had last lived. So far the program has received 1100 applications, but has enough funds for only 65 households. Hundreds have applied for housing in two new apartment buildings that are participating in the program. Critics have said that the program isn’t clear enough about who it is for. The application includes no check-mark for race, yet discrimination in housing is not race-neutral.

Another possible option could be modelled on Right 2 Root, with the community process underwritten by the city of Minneapolis. It is a citizen-led proposal drafted by a team of local organizers, architects and designers in Albina, in Northeast Portland. The proposal will provide Portland’s black community with community assets, housing and commercial space, as well as health and educational benefits. It is designed to combat “root shock,” the loss of place and community that can follow disasters, war or slower changes that accompany gentrification. Funding communities to do this work is important, and something Minneapolis should consider.

Additional approaches that could be pursued:

  • Programs that help long-term tenants living below area median income to buy their home.
  • Programs that help tenants with children stay near their child’s current school, if they need to move.

Preserving existing homes

Since 2000, Minneapolis lost 15,000 homes that were affordable to people at 50% of area median income to rising rents. During this time, Minneapolis also lost 2,744 units in two- to four-family buildings. We lost ground on affordable housing, despite the city producing or preserving 8,900 homes. Many of these were likely non-subsidized and affordable.

These homes weren’t lost to widespread demolition. They were lost to renovation and conversion. Some renovation is necessary to keep properties safe and livable. This is different from upscaling to attract higher-income renters. Everyone deserves dignified and safe housing, but we need to put power in tenants’ hands before properties are sold — and before renovations turn into large-scale evictions.

  • Dedicate more funds for preserving naturally occurring affordable housing if a landlord opts to sell the land.
  • Right of first refusal: when tenants get notice of sale, they have the option to buy the property. The same system could provide the city the option to buy and preserve the properties.
  • Assist tenants in forming a coop, subsidize buying up their own properties.
  • Give tenants the ability to apply for loans for renovation if the landlord is not keeping up. A lien would be placed against the property as an incentive for the landlord to provide maintenance.

Note, some of this is discussed in our previous post on tenant protections.

What can I do to make this happen?

  1. Go to: https://minneapolis2040.com/policies/housing-displacement/ to comment on the policy we discussed in this post!
  2. Send this blog post to 3 friends and ask them to comment.
  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.
  6. NB! Our Streets Mpls is hosting a Comp Plan comment party at Moon Palace, Sunday, July 22nd at 4:30PM.