Minneapolis’ New Comprehensive Plan Blazes a Trail Toward More Housing. Will Others Follow?
Minneapolis 2040 virtually eliminates single family zoning and lays out other bold steps
With the nationwide housing shortage top-of-mind for many city leaders, it’s not surprising that access to housing lands №1 on the list of 100 policies put forward by Minneapolis’ new comprehensive plan, Minneapolis 2040. Approved by the Minneapolis City Council last year, the plan — which also addresses economic and workforce development, healthy food, public safety, transit, and a host of other issues — will guide the city’s trajectory over the next two decades.
What’s piqued national interest is that Minneapolis has become the nation’s first major city to rezone itself entirely, virtually eliminating single-family zoning. The city will now allow triplexes in all neighborhoods, as well as buildings up to six stories in some transit-centered areas.
“If you’re for a diversity of housing options and a diversity of backgrounds in every neighborhood — which is something that most people in Minneapolis purport to want — this is a necessary step,” said Mayor Jacob Frey.
To realize that vision of more options for all, Minneapolis 2040’s housing-related provisions go well beyond upzoning. The plan encourages mixed income development and will expand inclusionary zoning that increases the availability of affordable units throughout the city. It supports the use of data to guide and evaluate housing priorities, aims to reduce involuntary displacement of people of color and low income households as the city grows and changes, and promotes steps to preserve quality housing stock. And it eliminates off-street parking minimums, which can add considerable cost to new building development and, in turn, to residents’ monthly rents.
“Increasing our housing supply is part of the solution.”
These changes aim to boost housing availability in a growing region with one of the nation’s lowest vacancy rates and a housing production shortfall larger than anywhere else in the nation, outside of San Francisco and Atlanta.
“We don’t have enough homes for people who want to live here,” said City Council President Lisa Bender after the plan was approved. “Increasing our housing supply is part of the solution.”
Executing a ‘grand vision’
With the plan in place, now Minneapolis must align its zoning policies with the plan’s goals. That task falls to the Metropolitan Council, a policy-making body and planning agency serving the Twin Cities region.
“It’s not enough to write a plan like this, it’s also about doing the difficult policy work and development,” said Heather Worthington, Minneapolis’ director of long-range planning, who helped write the new comprehensive plan.
Supporters of the zoning change need to remain involved because revising the city’s zoning code could be contentious, said Jenny Schuetz, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, a Washington think-tank.
“Cities don’t do it all that often,” she said. “The city council has to vote on revisions, so there’s opportunity for pushback” from NIMBY citizen groups.
Minneapolis native Joseph Peris, of Ryan Companies US, Inc.’s Minneapolis office, said the zoning changes won’t much affect his work as a developer of market-rate and mixed-use projects in the Twin Cities area. But he appreciates how the 2040 plan lays out the city’s priorities, including the creation of density around transit corridors.
“From a developer’s perspective, it’s very helpful to see the city’s grand vision, so we can help execute it,” Peris said.
Leaders in other cities grappling with housing access and affordability are watching Minneapolis as it moves forward with implementing its plan.
“If this takes off and there seems to be new production happening and the politics are OK, I think there are going to be more cities copying it,” Schuetz said.
The first test may be in sister-city St. Paul, where Neighbors for More Neighbors, the YIMBY group that garnered citizen support for Minneapolis 2040, is helping communities form new chapters.
“There’s a need to have apartments along the full spectrum of affordability.”
In Seattle, local officials are watching to see how Minneapolis 2040 pans out, said Greg Cerbana, vice president of public relations and government affairs at Weidner Apartment Homes, which is based in Kirkland, Washington, and has developments in Minneapolis and other parts of the country.
“There’s a need to have apartments along the full spectrum of affordability,” he said. “As you expand supply, it allows people to move up and out.”
To make sure affordability is spread evenly, it may in fact be best to lift zoning restrictions at the state or regional level, said Will Stancil, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, in Minneapolis.
“I’m not sure how plausible that is, but as housing costs go up across the country, there’s increased awareness that land use and density restrictions are an immense impediment to development,” he said.