Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Will We Put All Those Fourplexes?


After my initial foray into the citywide fourplex proposal, I began to take a closer look at my own surroundings.  And as much as I want to exercise caution I became quite surprised at how little of north Minneapolis is zoned for multifamily housing compared to how much this part of the city could use such development.

For instance, from my place on 26th and Penn up to 30th Avenue North (which is only three blocks because the 2800 and 2900 blocks get jumbled together here), there are at least twenty-three city- or county-owned vacant parcels of land.  All of them are zoned R1 residential, so without a variance only single-family homes can be built.

Penn Avenue North is a community corridor.  It already has a mix of multi-family and single-family homes along the route, especially in this three-block stretch.  North Minneapolis has bled density and needs to add more people back to our community.  In fact, you can't rightly call Penn a commercial corridor because there isn't enough of a population to drive much commerce here.  When Metro Transit surveys their ridership to see where its ridership is most dependent on busing as their primary mode of transportation, Penn's route (the 19) and its tributaries and parallels (the 5, 22, 14, among others) consistently come out near the top.

When you talk about areas that need density, we're it.  When you talk about building housing for those without cars, the northside is not some trendy place where young college grads use the Uber to Lyft their Car2Go or whatever the kids are doing nowadays.  People are riding the bus to do their laundry and grocery shopping because that's what they need to get by.

So looking at this zoning proposal in terms of racial equity and access to an affordable infrastructure of housing and transit, corridors like Penn and Lyndale, Emerson and Fremont Avenues North absolutely have to be the cornerstone of how communities can benefit.  Because the next carless micro-unit building for college grads making sixty grand is not going to cut it.

With that in mind, my next round of number crunching was centered around this query: Were it not for the R1 zoning restriction throughout much of north Minneapolis, would we see an influx of multifamily investment?  Or as some council members have posited, would that investment be focused in other areas even at the expense of existing housing stock?

Some of what I found seemed to support my predispositions and other data was more than a bit surprising.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Who Would Benefit from Relaxed Citywide Multi-Family Zoning?

Vacant land, multi-family, and single-family homes.
These parcels are likely already zoned for multi-family housing, but there are plenty of vacant lots around me that would benefit from the addition of 3-4 unit properties.

"Well, the cat's out of the bag," said Council Member Lisa Bender regarding a proposal to relax zoning requirements practically citywide.  The change could result in there being virtually no barriers - from a zoning perspective - to building a four-unit house throughout much of the city.  To be honest, the prospective change excites me more than just about anything I've seen from our new council.  But it is replete with possibilities to further exacerbate some of Minneapolis' worst problems even while it addresses rental housing shortages.

CM's Johnson and Gordon raised some of their own concerns, namely that the new ordinance could result in starter homes being priced out certain markets as the land beneath the home becomes worth enough for investors to purchase, demolish, and build anew.  While this would add a net gain of housing units, it would come at the expense of first-time buyers and would not be the ideal way to roll out such a change.

I share those concerns, and worry that otherwise viable housing will be demolished in favor of new construction of fourplexes.  If that dynamic becomes widespread, then I also worry that we will have a housing change that prices more owners out of south and northeast Minneapolis while passing over the swaths of already-vacant land in north.  And then let's talk about who benefits and how.  Obviously renters benefit from having more options available to them at (hopefully) affordable rates for quality housing.  The communities around the new units get the benefits - and let's be honest, the drawbacks such as they are - of increased density.  And the largest beneficiaries would the the new owners of the four-unit housing expansion.

I will be focusing on those two aspects of the proposal as this post proceeds - how to incorporate a zoning change in ways that minimize the demolition of viable homes and how to ensure that the largest windfalls that ownership provides are aimed at people and communities that have been historically marginalized.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Minneapolis Needs a Second DFL Party



As elections get ever closer, the level of vitriol keeps escalating.  The crisis du jour happens to be a set of mailings that have gone out from Minneapolis Works! that have been in support of some of the less liberal candidates for city council.  The hints of big, downtown money swaying the election has even brought out the most dreaded word imaginable in Minneapolis elections.

Republicans.

Now realistically we don't have Republicans as a political force in Minneapolis.  Sure, we had one run for mayor in 2013, but to borrow from the legend of Keyser Soze, and like that he was gone.  Underground.  Nobody has seen him since.  He becomes a myth, a spook story that DFLers tell their kids at night.  Run against a more liberal candidate, and the Republicans will get you.  And no one ever really believes.

So this mailer comes out, and to be honest, the real story ought to be that these really rich political action groups had to crib campaign photos without permission and used poorly cropped Getty image photoshops.  With that much money, if you want to be progressive with an actual 'p' then hire a northside photographer from a minority-owned business or a local arts group to take actual photos, and then get another such business to design the postcard.  Instead, the uproar is that the less liberal candidates were called "progressive," when the new crop of left-wing candidates thinks that word belongs to them.

And the problem with that is that the DFL in Minneapolis is essentially the only path to political legitimacy (Sorry, Cam Gordon, but until we get more Green Party representation, I stand by the assessment).  So ascendancy within the DFL party, and the DFL endorsement at conventions is not a consensus by Democrats of who represents their values.  It is instead a tool to be used to gain the appearance of credibility.

Contrast that with statewide DFL conventions and endorsements...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Abolish the MPD Poll is Full of Terrible Ideas

Post by Jeff Skrenes, photo is from my front porch.

This post has been edited from its initial publication.  A list of candidates who voted "yes," "yes then no" or "did not respond" has been added, those candidates have been added to the "labels" section, and language was adjusted at the hyperlink to better reflect a narrative flow.

Recently a group called Pollen put out a survey and candidate questionnaire for the upcoming Minneapolis municipal elections.  The questions are pretty standard fare, if a bit left-leaning even for Minneapolis, with two notable exceptions.  "Do you believe we could ever have a city without police?" and the follow-up to that, "What would you do, as an elected official, to bring us closer to police abolition?"  What is exceptional, and not in a good way, is that two DFL-endorsed incumbents and two of the leading mayoral candidates answered the first question in a way that at a different time or place would be considered political suicide.

"Yes."  (With a caveat:  Mayoral candidate Jacob Frey initially answered "yes," and has now retracted that.  His answers now state "no," with an explanation that the initial questions differed from those on the submission form.)

The other candidates that answered yes, as of this posting are:  Ray Dehn (mayor), Ginger Jentzen (Ward 3), Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4), Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5), Janne Flisrand (Ward 7), Alondra Cano (Ward 9 incumbent), Lisa Bender (Ward 10 incumbent), and Jeremy Schroeder (Ward 11).

Mohamud Noor (Ward 6) answered the follow-up question about what would be done to abolish the police department, but did not answer the initial yes/no question.

There is a guy running for mayor under the political banner "Rainbows Butterflies Unicorns" and EVEN HE said abolishing the police department is unworkable.

Whether this is an indictment of how much work must be done to reform many aspects of our police force, or it's demonstrative of how far to the left at least some are trying to take our city, this question is not normal or healthy.

I suppose reasonable people - or maybe we don't see each other as reasonable right now - may disagree on the value judgment above, but let's not sugarcoat these two questions.  In many a Facebook comment thread I've seen or participated in, defenders of posing such queries state that the vision is merely aspirational, and asks candidates to envision a city where police are not necessary because everything else is so great.

No.  That is not what the questionnaire is getting at.  One of its authors, Ashley Fairbanks, is quoted in the Star Tribune as stating that the police force is so rooted in white supremacy that it is irredeemable.  Whether that's true or not isn't my immediate point, but rather we need to acknowledge that the people behind this question are very much in favor of dissolving the police force.  Not radically reforming it, but "abolition."  The very next question asks for specific actions that would bring us there.  That should make it crystal clear that the questionnaire is not leading candidates or voters to sing John Lennon's "Imagine" while casting ballots in hopes of a world with no religion, wars, or greed.  The survey and its authors unapologetically advocate for the abolition of a police department, and anyone who answered yes is tacitly supporting that view.

There are more than a few other problems here...

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Conscience of a Moderate


Post by Jeff Skrenes, photo is stock photo from my Facebook profile.


Minneapolis politics have taken a sharp turn to the left and I'm not sure I recognize my own city anymore.

I don't make that statement lightly, and I don't base that sentiment solely on the political positions that seem to have the wind in their sails for the time being.  There is an undercurrent to this shift that feels different than other political differences and disagreements I've seen in the past.  And to be honest, it's the shift in tone that concerns me more than a potential shift in policy.  Politics do make leftward and rightward shifts over time, and in the long arc of history I like to think the push and pull of those tides helps us to get it right.

I still consider myself a liberal and a progressive, certainly a Democrat.  On a national scale I probably favor government regulations and spending more than most, but locally I would be to the right of many of my compatriots in that regard.  Still, this sentiment of a political sea change for the worse does come from an understanding of left-wing activism and tactics.

My first job out of college was working for Minnesota ACORN, the predecessor to Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.  I've been on my share of marches, most recently to protest the Philando Castile verdict.  I've organized a direct action that once got my organization sued - a badge of honor of sorts in that world.  Which is to say I've been in the far-left activist sphere before and I understand its philosophy and methods perhaps more than others who would self-identify as moderates.

I'm not sure exactly when the left-wing meanness started to manifest itself, but I first noticed it during...

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Appointergate" Wakes up NXNS

*post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, stock image from GIFsme.  I was going for a stock photo of "tempest in a teapot," but a shot glass seems a whole lot better.


It's been almost a year since my last blog post, and my writing has been sporadic before that.  I've made several statements that I was returning to regular writing, although this time I can't say if that will be the case.  But I tend to write about things in my neighborhood and city that I want to see changed and that I think may be impacted by writing.  Recent current events have caused me to dust off the blogspot and see what we've got under the hood.

There are two posts in the hopper.  Part One is "What the Hell was the police chief thinking?  No, really, I am honestly baffled because there seems to be no part of 'appointergate' that was handled with any degree of forethought."  Part Two is something of a "I am a political moderate in a city that doesn't seem to have a voice of moderation" manifesto.

Chief Harteau, you're up first...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Where is BLM After Northside Shootings?" That's a Loaded Question.


One of the refrains I see on social media after shootings in north Minneapolis is the question of why people associated with Black Lives Matter aren't out protesting against that particular shooting, or why BLM isn't speaking out against issues like Black-on-Black violent crime.  I've felt that most of those queries, especially coming from Caucasians or those not affiliated with BLM were misguided at best.

That chorus began again after the tragic shooting death of Birdell Beeks, and I can tell you where Black Lives Matter was...