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.