Minneapolis Makes a Bold Move on Housing

Longstanding inequities in housing policy can be addressed. And it’s no surprise to us that cities are doing it first.

The city of Minneapolis just passed a sweeping zoning code change that will eliminate single family housing. This is the first time a large city has made such a move in its zoning code. Many in America are feeling the outsized impacts of urban growth and are seeking solutions on housing. The impacts of eliminating single family zoning cannot be overstated.

The zoning change is part of a broad suite of items included in the city’s new long-range plan, Minneapolis 2040. This plan seeks to place racial equity front and center by focusing on housing and the historical wrongs committed through redlining. In this way, the zoning change, as well as other policy shifts across issues like housing and transportation, is meant to counteract the intentional housing segregation of the past, and build a more equitable future for all.

Beginning in 2019, all single-family properties in Minneapolis will be effectively upzoned to duplex and threeplex designations. This increased density will help the city contend with one of the critical levers affecting housing costs — supply. More available homes should open up opportunities for more people to live in every neighborhood.

Many other cities have been stymied on similar initiatives, but there’s a definite trend emerging as city leaders begin to address the long-standing damage done by housing regulations of the past.

City leaders from communities of all sizes and market dynamics across the country view housing as a priority. Our annual State of the Cities research consistently ranks housing as a top five municipal imperative, with 39 percent of mayors significantly covering housing in their 2018 speeches.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a recent CityLab interview that a big reason why Minneapolis is showing success on such a far-reaching plan is that he and others on council explicitly ran on many of these ideals, and thus there is widespread public support.

In his interview with Kristin Capps, he explained why this platform was so important to him:

I believe strongly that housing is a right. I believe that everyone should have a safe place to go home to at the end of the night, to rest their heads on a pillow and rejuvenate for the next day. Clearly that right is not afforded to everyone.

Frey went on to say that it’s, “a right to live in a great city.” Affordable housing in every neighborhood, he believes, is the way to guarantee a “beautiful diversity of people.”

At the National League of Cities, we are acutely aware of the housing crisis facing city members nationwide. This is why we have just announced a National Task Force on Housing. This group of mayors and council members is focused on finding ways for cities to improve affordable housing options, housing supply and housing quality.

The Task Force will develop recommendations like Minneapolis’ new zoning change, while simultaneously calling on federal partners to work collaboratively with city leaders to build long-lasting solutions.

Innovation percolates from the ground up — as exhibited by Minneapolis eliminating single family zoning — but we all must work together to effect a long-lasting positive change to America’s housing crisis.


Brooks Rainwater smallAbout the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the senior executive director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.