Except for the first year and a half of my life, I have been a lifelong Minneapolis resident and the fifth generation of my family to call this city home. After getting married over 30 years ago, my wife and I made a conscious effort to find a home in the city to live and raise a family.
We chose an area that was safe, affordable and convenient to places we needed to go — whether by car, foot, bike or bus. We chose a place where any person regardless of outward appearance could walk down the street and not feel self-conscious or unsafe. We chose a place where people could have pets and not have to drive to find a place to allow the pets to roam freely. We chose a place where I could plant something other than grass in my yard and actually be encouraged rather than ostracized. We chose a place where we and our children could ride our bikes in the street and not have to worry about speeding traffic. And we chose a place with a diversity of people — no matter how you may define it.
We also chose a place that was uniform in the housing choices available: single-family. A big reason for that housing choice was also thinking of our home as our major life investment, an investment that we hoped would appreciate in value and retain that value until the day should come that we decide to sell.
Three months ago, when I learned of our neighborhood’s proposal to allow fourplexes in any residential area, I became alarmed and attended our neighborhood meeting with other similarly concerned homeowners. I subsequently learned from articles in the Star Tribune that this is part of our city leaders’ plan for the entire city in an attempt to simplify the zoning code and to increase the availability of affordable housing.
To me, this appears to be a knee-jerk, even Donald-Trump-like policy change. A recent editorial (“Being smart about affordable housing,” March 19) states that this plan is worth looking into. At least the Star Tribune Editorial Board seems to think some sort of thought process must be employed before making a sudden, major shift in how this city’s neighborhoods should look. Allow me to suggest various potential impacts and to raise questions yet to be addressed.
How will increased density impact traffic and parking, especially if no off-street parking would be required? It’s great to think that many people will use public transit, but exceptionally shortsighted not to take into account the increase in the number of cars, the space they demand and the safety hazards and pollution they create. This is contrary to the desirable goal of making this a walkable, bikeable community.
Additionally, the demand for more parking will inevitably result in more off-street parking being created, resulting in a higher percentage of city lots being covered by impervious surfaces. Not only is urban flooding an increasing problem, but the increased runoff means increased pollution in the jewels of this city: the Mississippi and the lakes. Perhaps the degradation of the city’s waters will solve the problem of the lakes being “overloved.”
Minneapolis is not an island, so why are Mayor Jacob Frey and his associates bent on solving the affordable-housing crisis unilaterally? How will allowing higher density solve this problem? I’ve read and heard comments that this will raise everyone’s property value. If so, that would decrease affordability for those who desire single-family housing, and also require developers to charge higher rents from their tenants.
In addition, I’d argue that areas of the city with high property values, such as southwest Minneapolis, will demand rents well beyond the means of those with modest incomes, but areas with lower property values, such as the North Side, will allow for lower rents. Wouldn’t that further cement the racial and economic disparities that the proponents of this idea wish to undo? With news of slumlord property owners being prevalent in the news, this looks like another opportunity for landlords to enrich themselves at the expense of the city’s poorest residents.
What did Frey do before being elected mayor? Did he request developers of major projects in his ward or other parts of the city to have an affordable-housing component? Are developers being required to include affordable units as part of projects being built or planned today? Thousands of units have been built in recent years, and thousands more will be completed or are being planned this year. Surely, these will go a long way to meet the housing demand. Can’t they also be a means for meeting the need for more affordable housing?
Also overlooked as part of the rezoning proposal is the change in demand for public services: police, fire, parks and schools. It’s naive to assume that increased tax revenue will cover the increased costs. I wish our city leaders would also look at studies on increased density and an increase in the percentage of residents who rent. Not only does demand for public services increase, but crime also increases. Just as important, the mobility of residents also increases and neighborhood stability decreases.
It is easy for even a casual observer to see that the most successful schools are in areas of the city where the neighborhoods are more stable and struggling schools are where residential transiency is higher.
I love my city; I always have. So far, I feel most of the new residential development has been appropriate: reclaiming the old factories and warehouses of the North Loop, and generally being built in high-density areas or areas with excellent access to public transportation. Blanket rezoning vastly oversimplifies the issue of housing demand and racial and economic disparities.
Sorry, but I still think that there has to be a piecemeal approach: Maintain single-family housing where it predominates, but allow for higher density close to commercial areas such as Lake Street, W. Broadway and Central Avenue and also along high-use, high-frequency public transit routes.
Call me a conservative, but I like the housing and density of Minneapolis the way they are. If I want a more urban environment, I’ll move to a neighborhood surrounding downtown, but I don’t think we need another New York or Philadelphia. I’ll go to those places when I want to see Independence Hall or the Statue of Liberty. Let’s keep our lakes, river, parks and neighborhoods the way they are.
Clay Gustafson, of Minneapolis, is a reserve teacher.