A new proposal to allow more fourplexes throughout Minneapolis is already provoking spirited debate.
In some neighborhoods, homeowners strongly oppose the idea, arguing that multifamily housing would change the character of single-family areas. They worry that more cars and traffic would affect property values, and some question whether there is demand for such units.
However, the idea should not be shut down before a more thoughtful discussion. Increasing the number of multifamily buildings has the potential to increase population density and make additional affordable housing available without ruining neighborhoods. Because the notion is a proposal at this point, there will be plenty of opportunity for residents to voice their concerns and suggest constructive modifications.
Currently, zoning rules say that fourplexes may not be operated in roughly two-thirds of Minneapolis and 80 percent of its lots. That means that options for developing most city land are limited. Property owners can either tear down buildings (or develop vacant lots) and fill those spaces with single-family homes or with large apartment/condo buildings. Allowing more fourplexes would offer a less intrusive way to increase density and available housing.
The zoning change is under scrutiny because news reports revealed that a draft of the city’s updated comprehensive plan includes rewriting zoning rules to allow fourplexes on any residential property. That draft is expected to be published March 22, and a final plan could be adopted by the end of the year.
Affordable housing was a major campaign issue last year. Both Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council President Lisa Bender campaigned in favor of housing density, and they continue to support efforts to diversify the types of housing in the city and drive rental prices down.
Minneapolis is not alone in exploring ways to increase the stock of affordable housing — it’s a statewide issue. A 2017 Minnesota Housing Finance Agency study found that 1 in 4 Minnesota households pays more than 30 percent of its income — a recommended guideline for affordability — on either rent or mortgage payments.
To address the issue, late last year Gov. Mark Dayton created a Governor’s Task Force on Housing. That statewide group is expected to make policy recommendations by July. And in St. Paul, a Fair Housing Workgroup is expected to recommend a new strategy to Mayor Melvin Carter and the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Allowing more fourplexes in Minneapolis alone won’t resolve the city’s affordable-housing issues. But it’s an idea worth exploring.