As a decision looms over whether Minneapolis should change its zoning rules to invite a flood of multifamily housing, residents are taking sides in the fight over fourplexes.
A campaign for a more densely populated city under the banner “Neighbors for More Neighbors” launched with a party attended by Mayor Jacob Frey in March. A competing group called “Minneapolis for Everyone” put up a website arguing that the push for density would “bulldoze our neighborhoods” to the benefit of national developers.
Then it got weird.
Carol Becker, the mastermind of “Minneapolis for Everyone,” said the website, e-mail and Twitter account of the nonprofit were hacked. Someone created a fake Facebook page for the group that ridiculed opponents of density as “Everyone who owns a $500k home and several cars.” The post said, “We want more affordable housing over there, but not here.”
Since City Council members started talking about the 2040 comprehensive plan’s best-known proposal — to allow fourplexes in the two-thirds of the city zoned for single-family houses — its prospects of becoming law have been uncertain. A second draft of the plan is slated for publication at the end of September, and the council must submit a revised plan to the Metropolitan Council by the end of the year.
Residents across the city have struggled to engage with the sprawling online draft, which includes 97 policies and 14 goals, and is organized as an interactive website with no executive summary. Aside from the fourplex proposal, the plan dramatically raises the maximum height of buildings along dozens of transit routes.
On Monday, the city will start posting online the public comments they have received so far, ahead of the end of the comment period July 22. They’re likely to reflect the hopes and fears of a city struggling with rising costs for renting or buying homes, and the prospects of gentrification and loss of single-family neighborhoods.
“People are just trying to figure out what it means for them,” said Jeremy Schroeder, the council member for the 11th Ward in south-central Minneapolis. “Some people really appreciate how comprehensively the city is looking at it and the depth. Others are really worried about this being too much of a giveaway to developers.”
Where they stand
Frey came out in favor of the fourplex proposal in his State of the City address, and a majority of council members favor greater housing density in Minneapolis, though the details are yet to be settled.
“I think we need more places where fourplexes can be built across the city — I don’t think it’s something we need everywhere,” Council Member Linea Palmisano said. “I think this might be a bridge too far.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman declined to comment for this story, saying she would wait until public comment ends before she weighs in on the plan, but she said in a council committee meeting in May that she, and many other homeowners, chose to live in single-family neighborhoods.
“I totally respect that there are a lot of people who love to live in neighborhoods that have single family homes and fourplexes and duplexes and four-story buildings — I’m not one of them,” Goodman said.
Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents the densely populated Sixth Ward, said he too believes housing density should be “more targeted” and “we need to be very careful with gentrification.”
No other council members are as openly skeptical of the density components of the draft plan.
Council Member Steve Fletcher, who represents the Third Ward including parts of downtown and near Northeast, said he supports greater housing density, but wants to make sure the plan explicitly promotes affordable housing and protects tenants.
“Most of my ward is already experiencing density, so I’m not getting a lot of pushback,” Fletcher said.
The clearest idea for promoting affordability comes from a roughly outlined, three-year-old proposal from Council President Lisa Bender that would require new housing developments to include a certain number of affordable units, a mechanism called “inclusionary zoning.” A similar alternative would require developers to pay a fee in lieu of including affordable units in new buildings.
Bender said city staff has been slow to develop a concrete proposal for inclusionary zoning, but she’s told them to hurry up.
“I’m not able to support the comp plan without a clear direction on our inclusionary zoning policy,” Bender said. “I don’t think we can build our way out of this situation. I think we need more than just more supply.”
Council Member Andrew Johnson, who was initially critical of the fourplex proposal, said this week he is “still taking everything in.”
“The residents have been really thoughtful in their feedback and when we’ve held meetings in the community it’s mostly been questions, and statements of values, rather than taking positions on specific proposals,” Johnson said.
‘Check your privilege’
Such measured statements contrast with the heated rhetoric of the pro-density and anti-density crowds.
Those who want sweeping changes accuse opponents of perpetuating racist redlining that carved out single-family, largely white neighborhoods. Neighbors for More Neighbors designed business cards to hand out at public meetings that say “Uh oh! Your homeowner privilege is showing” or “You received this card because you said something denigrating about renters. Check your privilege.”
The cards were meant to be thought-provoking, not to be distributed anonymously at people’s homes, as reportedly they have been by someone, said Ryan Johnson, who created the cards. But for Johnson and others organizing to fight for a denser Minneapolis, it is a moral fight.
“It’s important to emphasize that what you’re for when you’re against density is scarcity, which is the policy of the last century, and scarcity primarily impacts poor people and people of color,” Johnson said.
Becker’s website, on the other hand, says the plan favors the “young, able-bodied, childless and well-to-do” by emphasizing cycling and walking over automobiles. She also insists the greatest beneficiaries of the comp plan will be national developers.
That debate is tame compared to another, anonymous website that’s distributing fliers calling for the firing of Frey and Palmisano. One says “No Frey-plexes” and others show Frey’s head superimposed on a diapered baby’s body surrounded by dollar signs.
Palmisano said most people don’t hear about the comp plan until they have a conversation “with the friendly dog-walker guy,” and show up outraged before they’ve heard specifics. She said she recently discovered that the city is under no obligation to notify people when their property is rezoned, so long as more than five acres are rezoned at the same time, which would be the case under the draft plan.
She and other council members say the online plan is too unwieldy for most residents to read, and on Friday she sent a two-page letter summarizing the plan to residents of her ward.