Minneapolis is bringing back rooming houses to ease the city's housing shortage problems and help stabilize people who are homeless or on the brink of it.

The City Council last week approved a new ordinance that will make it legal to build single-room dwellings with shared bathrooms and kitchens.

Council Members Cam Gordon, Lisa Goodman and Jeremy Schroeder crafted the ordinance to give low-income people a housing option that they say will address a gap in the city's affordable housing.

"The housing crisis really pushed this forward," Schroeder said. "We need to have long-term affordable housing options for people that are coming out of homelessness. Shelter isn't a long-term solution. It's an emergency solution."

In recent months, Minneapolis leaders have been taking aggressive steps to address the city's housing crisis. City officials are working with Hennepin County to purchase hotels and turn them into single-room-occupancy residences. Mayor Jacob Frey has proposed using $28 million of American Rescue Plan money for affordable housing, with a big portion of that going toward addressing the uptick in homelessness. About $5 million from the federal pandemic relief money will support single-room-occupancy units (SROs).

Such dwellings haven't been legal to build in Minneapolis for decades except in supportive housing situations that include services, such as nursing homes, said city planning manager Jason Wittenberg. The SROs the city is envisioning will not have their own supportive services, but will be an option for low-income people who can't afford market-rate rent, he said. SROs typically rent for lower costs than standard units and are less expensive to build.

Under the new law, only nonprofit or government agencies with a good track record of managing housing will be allowed to operate the units. The measure will go into effect Saturday. City officials said they will use the next few months to create licensing procedures and expectations and will begin to accept applications Nov. 1.

Some housing advocates who have long argued for SROs as a critical housing option in the fight against homelessness have pushed back. They say the new law is too restrictive and that the private market should also be allowed to operate those dwellings.

City officials said private builders can work on the construction, but the actual operation of a facility would have to be through a nonprofit or government agency.

Wittenberg said the city will re-examine the ordinance in the future if all goes well and that this initial step "was a strategy to make sure that as we re-legalize this use, that it can be successfully managed. "

The city will not screen potential tenants, but the expectation is that residents of those units will be either people who are coming out of homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, he said.

People who are interested in learning more about converting an existing structure or building a new one can contact 311.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203