11. SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES

Minnesota lawmakers aim to stop cities from killing affordable housing • Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota lawmakers aim to stop cities from killing affordable housing • Minnesota Reformer
Written by ZJbTFBGJ2T

Minnesota lawmakers aim to stop cities from killing affordable housing • Minnesota Reformer  Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota lawmakers aim to stop cities from killing affordable housing • Minnesota Reformer

Affordable Housing Project in Edina Faces Opposition Due to Outdated Zoning Laws

A few years ago, Solhem, a Minneapolis-based developer, sought to build some market-rate apartments in Edina. After interest rates spiked and market conditions shifted, the project started to look infeasible. Solhem pursued funding for affordable housing instead.

In December 2023, Solhem was selected by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to receive a significant allocation of federal low-income housing tax credits, and they began planning an 89-unit affordable housing project. Edina’s comprehensive plan guided the site to include office or residential development, and the proposed project also fit within the comprehensive plan’s guidance for density at the site.

But there was a loophole for anyone who didn’t want to see this built: City zoning had not been updated in accordance with the comprehensive plan, necessitating a rezoning in order to build housing on the site.

Opposition to Affordable Housing Project

Soon after Solhem applied for affordable housing funding from Minnesota Housing, some residents — by no means a majority of Edina, but a vocal group — stirred up opposition. Over 1,000 people signed a petition opposing the rezoning. The new development would “adversely affect the architectural character of the neighborhood, traffic and safety, and property values,” the petition read.

The opposition here was new. When Solhem had initially been planning market-rate — meaning relatively expensive — apartments, people said hardly a word.

“There was no major backlash from the community [when we first introduced the market-rate proposal]. We got feedback from the City Council and Planning Commission. It was after we introduced the affordable housing project last May that the neighborhood opposition really mobilized,” said Amol Dixit, a vice president at Solhem.

A separate petition from a nearby townhome association called for the city to establish a “small area plan,” which is essentially another regulatory regime specific to a portion of Edina. Once established, this would begin a 12- to 18-month process to plan for future development of a multi-acre area that included the proposed Solhem site — and the City Council authorized such a plan. Dixit told the council that if the project could not receive land use approval before the small area plan was completed, Solhem would be unable to follow the construction timeline required by federal funding and would have to cancel the project.

The City Council unanimously expressed that they would not approve a project before completing the small area plan, rendering the development unviable. Multiple public officials involved cited concerns around sewage infrastructure, but Dixit said that Solhem had presented workable solutions that had been conceptually approved by the Metropolitan Council.

“We just felt like there was a lack of partnership with the city, on what are really typical zoning and infrastructure issues,” Dixit said.

So 89 affordable homes, fully funded and ready to build, will not be built in Edina.

Land Use Reforms and Affordable Housing

The story of Edina’s stalled affordable housing project is not unique. Similar situations have occurred in other cities in Minnesota, where local zoning laws and opposition from residents have hindered the development of affordable housing projects.

To address this issue, state legislators have brought land use and zoning policy to the forefront of policy discussions at the state Capitol. Multiple bills have been proposed to change the regulations governing how housing gets built in different jurisdictions, with a focus on increasing the availability of affordable housing and aligning local zoning laws with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Proposed Land Use Reforms

  1. One bill (HF4009/SF3964) would legalize slightly denser housing, like duplexes and townhomes, in neighborhoods across the state, and larger apartment buildings near major transit stops or in commercial areas. It would also limit bespoke, building-by-building approvals, having cities give more straightforward approvals to new housing if it’s in line with their comprehensive plans.
  2. Another bill (HF3468/SF3572) would altogether eliminate minimum parking requirements statewide.
  3. Another bill (HF3351/SF3538) would direct a rewrite of the state building code to allow taller buildings with a single staircase.

These proposed reforms aim to lower the market prices of housing and increase the overall supply of affordable housing. By legalizing more low-cost types of housing and streamlining the approval process, these reforms can help address the affordable housing crisis in Minnesota.

The Legislature has received support for these changes from a diverse array of organizations and advocates, including affordable housing groups, environmental organizations, homebuilders, social justice groups, and even the AARP.

The Connection Between Land Use Policies and Affordable Housing

Land use policies play a crucial role in determining the availability and affordability of housing. Restrictive zoning laws and discretionary approval processes can significantly hinder the development of affordable housing projects, increasing costs and delaying construction timelines.

Local governments have considerable control over land use policies, and their decisions can either support or impede affordable housing development. Outdated zoning codes, strict regulations, and costly requirements such as minimum parking standards can make it difficult for developers to build affordable housing.

Conversely, land use reforms that promote denser housing, eliminate unnecessary requirements, and streamline the approval process can increase the capacity of affordable housing and lower market prices.

The Role of Local Control

The debate over land use reforms often centers around the concept of local control. While local governments have valuable knowledge about their communities’ needs and infrastructure, it is essential to consider the impact of local policies on affordable housing availability.

With hundreds of jurisdictions across Minnesota, waiting for each city to update its zoning codes to support affordable housing would be impractical. Moreover, not all cities are willing to prioritize affordable housing development.

While local control is important, it should not be used as a justification for exclusionary practices that perpetuate the lack of affordable housing. Balancing the need for local control with the urgent need for affordable housing requires a collaborative approach and a willingness to address statewide goals and initiatives.

By implementing land use reforms that align with the SDGs and prioritize affordable housing, Minnesota can make significant progress in addressing its housing affordability crisis and ensuring that all residents have access to safe and affordable homes.

SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDGs Addressed:

  1. SDG 1: No Poverty
  2. SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
  3. SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  4. SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Targets Identified:

  • Target 1.2: By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women, and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
  • Target 3.8: Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services, and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all
  • Target 11.1: By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe, and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
  • Target 17.17: Encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships

Indicators:

  • Indicator 1.2.1: Proportion of population living below the national poverty line, by sex and age
  • Indicator 3.8.1: Coverage of essential health services (defined as the average coverage of essential services based on tracer interventions that include reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, and service capacity and access)
  • Indicator 11.1.1: Proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements, or inadequate housing
  • Indicator 17.17.1: Amount of United States dollars committed to public-private and civil society partnerships

Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDGs Targets Indicators
SDG 1: No Poverty Target 1.2: By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women, and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions Indicator 1.2.1: Proportion of population living below the national poverty line, by sex and age
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being Target 3.8: Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services, and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all Indicator 3.8.1: Coverage of essential health services (defined as the average coverage of essential services based on tracer interventions that include reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, and service capacity and access)
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities Target 11.1: By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe, and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums Indicator 11.1.1: Proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements, or inadequate housing
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals Target 17.17: Encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships Indicator 17.17.1: Amount of United States dollars committed to public-private and civil society partnerships

Behold! This splendid article springs forth from the wellspring of knowledge, shaped by a wondrous proprietary AI technology that delved into a vast ocean of data, illuminating the path towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Remember that all rights are reserved by SDG Investors LLC, empowering us to champion progress together.

Source: minnesotareformer.com

 

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