- Inclusive community engagement was essential to the successful adoption of these zoning changes. The City utilized a robust outreach process to introduce and inform the planning changes, which helped to increase community buy-in. Furthermore, despite how hard changes to the zoning in single-family zoning districts often are, the gentle increased density provided by duplexes and triplexes appears to have been easier to attain than more ambitious zoning changes.
- The elimination of single-family zoning policies may be particularly important in cities where single-family housing is such a large share of the overall housing stock. About 44% of Minneapolis’ housing stock consists of single-family homes (2019 ACS). However, in cities with more multi-family housing, similar policies may increase density only in a small part of the city, limiting the policy’s efficacy.
- The elimination of single-family zoning can help increase inclusion and reduce increases in housing prices. However, this policy alone is likely not enough to achieve these goals. Further policy changes are likely necessary in order for the elimination of single-family zoning to have a major impact on the number of lower-cost housing types developed in the city. For example, in Portland, Oregon, policymakers paired increased zoning density with laws that ended the requirement to include on-site parking spots and allowed for extra size allowances for buildings that created more or cheaper homes. That said, Minneapolis successfully enacted an inclusionary zoning policy and additional zoning amendments to allow multi-story, multifamily housing near frequent transit routes, which went into effect on the same day as the Minneapolis 2040 plan. These changes will have a bigger impact on housing supply and affordability than the elimination of single-family zoning alone. In the coming years, Minneapolis will enact additional housing strategies and make a series of additional amendments to the zoning code’s text and maps reflecting the guidance of the comprehensive plan’s Future Land Use and Built Form Maps, including the elimination of off-street parking minimums while adopting a stronger travel demand management ordinance.
- These zoning changes will require time to have any meaningful effect. Even with time and companion policies (such as those mentioned above), increased density and affordability are not guaranteed.
Minneapolis initially announced its intention to eliminate single-family zoning in its latest comprehensive plan, known as Minneapolis 2040, which included a wide range of planned changes to zoning, housing, and fiscal policy, each of which require administrative action to be implemented. In October 2019, policymakers amended Minneapolis’ zoning code to allow duplexes and triplexes in low-density areas in which these housing types were previously prohibited. By eliminating single-family zoning, the City has removed a barrier to the development of higher density housing options on existing lots citywide. The City hopes that this policy leads to an increase in the overall housing supply that results in lower housing prices.
The elimination of single-family zoning promotes the expansion of “gentle density” by facilitating modest increases in the number of units that can be developed within a building envelope similar to that of single-family houses. For example, duplexes and triplexes allow for higher density while still providing ample livable space in the same building footprint. These changes will allow for more affordable units in neighborhoods that have abundant amenities without introducing development that might substantially alter the existing built environment.
In addition to its elimination of single-family zoning, the Minneapolis 2040 plan includes the following steps to increase the supply of housing and its diversity of location and types.
- Allow housing to be built in all areas of the city, except in Production and Distribution areas.
- Allow the highest-density housing in and near Downtown.
- Allow multifamily housing on public transit routes, with higher densities near transit stations.
- Encourage inclusion of units that can accommodate families in new and rehabilitated multifamily housing developments.
Process and timeline
City officials and the Minneapolis 2040 Plan’s co-authors attribute its adoption to the strength of its grassroots support fostered through two years of community engagement between government, advocacy groups, and residents. Both the Minneapolis 2040 Plan and the resulting zoning code changes were made possible through the advocacy and organizing efforts led by a coalition of residents, housing advocates, builders, and business leaders, including those that have been historically underrepresented in civic life. The following efforts helped create a more inclusive and equitable planning process:
Phase 1 – Launch (April 2016)
The first phase consisted of building awareness of the 2040 Plan and exploring emerging ideas, current conditions, and the central issues for the city. The City’s Department of Community Planning and Economic Development attended conferences and hosted community fairs and community dialogue events to build awareness and relationships. The phase resulted in an engagement strategy that guided the rest of the planning process.
Phase 2 – Big Questions (May – December 2017)
During Phase 2, research teams engaged the public by asking them “Big Questions” surrounding core elements of the Plan, including transportation, jobs, housing, and the environment. Researchers participated in over community 20 events. A common theme that was heard throughout Phase 2 engagement was the topic of racial equity and the historical context of previous zoning codes and their negative impacts on equity in the city. The engagement feedback influenced City staff to formulate overarching goals for the comprehensive plan.
Phase 3 – Policy Framework (2017-2018)
During Phase 3, the City once again engaged with the public to gather feedback on strategies to address the city’s racial disparities. The City unveiled a mobile engagement tool to assist them with engaging with the public during street and cultural events. Phase 3 included open houses in each of the five planning sectors of the city. Staff partnered with neighborhood organizations to conduct outreach. As a result of the two previous phases, the City Council adopted 14 goals for the 2040 plan in 2017.
Phase 4 – Drafting the Policy Document
City staff used all the feedback gathered to finalize the following housing-related policy objectives to be presented to the public and the City Council for review and approval:
- Increase the supply of affordable housing supply citywide
- Increase the variety of housing options in low density areas
- Promote resource-rich, mixed-income neighborhoods of opportunity
Phase 5 – Review by the public and Metropolitan Council and Approval by City Council (March 2018 – October 2019)
From March through July of 2018, the public reviewed the draft and provided feedback. Both the plan and public input were presented to the Metropolitan Council, which confirmed the plan’s conformation to regional goals. Finally, in October of 2019, the City Council approved the plan and deemed it effective as of January 1, 2020.
The City Council has already implemented certain of the provisions of Minneapolis 2040, including the elimination of single-family zoning. In the coming years the City Council will make a series of additional amendments to the zoning code to implement the policies of the overall Minneapolis 2040 Plan.
Given that the districts previously zoned as single-family in Minneapolis were largely already built out, policymakers and advocates expected it would take time to see change. As of September 2020, three city permits have been requested to convert existing single-family homes into triplexes (there were no requests to convert properties into duplexes). There have been no permit requests for new triplex construction. While it could take years to know whether the policy has been successful, policymakers are beginning to consider adopting additional built form regulations to make higher density development more practical. In the coming years, the City will make a series of additional amendments to the zoning code’s text and maps to implement the policies of this new plan, as required by Minnesota statute, reflecting the guidance of the comprehensive plan’s Future Land Use and Built Form Maps.
Minneapolis is the first large city in the United States to eliminate single-family zoning regulation citywide, earning national recognition. Many researchers and advocates believe that the limited density authorized in many single-family zoning districts restricts the overall supply of housing in the market and the inclusion of smaller and more moderately-priced homes within those neighborhoods in particular. By allowing for gentle increases in density within neighborhoods previously zoned exclusively for single-family housing, the new provisions make possible the development of lower-cost housing types which may make the neighborhoods more accessible to low- and moderate-income households and more racially and ethnically diverse. If enough new development takes place, it may also help the market respond to increased demand, reducing the rates of increase in rents and housing prices.
The city’s outer neighborhoods have little variation in housing types, and 50 percent of the allowed land use in the city for low-density housing only. Furthermore, the city has been adding population faster than housing, and housing costs are increasing – Minneapolis’ median rent has risen by 10% since 2017. Local policymakers see this change as an important step in addressing Minneapolis’s rising housing prices.