Opposition to up-zoning ignores our housing needs

As someone whose generation is currently facing rising rents, persistent and extreme low vacancy rates, housing insecurity and a worsening climate crisis set to displace countless people from the coasts, it’s upsetting to hear people talk about how inconvenienced and disturbed they are to have just a few more neighbors on their block. Too often, those who voice concerns about new housing do not live in fear of rising rents and consequently find it so easy to deny housing stability to others.

Zoning provides a legal framework for how to use land, and while not set in stone, there is a lot of institutional power invested in maintaining the status quo. Historically, this power has been wielded by rich white landowners to exclude people from neighborhoods by race, religion or income. Tightly restricting what types of housing can be built in an area can make it economically impossible for people below a certain income bracket to live there. We passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination and end racial covenants in deeds, but that didn’t fix how zoning is used to maintain this historic racial and economic segregation.

All of this often happens under the guise of ironic terms like “livability,” where a “livable” city is measured by how few residents are allowed to live there; under the guise of “protecting the environment,” where we are told it’s preferable to sprawl outwards into wetlands, far away from urban bike and transit amenities because a privileged few don’t like the idea of apartments nearby. We’re also told that “no one is listening” to the very people who’ve spent decades constructing this system, and yet we continue to accept their regressive pro-sprawl arguments. But that balance of power may be shifting as the city begins to listen to the very people who have been intentionally left out of the conversation for decades.

We can clearly see the outcomes of these failed policies now. The demand for housing is so large that people in affordable neighborhoods are threatened with displacement as investors purchase older and cheaper apartments to upscale them for renters with more money. We desperately need more housing, we desperately need more government-subsidized affordable housing and we desperately need renter protections.

Minneapolis thinks of itself as progressive, and rightly so. We have very engaged people demanding adequate pay, fair working conditions, equal rights and action on climate change. Our progressive values also tell us that everyone deserves good access to jobs, transit, parks, good schools and entertainment. This is what abundant housing can provide us, yet our current path leads to sprawl, housing insecurity and poor access to essentials like groceries. We also know improving access to these things has a direct effect on public health and public safety.

Minneapolis is a great city, and we need to ensure that access to the best of what this city has to offer is available to all. It’s time to build enough housing so that everyone can live in and afford our neighborhoods.


Ryan Johnson

Prospect Park

  • Jason Kloster

    Great! Lets build 325 units occupying 2.17 acres of land in Prospect Park! Don’t worry about the increased traffic or parking, the occupants all ride bikes, and so do their friends!

  • Sans Comedy

    Yeah, it’s almost like we invested a billion dollars in rapid transit infrastructure in that corridor or something.

  • Robin Garwood

    It’s interesting that you’d make this argument specifically about Prospect Park, because significantly *more* new housing is being built there than the proposal for the Sons of Norway site. You can read more about it here: http://www.startribune.com/in-prospect-park-near-the-u-three-developers-come-together-in-sweeping-makeover/448546383/

    The cliff’s notes version: there are 866 new housing units proposed or in production, in a single four-block area, 136 of which are locked in as affordable. That’s the first phase of the broader Towerside redevelopment area, the vision for which is to have at least several hundred more new housing units, as well as hundreds of thousands of feet of retail and industrial space.

    And this is all being done with the strong support of the Prospect Park community, which proactively planned for these substantial increases in the number of residential units, formed the Towerside redevelopment district, and reached out to developers to make their vision a reality.

    So yeah. I get that you were being snarky, but you’ve succeeded in highlighting a very different – and, from my perspective, much more effective, progressive, and constructive – approach to development in another part of Minneapolis.

  • Gary Farland

    Ross Johnson, who is affiliated with Streets, Inc. (formerly the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition) writes frequently putting down neighborhood organizations and any opposition to high-density development. He unfairly stated that the Sons of Norway development would add a “few more neighbors” and that such opposition is akin to racial redlining. All the neighborhood wanted was to stick with the present zoning which was designed to prevent excessive density.

  • Carol Dines

    There are those who would like to paint our neighborhood as exclusive and resistant to change, but that’s not the case. We are simply trying to preserve a sense of community and maintain responsible growth around the lakes. Density at all costs does nothing to create affordable housing. Every time one of these high priced developments goes in, the rents in the neighborhood also go up. CPM just bought several old buildings on the Greenway and they are renovating them and jacking up prices. We don’t want to lose renters who are part of the community and will have to move because they can’t keep up with the escalating rents. Developers are feeling no pressure from our city council President Bender to build affordable housing in Uptown. She says that she can’t in good conscience build million dollar homes on this parcel, but that is her way of marginalizing neighborhood voices, voices she long ago stopped responding to. Instead she’s pushing for a billionaire developer to build for-profit apartments that will create more congestion, more spillover parking into the neighborhood, and create more dangerous conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. We are a neighborhood that is 70 percent rental. And we are also a neighborhood that welcomes diversity. Our objection to up zoning on 31st is simply good urban planning, nothing less. Once one residential corridor is turned into a commercial corridor, it can happen all over the city. Anyone who reads about infill development knows that for it to be successful, it needs to fit the scale and character of the neighborhood. This development is about profit for the developer, capital for the city, and silencing the neighborhood that is impacted most. It’s a loss for all of us.

  • terry small

    I’m not sure where you think anyone has the power to “force” a developer to build affordable housing. The city hasn’t built any housing for decades as it’s too risky and costly. People that use their own money and actually build housing have the ability to choose how they proceed and no one can make an edict that they have to do something because “someone” thinks they ought to. If you are personally putting your money at risk, you could decide to build and charge whatever rent you determined is affordable and be left with either losing money or putting in your entire cash investment in without getting a return. No business invests money expecting no return or to lose. Maybe it’s time the wealthier people in these neighborhoods that want to keep people out, invest their own money in housing so they can actually learn the financial realities.

  • Sans Comedy

    They don’t put down all neighborhood organizations. They like DMNA because they don’t constantly get in the way of everything and turn every apartment project into an opportunity for martyrdom.

  • mattaudio

    You’re confusing Streets.MN and Our Streets. Our Streets was formerly the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.

    Streets.MN is a community website where anyone can write about local transportation and land use issues.

    Ryan (not Ross) Johnson has written four articles for Streets.MN (which has over 3,600 published posts). That’s assuming he’s the same Ryan Johnson (it’s quite a common name). So, he’s responsible for 0.1% of the content on Streets.MN. You’re just as welcome to write for Streets.MN as he is.

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