Re: David Schultz’s June 26 Community Voices commentary, “Minneapolis residential discrimination: Why neoliberal zoning will fail”:
Things are the way they are for a reason. And the reasons can be complex. That’s why we never said that upzoning the City of Minneapolis would be the only solution to a history of racially biased policies and practices that prevented many residents from partaking in the prosperity of our community for the past 150 years.
Those of us on the ground, doing this work every day, know that these are not single-issue problems; they are part of an interconnected system of challenges and opportunities that have been created over the past 150 years. That’s why the Minneapolis 2040 Plan looks at all of the systems related to these opportunities and challenges. Unfortunately, many people have reduced this plan to one headline — “Single Family Zoning Eliminated.” That is an intellectually lazy approach to understanding this document and the recommendations it makes about how to guide the future of Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is a great city that suffers from the same disparities, racially and economically, that plague many large cities. Unfortunately, it ranks at the lowest in terms of many key outcomes for black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Minneapolis consistently ranks near the bottom in black homeownership, educational attainment of blacks and Native Americans, and the median black household income. We are justly proud of the diverse and long-sustained economy we enjoy in our community, but the stark reality is that these disparities have been deep and persistent, and not everyone is benefiting. Despite a narrative of exceptionalism, this community is failing people who are black and brown, and that is not sustainable.
The policies within the Minneapolis 2040 Plan that address land use practices that have been racially biased are one small way to address those disparities. Single-family zoning was the result of an intentional set of racially informed practices and policies like racially restrictive covenants, redlining, and other limitations put on property ownership. The federal government recommended policies and practices that would set those practices into law through single-family zoning, and stop the market’s natural progression toward a diverse housing typology found in the older neighborhoods of Minneapolis, where it’s common to see duplexes, triplexes, and small-scale apartment buildings.
The state of Minnesota outlawed the practices of racially restrictive deed covenants in 1958; the U.S. Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968. But the damage of 50 years of racially biased policies and practices was done. BIPOC communities were prevented from participation in the greatest era of wealth building in the nation’s history and that’s a significant part of why the median black household has less than 11 percent the wealth of the median white household (about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices. A key provision of the 2040 Plan is the call to increase access and agency for those communities so that they can live in high-amenity areas of the city where good schools, grocery and access to transit are the norm.
It also recommends investment in areas of the city that have suffered disinvestment— but with an eye toward avoiding displacement of existing residents. And, because of the economic position of many of these people, a more affordable housing type is needed — thus the recommendation around increasing the potential unit count per single-family lot. It is not a panacea, but it will result in more opportunities, both for those who are now having a difficult time finding housing, and those who already live in these neighborhoods and want options other than a single-family home.
Homeownership Affordability in Minneapolis, 2000–2016
Other policies in the 2040 Plan address the need to think more intentionally about our housing policy, especially the need for inclusionary zoning, tenant protections, and preservation of naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH). The plan addresses the need for greater attention to high-quality, frequent public transit and other modes so that people can move safely and efficiently through a city that will experience significant growth in the next 50 years without relying on an automobile. Some of this growth is predictable with past and current demographic trends; however, we are only beginning to understand the impact of climate “refugees” on growth of cities in the Midwest. Planning for an influx of new residents from the coasts will be important.
Of course, this is a 10-year Comprehensive Plan, and it is intended to inform and guide, not set policy outright. Setting good policy requires all of us to think critically, resist the urge to label and assign negative intent. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and throw opinions around. The harder work is ahead to ensure that we effectively address the challenges ahead for this city we love.
Heather Worthington was appointed to the position of director of long range planning for the City of Minneapolis in September 2017. Previously she was the first deputy county manager appointed in Ramsey County in June 2010, where she led the Economic Growth and Community Investment service team. She was the overall project manager for the cleanup and redevelopment of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP), the state’s largest Superfund site; as well as leading the redevelopment of the former West Publishing site in downtown St. Paul.
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