BY ELINA KOLSTAD
Many people support the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan because they believe it will increase “affordable” housing in the city. Two arguments are put forward to support this claim. The first is that removing the requirement to provide off-street parking will reduce the cost for developers to build new units, which will “trickle down” to the tenant or buyer. The second argument is that by allowing greater density throughout the city, developers will automatically build more units, and increased supply will drive down the cost of housing.
The up-zoning exemplified in the Minneapolis 2040 Plan will increase the potential profit margin for real estate speculation, which drives up property values. This was demonstrated in a recent study by MIT urban planning doctoral student Yonah Freemark. The two conclusions of the study surprised Freeman, “[T]he short-term, local-level impacts of upzoning are higher property prices but no additional new housing construction.”
But what exactly is “affordable” housing and who is it designed to serve? Two examples I was given when discussing the plan with a supporter were an existing development at 3535 Grand Ave. and a development that, as far as I can tell, has yet to be built at 3601 Nicollet Ave.
The website for 3535 Grand Ave. indicates that they offer 0-2 bedroom apartments from $995 to $1,695 a month. According to a 2016 article in the Southwest Journal, the apartments at 3601 Nicollet would be “about 350-550 square feet, primarily efficiency and one-bedroom units, with estimated rents at $600-$1,200.”
According to its website, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) “provides housing to over 6,000 families (about 10,500 people) through its Public Housing program. In this traditional model, most families receiving assistance from MPHA earn less than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), approximately $28,300 for a family of four. Families contribute no more than 30% of their income toward their rent.” For a family of four making the upper limit of the 30% of AMI the calculation would be $28,300 x .3= $8,490 in rent a year or $707.50 in rent a month. That is almost $1,000 a month less than the two-bedroom apartments offered at 3535 Grand Ave., yet both are framed as “affordable” housing. For perspective, the average annual household income for households in this program is $14,841.
In recent years the MPHA has shifted its focus to privatization starting with efforts to demolish and replace the Glendale Townhomes in Prospect Park. The residents of Glendale organized, fought off the developers, and are still active today as the Defend Glendale & Public Housing Coalition (DG&PHC).
Meanwhile in Minneapolis we are seeing, first in discussions about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive plan and now in the actions of the MPHA, an effort to re-define affordable housing. We are moving from a system that was designed for the most vulnerable in our city to a system that is aimed at providing housing for solidly middle class residents. The blatant conflation of the two concepts throughout discussions of Minneapolis 2040 garnered much support for the plan while simultaneously undermining actual affordable housing and the people it is meant to serve.