BY CLAIRE ROBERTSON
The 2040 Plan would be the biggest boon developers might have had in any major American city ever, and it will disadvantage many of the people it purports to help as well as most Minneapolis homeowners. Why?
First, allowing more than one structure on the already small lots in most of Minneapolis will reduce green space by at least half in the city, thus both worsening air and other pollution and quality of life, as pointed out in Southside Pride.
Second, those who are least able to afford houses, who own those that are affordable now, will be the first to be forced out because developers will make their houses the first targets for buyouts, and will then build more structures and convert them to rentals. Once “improved” in this way, the properties will be worth more, meaning that those forced out will either need to rent to stay in the city, or to move out farther, where they can buy another house for less and commute to work, thus increasing pollution.
Third, converting whole neighborhoods to rentals in this form of “blockbusting” by developers will erode the tax base as well as the rental properties, as hard experience teaches us. Successful developers and corporations more often than not avoid taxation commensurate with their wealth, as the Trump tax “reform” bill as well as long-term U.S. trends concentrating wealth at the top, demonstrate. Plus, profits increase on rental properties when they are not properly maintained, thus degrading the neighborhood. Most landlords, for instance, do not provide tenants with lawnmowers, but code dictates that the lawn must be mowed, while keeping up with major repairs inside is all too often neglected to increase profits. Tenants do not build equity in property, and often cannot afford to buy a house. The best insurance that properties will be maintained properly is owner occupation, but this reform [2040 Plan] seems aimed at generating a city of tenants while eroding Minneapolis’ tax base.
Fourth, making Minneapolis’ lower-income neighborhoods into exclusively rental properties is politically deadening and will increase crime, especially crimes against property. We have already seen this in many neighborhoods, but the removal of restrictions will simply increase its pace and subject more neighborhoods to it. Why maintain or improve it if you do not own it? Why worry about damaging it when landlords neglect it? Why should landlords fix it if their profits improve without doing it? What kind of stake do tenants have in local politics, especially if they are likely to be moving elsewhere, always seeking better or more affordable lodgings? But then, disenfranchising whole neighborhoods seems to be the goal the city is pursuing by getting rid of both neighborhood associations as well as affordable single family houses.
Fifth, is the city prepared to triple or quadruple infrastructure investment in schools, roads, bridges, etc., to handle the population increase proposed? That seems unlikely, especially when the tax base erodes.
So, the removal of restrictions on residential zoning will have the opposite effect of what is intended. Throwing in the justification of promotion of diversity in neighborhoods is mere window dressing intended to pacify liberals. I presently live in South Minneapolis in a neighborhood that is already diverse and becoming more so, without the 2040 Plan. If the City Council pursues this plan, will they have the will power and courage also to pass stringent controls on landlords concerning maintenance and inspections of rental properties (funding tripling the inspectors’ numbers, for instance), as well as taxation of the income from them? After all, it seems like improving the tax base by making Minneapolis into commercial property should be a priority of the plan, but that seems unlikely. The plan seems to involve a return to 19th and early 20th century lack of regulation; we all know what that got us—and I thought we wanted to avoid more urban pollution and congestion.
Improving the situation of those who can least afford suitable residential housing rests mainly with remedies that have been tested but not pursued as much as they should be. Funding schools and teachers, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, and improving wages are key, as well as lack of discrimination in hiring and providing affordable mortgages, which should be tax deductible again. Many other remedies are available, but making a bad situation worse for those who can least afford Minneapolis housing, while enriching those who are already advantaged, should not be seen as a remedy.