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A creative new inclusionary housing policy for Minneapolis

In Minneapolis, it’s getting harder to find an affordable home to rent. Rising housing prices and very low vacancy rates have led to increased organizing around renters’ issues. More than half of Minneapolis residents are renters.

Around 2012, community advocates like Owen Duckworth, director of organizing and policy at The Alliance, began to sound the alarm about housing affordability, gentrification, and displacement in the Twin Cities region. “Our partners were seeing a groundswell of concern that neighborhoods that have historically been affordable to communities of color and indigenous communities were becoming less affordable,” says Duckworth.

Affordable housing became a key issue in the 2013 Minneapolis City Council election, and several new Councilmembers elected were ready to champion new housing policy. One such Councilmember was Lisa Bender, who is now council president. “People were really starting to see these housing pressures in their day-to-day lives,” Bender notes. “These were important priorities for me coming into office.”

In 2015, Councilmember Bender initiated conversations about what an inclusionary housing policy for Minneapolis might look like. Under inclusionary housing policies, a certain percentage of homes in new market-rate housing developments are sold or rented at below-market-rate prices to lower-income households. The city hired Grounded Solutions Network in 2016 to conduct an economic analysis of the impact that an inclusionary housing policy could have in Minneapolis. That analysis led to further discussion among elected officials.

As the 2017 city council election approached, the community again swung into action. The Make Homes Happen MPLS Coalition, formed over the course of three years, is a grassroots coalition of organizations mobilizing for production and preservation of affordable housing and protection of tenants’ rights. The group held multiple candidate forums in 2017 to educate the public and policy makers about the community’s housing needs. A progressive majority was elected to the City Council on a pro-affordable housing platform.

“The ways in which some of the city council members are talking about some of these issues has significantly changed,” notes Duckworth. “Our new city council is acknowledging the need for more intentional policy and investment measures to address the affordable housing crisis in our region.”

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In 2018, the City hired Grounded Solutions again to help design an inclusionary housing policy for Minneapolis. One of the challenges the city faced in designing their policy was a significant difference in housing market dynamics in different areas of the city. Areas with higher housing prices could support more affordable housing in new projects, while areas with lower housing prices could support less, or need more financial incentives. Grounded Solutions came up with a policy proposal that allows developers multiple options for how to comply with the policy; different options might make more sense in different housing markets. This was a creative way for Minneapolis to address varying housing markets without needing to draw and maintain geographic boundaries for areas with different affordable housing requirements.

In December 2018, the city council voted to adopt an inclusionary housing policy framework based on Grounded Solutions’ recommendations. The policy is expected to create between 275 and 550 affordable homes every year. “Having the expertise of the policy experts at Grounded Solutions Network—and locally too—really helped build confidence for the councilmembers,” says Bender.

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