Barrier Removal

Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing Production

Many requirements that cities impose upon new residential developments add to the costs of development and in some cases can prove fatal to the proposal.  In the past, and in some cases still today, cities have established these costly conditions (large lot size, for example, or brick exterior) with the intention of discouraging low-end housing proposals.  In many cases, however, such requirements are imposed to achieve valid public policy goals but the added costs have the incidental effect of making the rent or purchase price on the new development no longer affordable.

First, a city should be zoning sufficient land at high density multi-family to meet its affordability goals, and in fact is required to do so by the Metropolitan Council pursuant to the Metropolitan Land Use Planning Act.  When an affordable proposal comes forward, the City should review lot size requirements, setback requirements, parking requirements, building standards, development fees, and any other conditions that would drive up costs or make the project more difficult.  One means of adopting the flexibility to make sure these proposals can be realized is to use a Planned Unit Development (PUD).

Cities also impose barriers on developments with affordable units by their tendency to "water down" the original concepts.  This may take place in initial informal conversations with city staff, or at the city planning commission or before the city council.  Frequently what will happen is that city officials ask the developer to rework the proposal, by reducing the density, decreasing the number of units, changing family housing into less controversial senior housing, turning an apartment proposal into condominiums, or making the development higher end.  All these changes tend to reduce or eliminate the affordability and number of units available to those households most in need.  Cities should resist this temptation.

Housing Preservation Project, 2007

Housing Justice Center Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Institute on Race & Poverty The McKnight Foundation
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