Minneapolis Eliminates Single-Family Zoning. Could California Follow?

Last month, Minneapolis became the first city in the nation to ban single-family zoning. Faced with a pressing affordable housing crisis and growing racial disparities, the city will now allow up to three housing units (duplexes and triplexes) to be built anywhere in the city. The new rules also eliminate mandatory parking requirements.

City officials hope the bold new plan — part of the “Minneapolis 2040” project — will increase affordable housing options, right the wrongs of legacy exclusionary zoning, and help combat climate change. Which begs the question: could a similar project work for California?

CalMatters’ Liam Dillon and Matt Levin recently sat down with Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender on their Gimme Shelter housing podcast to discuss the new rules in her city. Bender has some California connections of her own; she used to work as an urban planner for the City of San Francisco.

One thing Bender told them is that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) may very well prevent California from enacting the types of zoning reforms that Minneapolis has embraced.

“I’m glad we don’t have that in Minneapolis because we probably would have been enjoined from doing our plan,” Bender told them. “My experience is that (CEQA) was often counter to long-term environmental benefit.”

Minneapolis is not the only one to tackle housing issues in such a radical fashion. Oregon is currently mulling a proposal that would end single-family zoning statewide. As Dillon and Levin note, California Senator Scott Wiener has also proposed legislation (SB 50) that would eliminate restrictions on high-density housing in transit areas in California.

What all these proposals show is that a housing revolution of sorts is taking place across the nation and that single-family zoning is very much a target in this fight. As the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board recently noted, “if there is a silver lining to the affordable housing crisis that has swept cities across the country in recent years, it’s that political leaders are finally talking about dramatic changes to housing policy that could address these historical wrongs and lay the groundwork for more sustainable ways of growing.”


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