Minneapolis appears to be the latest city embracing so-called gentle density — but the opposition to one unique proposal for incorporating multi-family units into single-family neighborhoods is anything but gentle.
Minneapolis officials first publicly discussed allowing fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods citywide earlier this month — and the city’s draft comprehensive plan update, released last week, cemented that proposal. Like Toronto’s alley houses and stacked townhomes, the fourplexes would densify Minneapolis neighborhoods while sticking to existing design standards, according to the MinnPost. The buildings would “look like existing houses, and even be conversions of existing houses, coming in at no more than two-and-a-half stories with similar setbacks,” the paper reports.
In other words, the fourplexes would gently densify a city zoned (mostly) for single-family homes — and, in theory at least, they wouldn’t face the same opposition as true high-rises.
But density, gentle or not, is already a dirty word among Twin Cities neighborhood groups, the Star-Tribune reported in early March. (The Kennilworth Corridor light rail controversy, which Next City covered in February, is a similar example of backlash to the region’s urbanization). Soon after officials first discussed the fourplexes, opponents branded them “freyplexes” after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Some officials expressed concern as well, saying the fourplexes might take away affordable starter homes.
Soon, the narrative became “that the city would allow apartment buildings in single-family neighborhoods,” MinnPost reports. Both the mayor and City Council President Lisa Bender took to Twitter to reiterate their support of the idea.
Affordable housing is a right. Addressing our housing supply — and shortage — is going to be a key part of realizing that right. I look forward to seeing the full Comp Plan and to the conversations ahead about building a more affordable MPLS. https://t.co/MdSQO3NXMb— Jacob Frey (@Jacob_Frey) March 8, 2018
Welp, one of my colleagues called the news before any of us have even seen a draft of our comp plan! But, I am thrilled that our staff are taking seriously our clear directive —all unanimously approved - to be bold in undoing racial exclusion in housing.https://t.co/CqvgsV7kta— Lisa Bender (@lisabendermpls) March 8, 2018
Officials will hold a series of meetings and community outreach sessions through the end of July to discuss the draft, according the plan’s website. But since “Access to Housing” as listed as the document’s very first policy goal — and since Frey campaigned on a platform that included both multi-family housing and density — the fourplex idea may very well go forward. And the plan is clear as to why zoning codes have historically separated single- and multi-family neighborhoods.
“Areas of our city that lack housing choice today were built that way intentionally,” it states. “In the first half of the twentieth century, zoning regulations and racist federal housing policies worked together to determine who could live where, and in what type of housing. This, in turn, shaped the opportunities available to multiple generations of Minneapolis residents.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.