Affordable housing? Not for Twin Cities families

The Metropolitan Council—the Twin Cities area’s regional government—has been telling us for years that we’ve got to change the way we live.

“Thrive MSP 2040,” the council’s 30-year development plan, is intended to remake our region around transit; move us into high-density, “stack and pack” housing along fixed-rail lines; deplete road funding; and wean us out of our cars so we walk, bike or take public transit to work and leisure activities.

But today’s Star Tribune provides powerful evidence that people here generally don’t want to live that way. The Met Council is pressuring the region’s municipalities to densify, but home builders are telling us that people want single-family homes—and they are not being built.

“There’s just a gross insufficiency of new single-family houses in the Twin Cities,” said Laurence Yun, [the National Association of Realtors’] chief economist…. “And the millennial generation has been disproportionately hurt in the conversion from rental to homeownership.”

Those are the millenials who—the Met Council assures us—yearn to live in high-density apartments in the city, not homes with yards in the suburbs.

It turns out that the Twin Cities is the 16th-most undersupplied housing market in the nation. And a number of government actors bear responsibility for that. The Star Tribune reports that municipal fees for builders here

…are among the highest in the nation, making it difficult to build the less expensive houses that have tight profit margins. Such fees can account for 25 to 30 percent of the cost of the average new house….

That doesn’t include the additional cost of complying with the state’s building and energy codes, which are among the most stringent in the nation.

Since builders can’t afford to build the entry-level houses that middle-class buyers want (priced from $200,000 to $350,000), they are catering to well-heeled folks, “leaving a vast swath of would-be buyers with few options.”

Government policies in the Twin Cities are hurting a key element of the population we need most to strengthen our state’s economy—young, hard-working families trying to get their feet on, and climb, the ladder of success. Will enterprising young people want to stay here when they could find the affordable, single-family housing they want in fast-growing metro areas like Atlanta and Houston?