The 2024 legislative session so far: A promising start for housing reform

From eye-popping spending proposals and possible welfare expansion to a $20 minimum wage and numerous proposed regulations, the 2024 session seems to be a continuation of last year’s expansion of government.

However, not all is bad. Housing is one of the few areas showing a promising start this session.

Unlike last year, whereby efforts to address housing affordability exclusively hinged on spending, lawmakers have made an effort to introduce laws that would address regulations —  reform that is urgently needed in Minnesota.

Some of these bills have already been heard, and others are already scheduled for hearings, a sign indicating that lawmakers are more receptive toward housing reform this session.

Bills introduced

Among the bills that have been introduced include

SF 3572; HF 3468: Banning minimum parking requirements is not without its controversy as I have written before. But if we are going to address the lack of affordable housing, this is something that has to be part of the conversation. Parking mandates are among the myriad regulations that add costs to housing development, making housing more expensive in return.

HF 3351: This proposal would allow developers to erect taller buildings (of up to 75 feet) to be serviced by a single exit stairway. Currently, only buildings of up to 3 stories — approximately 40 feet can be serviced by a single exit stairway.

SF 3964: This is perhaps the most comprehensive bill proposed. It touches on many topics from density, and lot sizes to parking requirements.

Specifically, the bill requires, among other things, that local governments allow the development of middle housing to improve density. Middle housing in this case includes townhouses, duplexes, and triplexes. The bill also provides a minimum number of residential units that can be allowed per plot, depending on the type of city, and distance from major transit. The bill provides for higher-density bonuses for building electric homes and affordable homes.

For construction near transit, the bill eliminates minimum parking requirements. The bill also eliminates local control on things such as aesthetics, and architectural features. It instead mandates that local government can only deny or accept development proposals based on a limited number of factors such as lot sizes. Minimum required lot sizes have also been scaled down, and public hearings are eliminated except for specific cases, such as historic districts or applications requesting variances from city zoning requirements.

HF 4009: In addition to proposals in SF 3964, bill HF 4009 includes proposals specific to multifamily houses. Among other things, the bill limits minimum parking requirements to up to 1 per residential unit. The bill also eliminates public hearings for multi-family units. In addition, it requires that “a city must not impose a height requirement on a multifamily residential development that is less than the tallest structure within a one-quarter-mile radius of the parcel on which the development will be built or the maximum height permitted under the city’s official controls, whichever is higher, so long as the maximum height of the development is no more than 150 feet.”

SF 4183; HF 4023: Exempts comprehensive plans, such as the Minneapolis 2040 plan from legal challenges on environmental grounds.

Bill HF 4009 has already had a hearing. Bills SF 3964 and SF 3980 (a standalone bill that only deals with the multifamily aspect of HF 4009) will have a hearing next week.

A promising start

As a report American Experiment published in 2020 showed, housing in Minnesota and the Twin Cities is unaffordable to a huge part due to excessive mandates and fees. While the substitution of local control over state mandates is not without its problems, these bills offer a promising start to dealing with regulations that present a barrier to housing construction.