When it comes to solving the affordable housing crisis, Rochester gets it

Much like St. Paul and Minneapolis, Rochester is also struggling with a housing affordability issue. However, unlike the two cities, Rochester is going in a different direction. Instead of imposing rent control — which could have even more debilitating effects on housing — the city has decided to resolve the problem at its roots.

Earlier last month,

…. the Rochester City Council approved changes to the city’s zoning codes designed to expand areas of the city where housing could be built as well as reduce requirements on multifamily projects.

That includes rezoning commercial districts to allow mixed-use housing, reducing minimum lot sizes for residential districts other than single-family housing from 5,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet and removing density limits and minimum parking requirements on multifamily housing.

The changes also cut down on public hearings for any project in development in an effort to streamline the development process. John Eischen of the Rochester Area Builders trade group noted that projects take about 18 months from start to finish and costs only increase the longer a project drags on.

Dubbed the unified development code, the changes go into effect next year.


Single-family zoning makes up about 52% of the land in Rochester, with multifamily zoning only 18%. Under the unified development code, multifamily zoning would increase to about 28% of land within the city.

Certainly, 28 percent is not necessarily a major share of all the city’s land. Moreover, the city council can do more by, for example, eliminating minimum lot sizes for single-family housing altogether. Nevertheless, Rochester is moving in the right direction by letting the market do its work.

While Rochester isn’t looking to eliminate single-family zoning like Minneapolis did, local officials say they’re emphasizing a variety of housing to offer to people moving into the community.

“We’re not going to tell you how many units the market can support,” said Ryan Yetzer, the city’s Community Development Deputy Director. “We’ll let the market determine that.”

Research at American Experiment does show that indeed restrictive regulations and fees do raise the cost of housing and delay construction projects. Thereby the only effective way to resolve the housing crisis is to loosen rules that make it expensive and unnecessarily complex to develop housing.

Rochester gets it, why won’t the Twin Cities get it?