Why Minneapolis City Council’s new ordinance won’t solve the housing crisis

In an effort to address the housing crisis, the Minneapolis City Council made it legal to build rooming houses. According to the Star Tribune,

The City Council last week approved a new ordinance that will make it legal to build single-room dwellings with shared bathrooms and kitchens.

Council Members Cam Gordon, Lisa Goodman and Jeremy Schroeder crafted the ordinance to give low-income people a housing option that they say will address a gap in the city’s affordable housing.

“The housing crisis really pushed this forward,” Schroeder said. “We need to have long-term affordable housing options for people that are coming out of homelessness. Shelter isn’t a long-term solution. It’s an emergency solution.”

In recent months, Minneapolis leaders have been taking aggressive steps to address the city’s housing crisis. City officials are working with Hennepin County to purchase hotels and turn them into single-room-occupancy residences. Mayor Jacob Frey has proposed using $28 million of American Rescue Plan money for affordable housing, with a big portion of that going toward addressing the uptick in homelessness. About $5 million from the federal pandemic relief money will support single-room-occupancy units (SROs).

Lack of affordable housing is indeed one of the biggest issues facing the Twin Cities and Minnesota. So the council’s attempt to crack down on this issue is laudable. But it is important to realize that this ordinance does not address the main issue with housing in the Twin Cities.

American Experiment research shows that regulations and excessive fees are the main barriers to expanding housing in the Twin Cities. Zoning restrictions are also an issue that adds to the cost of land and makes housing more expensive. These are issues will not likely go away because the city council has decided to allow non-profits and government agencies to operate single-room dwellings –– something which will potentially cost taxpayers money.

In fact, by the looks of it, these requirements might be tightened even further. The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, for example, recommended that projects be required to “calculate how much carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases they would emit.” If that proposal passes, large emitters would then have to invest in actions to reduce those emissions which would likely raise the costs of projects, including housing projects.

And let’s not forget the rent control proposals that have been gaining traction in the Twin Cities the last few years. Rent control measures have no proven benefit, but work to reduce housing in areas where they are enacted.

If the city council really wants to address the housing crisis, the evidence is clear that targeting restrictive rules as well as excessive fees that make housing expensive to build would be much more effective.