Intentional Communities spur debate

Proposed changes to the ordinance that disallows some non-relatives from living together drew controversy at a Monday meeting

Eliana Schreiber

Some Minneapolis residents are challenging a housing ordinance that limits how many non-family members can live within the same house.

At a meeting organized by the University District Alliance on Monday, people from University of Minnesota neighborhoods gathered to voice concerns and give input on a potential change to legalize intentional communities.

Current Minneapolis zoning codes forbids more than three unrelated adults from living in the same household in low-density areas, with a maximum of five for high-density ones. Intentional communities are certain properties with groups of two or more people living co-operatively together.

Many area residents want to make intentional communities legal, but others are concerned amending the code may let landlords profit from increased occupancies.

To address the concerns, Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon and Regulatory Services Director Mike Rumppe met with Minneapolis residents to address the potential impacts.

At the Monday meeting, Gordon said the current housing code is arbitrary and prevents the expansion of cooperative housing.

He presented a proposal to let intentional communities register with the city and be protected.

According to the proposal, the communities must have an adopted set of rules and follow other standards like sharing expenses and remaining at the address for at least one year.

“It’s really been a challenge,” Gordon said at the meeting. “We’ve done a lot to create more housing options.”

Some at the meeting voiced concerns that landlords would abuse the changes and use the ordinance to legally over-occupy rental units.

“Why create something that again is going to be impossible to enforce?” area resident Robin Schow said at the meeting.

Schow said a house in her neighborhood has seven unrelated residents, where the city hasn’t enforced its zoning code. Others at the meeting echoed her concerns.

But Rumppe said enforcement won’t change based on this proposal. According to the proposal, intentional communities cannot be registered from “problem properties.”

“Sometimes it’s easier for them to cheat … but that’s just something that we deal with on a consistent basis,” he said.

Gordon said at the meeting his proposal only allows landlords to designate one property as an intentional community, as a safeguard to prevent them from abusing the ordinance.

Similarly, tenants who break other city rules risk losing their permission to be classified as an intentional community, he said.

Minneapolis Coalition for Intentional Communities member and Prospect Park resident Rebecca Orrison said those who violate code shouldn’t stop law-abiding citizens from forming legal intentional communities. Orrison — a University graduate — lived in the Students’ Co-op on University Avenue for four years.

“These programs that they have aren’t able to be advertised because they aren’t operating legally,” she said, adding intentional communities must follow an extensive process to register with the city.

Mechanical engineering senior and Students’ Co-op resident Gabe Korinek said he prefers the co-op to traditional student housing because residents stay longer and it feels more personal.

Korinek said he hopes the proposal passes because it could allow for more co-op style housing and reduce the number of landlords taking advantage of students.

Gordon said the changes to the ordinance are mostly finalized in writing and will be presented at two public hearings next month before advancing to a city council committee in early November.

“I’m hopeful that this will pass,” Gordon said at the meeting. “I see this as potentially a relatively small step … I don’t think it’s going to be a