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Minneapolis’ nixed 2040 plan leaves housing in question

As the city appeals for its 2040 plan, Minneapolis community members discuss their hopes for and concerns with the comprehensive plan.
Construction is conducted in Minneapolis on Monday, April 6, 2023.
Image by Parker Johnson
Construction is conducted in Minneapolis on Monday, April 6, 2023.

After a judge struck down Minneapolis’ plan to transform housing in the city, residents are looking for new ways to create affordable housing. 

The Minneapolis 2040 plan is an urban planning guide to regulate the city officials, landlords, developers and organizations responsible for creating or changing the city’s infrastructure. The 2040 plan’s goals include creating affordable housing, climate change resilience and living-wage jobs. 

Hennepin County Judge Joseph Klein struck down the 2040 plan and agreed with environmental groups that claimed the plan’s environmental effects had not been adequately analyzed. The 2040 plan does not include any environmental data or explanations of the possible impacts on the city. 

The lawsuit claimed the city violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) which guarantees the right to challenge decisions and activities that could harm the state’s environmental resources.

Rebecca Arons, executive director of Smart Growth, one of the environmental organizations that sued the city, said the lawsuit is not meant to block affordable housing or stop urban density but to create more policy awareness around environmental concerns. 

“We were trying to thread this needle and say we think this plan is great, but we really think it’s important that this density be thoughtfully applied,” Arons said. 

The city argued reverting to the 2030 plan would make the city noncompliant with state law and slow affordable housing endeavors and is currently appealing the ruling. The 2030 plan follows environmental law by using data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Citywide Greenhouse Gas Inventory to explain how their goals are environmentally friendly.

Arons said an environmental study would provide the city with expectations for the kind of impacts the 2040 plan could create and would provide a more thoughtful process instead of a binary choice.

“Smart Growth Minneapolis is not opposed to the 2040 plan,” Arons said. “We are opposed to putting your head in the sand and not using science to make informed decisions.”

The ruling disrupts programs such as the Minneapolis Homes: Financing program, which is dedicated to creating affordable home opportunities and affordable rental housing production, according to city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie.

Additionally, the plan aimed to reduce land consumption per person by concentrating growth to allow dense and walkable mixed-use communities.

256 affordable renting and ownership housing have been developed that would not have been allowed under the 2030 plan or the court order. The court order also stops 55 housing developments from being built and an additional 69 units from receiving building permits, according to the city. 

Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) Board President DeWayne Townsend said he is “annoyed” by the lawsuit because it can delay the affordable housing improvements he wishes to see around Como, especially multi-person housing and sustainable building. 

“I’m heartened to see that the city put in an appeal,” Townsend said. “Hopefully they’ll get this turned over again because it’s just a delay tactic for folks who don’t want things to change.”

Townsend said the 2040 plan is a step in the right direction towards SECIA’s main objectives of affordable housing and sustainability for its community. The 2040 plan could help SECIA achieve some of its long-term goals of density and transportation in Como, according to Townsend. 

Although the 2040 plan and its goal of eliminating single-family housing has been struck down, future housing plans will also impact students who live in shared homes or multi-family housing such as duplexes.

“That’s sort of the dream of the 2040 plan, to increase the density and decrease the dependency on cars,” Townsend said. “Obviously we’re not there yet, but we’re starting to move in that direction.”

University of Minnesota Urban and Regional Planning professor Edward Goetz said the 2040 plan was long overdue to create more options for affordable housing with less land consumption. 

“They went through a pretty extensive process in that respect and so they tried to reflect a lot of views that they heard,” Goetz said. 

Goetz added the city’s approach to creating the 2040 plan effectively incorporated community input after it held 100 meetings to engage with the community over the last two years. 

“In this current era of limited resources and high energy costs, it just makes sense from a public policy standpoint to begin to think about how we can effectively densify our cities that are our metropolitan areas,” Goetz said.

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