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New program aims to reduce number of empty apartments and buildings

Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley proposes charging property owners fees for vacant buildings.
The+program+would+impact+commercial+and+residential+buildings+vacant+for+six+months+or+more.+
Image by Hannah Kovnar
The program would impact commercial and residential buildings vacant for six months or more.

Council Member Robin Wonsley (Ward 2) aims to decrease residential and commercial vacancy with a new program that would charge property owners for unused buildings. 

Wonsley recently proposed a program that would charge landlord fees for vacant buildings left for six months or more. Minneapolis’s vacancy rate was 13.6% in 2023, according to Office Finder statistics

Wonsley hopes the program will be implemented in 2025. The fee rate would recoup about 90% of staffing costs for the program and inspections. 

Under this program, the program charges landlords based on property size, time of vacancy, level of nuisance, and the number of units or properties the landlord owns. There are three levels of nuisance: vacant, vacant with code violations and vacant and hazardous. 

Wonsley said these property problems can create public safety issues and public health concerns if not addressed.

Some of the fees would connect landlords with organizations to find tenants or provide technical help with filling out leases, Wonsley said in a statement to the Minnesota Daily. 

“We are hopeful that this can reach property owners and help them activate their vacant properties, which translates to homes for families and students, spaces for small business, and more vibrant communities,” Wonsley said in the statement. 

President of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association Cecil Smith said in an email statement that they will be watching for more developments in Wonsley’s program but are worried the policy could negatively impact rental properties. 

“We are concerned with the potential policy direction that the City could further punish rental properties, which in some submarkets are struggling with vacancy through no fault of their own,” Smith said in the statement. 

Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association Spokesperson Chris Lautenschlager said in an email statement that the association does not have official numbers for vacant properties in the neighborhood but the board is always interested in filling vacant businesses. 

“We don’t believe that having empty commercial spaces does anything positive for our neighborhood or any neighborhood for that matter,” Lautenschlager said in the statement. “We would like our sidewalks as active as possible, without our residents and guests passing by commercial spaces that are empty and/or underutilized.”

Wonsley said work on the program began following complaints about vacant buildings from Como and Prospect Park residents. 

“These residents were disturbed to see homes and apartments sitting empty while also seeing residents sleeping in tents and knowing that thousands of residents are struggling with rent burden,” Wonsley said in the statement.

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  • Concerned citizen
    Jul 14, 2024 at 7:57 pm

    If the council approved the police contract and quit fighting all the recommendations this wouldn’t be an issue.
    But that isn’t going to happen with the city council, some of them feel tbey own the city. Ready to be told what we get to do?

  • Jan W
    Jul 3, 2024 at 7:01 pm

    I think its a great idea why do empty property just sit making community and neighborhood look bad I would say it’s about time

  • Isabel
    Jul 3, 2024 at 5:13 pm

    Robin Wonsley is literally the best elected official ever!! She is always getting things done that benefits all of us

  • Ken DeYoe
    Jul 3, 2024 at 1:27 pm

    While this appears to be a good, workable program, it doesn’t seem fair to punish the commercial property owners that follow laws and ordinances just because they aren’t able to get a tenant.