As the debate rages on about zoning rules, housing density and how that impacts housing affordability in the Twin Cities, a new national survey showed most people favor increasing zoning polices that permit higher-density development if it brings down the cost of housing.
Conducted in September from more than 5,000 respondents, the Pew Charitable Trusts survey, one of the largest of its kind on such issues, showed nearly nine in 10 (86%) respondents said they would back efforts to expedite permitting processes, while about half (49%) support policies that allow builders to construct smaller lots and homes closer together.
The topic has garnered significant attention in the Twin Cities in recent years as a growing number of communities debate policies that would increase homebuilding of all sorts as a way to make housing more affordable.
"Housing costs are going up because we don't have enough," said Nick Erickson, senior director of housing policy for Housing First Minnesota and executive director of the Housing Affordability Institute.
He said reducing "road blocks" and eliminating "status-quo zoning" are the common threads that dominate discussions about how to make housing more affordable.
"Housing affordability issues have grown to the point where we're seeing wide support for any type of action," he said.
Minneapolis gained national attention when city leaders approved its 2040 Comprehensive plan about five years ago. It essentially eliminated single-family zoning in the city and enabled developers to increase the number of houses and apartments on a single lot.
Earlier this year, a lawsuit suspended implementation of that plan, alleging such a policy would be detrimental to the environment.
Such policies are at the forefront of efforts to make housing of all sorts more affordable. For a variety of economic and policy-related reasons, there's now a deficit of several million housing units across the country with rents — and home prices — having risen to record highs. Pew said half of all renters now spend 30% or more of their income on rent, and another quarter spend more than half their income on rent.
An earlier survey that looked at the impact of less-restrictive zoning rules on rents found Minneapolis had the lowest rent growth of the four cities examined. The study found rent increased 31% nationwide from 2017 to 2023, compared with 1% in Minneapolis.
That survey supported the notion that restrictive zoning rules make it more difficult — and costly — to build houses, increasing the cost of all types of housing.
In addition to easing up on zoning restrictions, many states are focusing on expediting and streamlining the approval process, which can be slow and costly for developers and builders. Pew said support for such policies was among the strongest in the survey, and in 2023 alone, California, Montana, Texas and Washington took steps to simplify the permitting process.
Support for such policies transcended political affiliation, and the most popular policies in the survey are those that would allow more housing in commercial areas but make minor or no changes at all on residential blocks that single-family detached houses dominate. There was also significant support for allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and loosening restrictions on building affordable housing on land owned by colleges, churches and other nonprofits.