The New York Times reported that a serious proposal in Minneapolis to eliminate the single family housing zones in all or parts of the city has been passed. Apparently Minneapolis has a bit of a housing crisis and city leaders feel that allowing more multi-family in existing single family neighborhoods will resolve the problem.
This is dangerous and city leaders used the ugly history of racism and segregation to bring about the change. There is a sordid past time of cities using the power of zoning laws to keep specific ethic groups (among other groups) separated from others. By citing the racist history of zoning, are they admitting to having current racist policies in Minneapolis? I never would have pegged Minneapolis in that light in this modern age, who knows? I certainly hope not. Although zoning laws have a nefarious past, modern day zoning is designed to support all residents from all walks of life and to protect them from having a factory built next door, or a large apartment building being stuffed onto a lot that can't support the density. The dark past is just that, the past. Today, zoning is far more likely to aid citizens then harm them.
The real problem is multifaceted. First home owners of all ethic groups move into these single family neighborhoods for a variety of reasons, among which are quiet streets, large and private yards, lower crime, and a more suburban lifestyle. The trade off is that they often have a longer commute and find themselves needing to drive everywhere rather than walk or bike.
Often the homeowners have paid a bit of a premium for this quiet culdesac with the big back yard. Eliminating the single family designation allows home owners in the area to start packing in additional units on their land. This will eliminate the quiet and private aspects for some and likely reduce their property values. Furthermore the suburban infrastructure is almost certainly unable to support the increased density which will lead to traffic and heavy wear on streets. This further erodes the value of the property.
Rather than eliminate single family zoning, why didn't Minneapolis just make it more difficult to zone new areas in single family and thus make multi-family zoning easier for developers. A lack of new single family zoning would lead to strong property values for existing homes and the increased multi-family zoning would support more affordable housing in the future. That sounds like a win-win, but apparently not as far as Minneapolis officials are concerned.
People often pour their life savings into owning a home, and zoning, when done right is designed to protect those homeowners from a neighbor building something on their property that ruins the rest of the neighborhood. It is one thing to lighten the restrictions on adding a unit or subdividing an over-sized parcel. But wiping out the single family zoning altogether sounds like a serious case of overkill.
It will be interesting to see the fallout in Minnesota as this new legislation is absorbed into existing developments and future developments. My guess is that Minneapolis has opened Pandora's Box and God only knows what's lurking within.