Housing Affordability Institute hosts discussion on local housing action

Richfield City Council Member Sean Hayford Oleary and Luke Hanson of Sustain Saint Paul were joined by Nick Erickson of Housing Affordability Institute

Housing Affordability Institute hosted a conversation on how cities are taking proactive steps on housing on Nov. 30 at Wandering Leaf Brewing Co.

The event featured Richfield City Council Member Sean Hayford Oleary and Luke Hanson of Sustain Saint Paul. Council Member Hayford Oleary led from the front when Richfield implemented its modest densification policy earlier this year.

Councilmember Hayford Oleary has his master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Minnesota and is an occasional contributor and past board member for streets.mn. He is a member of the Richfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and he previously served on the Richfield Planning Commission.

Luke Hanson serves as a co-chair of Sustain Saint Paul, a volunteer-driven advocacy organization that has championed abundant housing, low-carbon transportation, and sustainable land use in Saint Paul since 2016. Sustain Saint Paul organized the large coalition supporting the City of Saint Paul’s reform initiative passed earlier this year.  


Richfield and St. Paul were two of the three cities in Minnesota to pass zoning modernization in 2023 and found little opposition to their modest densification proposals. Both efforts, the speakers said, were due to framing a positive vision for housing affordability and access in their communities.  Both communities looked to a time when more housing options were allowed in their communities as the vision for their future. 


Sustain Saint Paul’s effort, Hanson said, was successful because of the coalition-building efforts the organization when the former Ford plant was redeveloped. The group built a diverse coalition since 2016, which remained active as the city worked toward finalizing its zoning reform proposal this year. Hanson said Sustain Saint Paul worked to empower local activists by providing them with a variety of talking points before hearings on the proposal. 


In states and communities where zoning modernization has taken place, successful efforts have never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Saint Paul and Richfield were no different.  

Both speakers were asked about what modifications were made to get the proposals passed. Councilmember Hayford Oleary said with Richfield, one older section of the city was exempted from the new zoning reforms. In Saint Paul, as the city worked toward its proposals, the result focused on two residential zoning classifications, one with up to four units allowed by right, and another with up to five units by right, Hanson said. 


Since the overturn of the Minneapolis 2040 Plan, there has been growing discussion in Minnesota about the state of Min  Councilmember Hayford Oleary said he prefers to allow communities to make land use policies, not the legislature, and noted that cities should be taking more proactive steps on housing in their communities. 

Hanson said he believes the state should step in and place guardrails on local zoning standards and noted Sustain Saint Paul is looking at getting involved in the discussion at the Minnesota State Capitol next year. 

On more nuanced items, both found agreement on reforming parking mandates at the state level.