Zoning modernization heats up

Great expectations for legislative action on housing policy reform

Zoning and housing policy reform is set to take the spotlight during the 2024 legislative session.

As the Minnesota Legislature prepares for its upcoming session in mid-February, a generational opportunity lies on the horizon – the chance to redefine the state’s approach to zoning and housing policies. With polling data indicating bipartisan support and a growing coalition of supportive organizations, industry leaders see the 2024 session as an opportunity to reshape the state’s housing landscape for generations to come.

“Housing policy is approaching its moment in 2024,” said James Vagle, CEO of Housing First Minnesota. “Our state is experiencing the challenges of housing undersupply and affordability, and the solution of simply allowing more types of housing to be built is popular across the board from Minnesotans of all perspectives.”

Minnesota currently faces a dual housing challenge, a predicament where the scarcity of available homes collides with affordability concerns, creating a pressing need for comprehensive reform. The lack of home inventory and outdated zoning policies are contributing to surging housing costs, making the upcoming legislative session a pivotal moment for lawmakers to address these issues head-on.

A recent poll conducted by Morris Leatherman Company and commissioned by Housing First Minnesota asked Minnesotans for their opinions on how the Legislature should prioritize housing policy in the upcoming session. Nearly 7 in 10 Minnesotans identified modernizing zoning as a high priority for the legislature in 2024. The support for housing policy updates was consistent for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. 

Coalition to modernize housing policy grows

A growing coalition of stakeholders, including policymakers, community leaders and advocacy groups, is coalescing around the need for change. This diverse collaboration signals a broader understanding that addressing housing challenges requires a multifaceted approach, bringing together various perspectives to find viable and sustainable solutions.

“There is growing awareness that our housing access and affordability challenges will not be addressed without a significant change in the way we plan and approve housing developments in Minnesota,” said Mark Foster, vice president of legislative and political affairs at Housing First Minnesota. “The growing coalition of interests focused on modernizing housing policy reflects this reality and we are hopeful that 2024 is the year to take a major step forward.”

At the heart of this generational opportunity is the need to modernize zoning policies. Zoning regulations are increasingly identified as the main impediment to the lack of attainable housing options impacting the state’s housing market. Modernizing these policies can pave the way for increased housing supply, promoting greater homeownership opportunities while maintaining strong and competitive communities.  

Industry leaders point to other states and locally, to individual municipalities who have modernized their own ordinances, as a blueprint of sorts for Minnesota in 2024. Policy items up for discussion could include by-right development for modestly dense home options, allowing accessory dwelling units, banning aesthetic mandates that exceed the building code and a host of process-related items that currently add costs and delays to many housing applications.

“No single policy alone can address our affordability and inventory woes. It will take several policy changes at the state level to adequately bring new housing choices to Minnesotans,” said Foster.  

The Minnesota Legislature convenes on Feb. 12 and is scheduled to adjourn in late May.