Lessons For Arlington from Minneapolis

“We can’t eliminate single-family zoning … can we?” Andrea Brennan, housing policy and development director for the city of Minneapolis, spoke at the annual Leckey Forum June 5.  Photo by Terry Belt

“We can’t eliminate single-family zoning … can we?” Andrea Brennan, housing policy and development director for the city of Minneapolis, spoke at the annual Leckey Forum June 5. Photo by Terry Belt

“We can’t eliminate single-family zoning … can we?”

In Minneapolis, the answer is “yes.”

Andrea Brennan, housing policy and development director for the Minneapolis, spoke June 5 at the Alliance For Housing Solutions’ annual Leckey Forum about how her city recently upended many of its housing regulations to make way for affordability and, most importantly, equity.

The event began with a talk from Aisha Alexander Young, senior director for strategy and equity at the Meyer Foundation. She grew up in Charlotte and saw first-hand how redlining excluded and eminent domain displaced people of color.

To those working in housing, Young said, “You have incredible power. The decisions you make every single day can determine if we will be a nation where your race determines your ZIP code, and your ZIP code determines your access opportunities, or if we will become a nation truly grounded in justice and equality.”

Brennan stressed that the impetus for the city’s comprehensive new housing plan, dubbed “Minneapolis 2040,” was to combat the racial inequity in housing affordability that started decades ago. Just as Young described in Charlotte, so, too, did practices such as redlining and exclusionary zoning create a racially segregated Minneapolis. Brennan said those problems of inequity persist today.

“We have a housing affordability problem that is disproportionately affecting people of color, and that’s a racial equity issue,” she said.

A map of Minneapolis shows that the city’s history of racial segregation persists today.  Photo courtesy of Andrea Brennan

A map of Minneapolis shows that the city’s history of racial segregation persists today. Photo courtesy of Andrea Brennan

In order to change that dynamic, the city is making such changes as eliminating exclusive single-family zoning throughout the city, changing or eliminating parking requirements, and doubling its investment in affordable housing programs that provide education, rent assistance, legal representation, and programs to prevent homelessness.

It’s also focusing on building more housing—a lot of it.

While plenty of the new housing will be built in the city’s downtown and along transit corridors, planners anticipate additional growth in the areas that used to be zoned for single-family residences.

“By rezoning lots that currently accommodate only one single-family house to allow duplexes and triplexes, Minneapolis effectively triples the housing capacity of some neighborhoods,” Brennan said.

On these lots, developers won’t be required to provide off-street parking, which Brennan said can be a “poison pill for low-cost housing.” Multi-family units are more affordable, can help build generational wealth, and can be constructed on lots that have traditionally been single family lots. (Think tear-downs that result in a rebuild the same size as other new homes but accommodate two or three families instead of one.)

Kathleen McSweeney, a member of the Arlington County Planning Commission, participated in a panel discussion along with Chuck Bean, executive director of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and Solomon Greene, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

McSweeney pointed out parallels between Minneapolis and Arlington’s history of intentional racial segregation, including:

  • Displacement in the form of forced relocation of African American families in Freedman’s Village, Queen’s City, and Rosslyn;

  • Physical barriers erected: a wall in Hall’s Hill, street patterns in Johnson’s Hill, Green Valley, and Hall’s Hill;

  • Disenfranchisement and poll taxes;

  • Formation of “Good Citizen’s League” and Rosslyn “clean-up” raids;

  • Discrimination written into zoning, banking, and deed covenants; and

  • Founding of American Nazi Party in Arlington.

“Our past impacts opportunities for African American families today, and our lack of housing, limited options, and high prices prevent marginalized communities from building wealth,” McSweeney said.

Questions and comments from the audience addressed housing issues related to seniors, people with disabilities, Arlington’s definition of “family,” and residents of historically black neighborhoods that are being priced out by new developments.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey noted that many of the elements of the Minneapolis 2040 plan have been at play already as the county launched the Housing Arlington initiative and in Dorsey’s own equity agenda that was introduced at the start of the year. Going forward, he said, “A lot of what Minneapolis did will certainly inspire what we look at, analyze, and think about moving forward.”

The Leckey Forum was streamed live on Facebook and video of talks are available courtesy of Arlington Independent Media. PDFs of presenter slides are available for download:


The Leckey Forum is a free event designed to educate the public about housing affordability issues. It is a program of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, a nonprofit working to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington County and Northern Virginia through public education, policy development, advocacy and innovation. AHS is 100 percent funded by supporter donations and grants.