Missing Middle Stalled Out in House

Missing Middle Stalled Out in House

“Missing middle” bill on the ropes and other Capitol housing news

by Madison McVan, Minnesota Reformer
April 4, 2024

A bill that would end single-family zoning in Minnesota and bar municipalities from using restrictive zoning to block housing developments has stalled out in both legislative chambers. 

Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, is chair of the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee and author of the housing bill (HF4009/SF3964). He told MinnPost Wednesday that the bill would not move forward this session. 

Howard said in an interview with the Reformer that a pair of provisions from the bill could still be incorporated into other legislation: One would legalize accessory dwelling units like mother-in-law suites or above-garage apartments statewide. Another would allow developers to construct apartment complexes in areas currently zoned for mixed-use or commercial development.

With six weeks left in the legislative session, much remains uncertain, with the possibility that even those provisions could wither, or other aspects of the original bill could be resurrected. The bill is known around the Capitol as the “missing middle” proposal, referring to the class of moderately priced housing that is now in severely short supply, in part, builders say, because cities have erected regulatory barriers to development.

But cities strongly oppose any legislation that would revoke their local zoning authority, which has historically been used to exclude people of color and renters from certain areas.

Cities argue that the local controls are necessary to ensure infrastructure like sewers, water lines and roads are not overly burdened by dense development. They also describe the bill as having a “one-size-fits-all” approach by applying policies that worked in the metro area to rural cities.

“A lot of lawmakers have built really good, strong relationships with their cities and they trust what their cities say, and some of the cities were saying some hyperbolic things,” Howard said.

The bill has bipartisan support. A Senate bill (SF1370/HF1667) with many of the same provisions passed the Senate Housing and Homelessness Prevention committee with a unanimous vote in mid-March, but has not received a hearing in the State and Local Government and Veterans committee. 

Advocates, including private and nonprofit housing developers, religious groups and social justice organizations, say the bill would lower the cost of building housing by blocking government from imposing expensive aesthetic requirements like stone facades and reducing expenses associated with city permitting and public hearing processes. 

The policies are meant to increase housing supply, which in turn reduces housing costs for buyers and renters alike. The bill also contains incentives to build dedicated affordable housing.

Minneapolis Public Housing Authority requests $35 million to repair homes

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey testified to the House housing committee in favor of a bill (HF4169/SF4020) that would allocate $35 million to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to make needed repairs and improvements to its public housing developments. 

The agency received a $5 million grant from the Legislature for capital improvements last year, but the agency says its backlog of needed repairs is the “single largest threat” to the agency. Federal money usually only covers around 10% of the needed repairs in a given year, according to the agency’s presentation to the committee. 

The $35 million would cover the backlog of needed repairs in the agency’s more than 700 single-family homes scattered throughout the city. With the one-time cash infusion, the agency could replace aging appliances instead of repeatedly repairing them, according to the presentation. 

“This crucial funding will help us protect and expand our city’s public housing and move us toward a future where everyone is housed with dignity,” Frey said. 

The bill remains with the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee for possible inclusion in a larger funding package.

Bill would allocate $60 million in ongoing funding for homelessness services

A bill authored by Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, would direct $60 million per year to the Department of Human Services for grants to providers of homelessness services. 

The funding is meant to fill gaps in state and city services, directing the grants to providers of crisis response, shelters and outreach, unsheltered navigation services and housing-focused case management.

The repeated clearing and relocation of Camp Nenookaasi in Minneapolis has drawn extra attention to unsheltered homelessness and to local authorities’ handling of the encampments in recent months.

“Local governments are the biggest funders of homelessness response in Minnesota. The state needs to step up,” Mohamed said. 

Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley spoke in support of the bill. 

“We are backing this bill because people in each of our 87 counties all over the state are experiencing homelessness…and because we know counties want to stand up and do something about that. But, to be able to do something about that, we’re going to need your help,” Conley told the committee. 

The bill will stay with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for possible inclusion in a larger omnibus bill. 

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor J. Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

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