More density seen as key to affordable housing

A row of five homes in the 1300 block of Ashland Avenue, just north of Dempster Street. The three on the left are listed in county records as two-flats, the other two as single family homes. (Google Maps)

Expanding affordable housing options is expected to continue to be one of the Evanston City Council's top goals in 2019, and housing advocates think Minneapolis may offer a pathway to success with its approval last month of a plan to allow multi-family housing in single-family zoning districts.

Sue Loellbach of Connections for the Homeless says, "Restrictive zoning can really push up the cost of housing."

She added that it limits the ability to undo the impact of racially and economically exclusionary zoning decisions made in the past.

Loellbach says the new comprehensive plan adopted by the Minneapolis City Council in December looks like a good strategy for Evanston to explore.


Sue Loellbach.

About 40 percent of Evanston's land area is zoned R1 or R2 -- zones which only permit single family homes. (Wonder what zone your home is in? Here's a map.)

If Minneapolis follows up on what's outlined in its new plan with implementing changes to its zoning code, two- and three-family dwellings would be permitted in all that city's zones that now are limited to single-family homes.

Of course if you remember how the City Council here eventually decided to not adopt zoning changes called for in Evanston's 2009 downtown plan, you'll appreciate that Minneapolis may be a long way from actually following through on what its new plan calls for.

"Expand Affordable Housing Options" was one of six City Council Goals for 2018. And an Affordable Housing Plan Steering Committee appointed last fall is expected to hold its first meeting later this month, ahead of  a special City Council meeting on the subject on Feb. 4.

Evanston's community development director, Johanna Leonard, says she anticipates that as Minneapolis moves to implement its new plan it will likely keep existing lot coverage, height and setback requirements -- so that it would result in permitting new construction that would end up looking much like existing single-family homes, but would contain two or three smaller units in the structure.


Johanna Leonard.

She suggested the result might be similar to the area where she grew up, on Ashland just north of Dempster Street.

"You drive up the block and you see lots of homes that have typical single-family home appearance -- front porches, one front door facing the street, backyards with detached garages, but in many cases those homes are actually two-flats and some even have a third unit on the property."

That block is zoned R3, a zoning category that permits both single-family and two-family homes.

Related stories

Minneapolis votes to end single-family zoning (New York Times, 12/13/18)

Minneapolis confronts its history of housing segregation (Slate, 12/7/18)

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Comments

I support this

No Chicago suburb is better suited for high density than Evanston.

IMO, hgher density will also help local retailers if they are in walking distance of more of their customers.  Higher density outside of the downtown area works too.  Why not allow 2 and 3-flats like those in Chicago which are built alongside single-family dwellings?  For decades those structures have allowed affordable housing for renters and extended families.