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Philadelphia Unlikely to Follow Minneapolis' Lead in Zoning Reform

Minneapolis is setting a bold example by ending single-family zoning, but chances are a similar change won’t be coming to Philadelphia.
January 9, 2019, 1pm PST | Camille Fink
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Eli Pousson

Minneapolis recently approved a plan to eliminate single-family zoning in a move to address housing affordability and a legacy of racial segregation. Jake Blumgart says such a zoning change is not politically realistic in Philadelphia, where city council members are much less inclined to support such a measure. In fact, they have not supported upzoning efforts or a plan to add accessory dwelling units to the city’s zoning code.

Still, Blumgart says considering what is happening in Minneapolis and differences between the two cities can be useful. For one, Philadelphia does not appear to be facing an affordable housing crisis like Minneapolis, and the city's row houses and smaller lot sizes mean more density. Philadelphia also has a higher rental vacancy rate and a lower median home sale price.

Philadelphia’s housing challenges are less about availability and more about providing resources to low-income residents, says Blumgart:

The principal housing issue facing Philadelphia is that most low-income residents live without subsidies and can barely afford their rent. No matter how many units are built, the price reductions that stem from greater supply are not large enough to help the poorest.

He also notes that homeownership rates are higher in Philadelphia than in Minneapolis and similar racial segregation patterns have not emerged across the city.

In addition, Blumgart points out that Philadelphia is a Democratic city, but it is not as politically progressive as Minneapolis. "Minneapolis’s radical zoning overhaul is the fruit of a sweeping turnover on its city council and a willingness to try new strategies in the face of an incipient housing crisis."

What is the overall takeaway for Philadelphia? "Experts say that policymakers don't have to necessarily export the Minneapolis plan but should instead analyze where market demand is hottest and where it is likely to move next, and zone accordingly," says Blumgart.

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Published on Friday, January 4, 2019 in PlanPhilly
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