Duluth to Provide Free Land for Creative Housing Proposals

To address its housing shortage, the city of Duluth is giving away free parcels of land to developers with viable proposals for low-cost housing.

December 13, 2019, 11:00 AM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Derek Bakken / Flickr

The Minnesota city's Rebuild Duluth program will award 13 plots of public property to "whomever could put forward a 'good, achievable idea that can provide affordable housing on the land,'" Jared Brey writes. Aside from that there are few restrictions, although "a shipping container on cinder blocks wouldn't make the cut."

"Notably, the city is only seeking ideas for lower-cost housing development, and not imposing any affordability requirements or income restrictions on the homes after they're built," says Brey. The city hopes that the free land, combined with recent zoning changes permitting smaller setbacks and narrower houses, will let developers lower costs enough to make project viable, he goes on.

Along with Rebuild Duluth, the city has also debuted a new housing task force which may give rise to an affordable housing trust fund. Nevertheless, it's still debatable whether these measures will be enough to spur truly affordable development without a stronger public mandate.

As Joel Sipress, a history professor and Duluth city councilor, put it, "One of the things that I think we've learned since the federal government walked away from public housing in the 1970s is that all these programs that are essentially designed to try to incentivize private capital to build affordable housing are not capable of getting the job done."

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