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Your February Useful Community Plus
February 29, 2024

How to Smooth Out Rent Increases, and More for Useful Community Plus Members

Visit us at the Useful Community Development website.

Here are some articles to help you figure out a community project for this spring.

Clean up a neighborhood park

Create a dog park

Start a community garden

Clean up a nearby stream

Conduct your own housing condition survey

Kick up your spring newsletter

In the U.S. at least, rapidly increasing housing rents are a major factor prolonging inflation .

If rent is growing too rapidly in your city, making it harder for younger people, teachers, police, firefighters, social workers, and artists to afford to live in your town, there is some new evidence about what might tamp down that rate of rent increases.

The Pew Trusts checked on what has happened in Minneapolis during the five-year period from 2017 to 2022. The number of housing units increased by 12%, while rents increased only 1%. It looks like increasing the supply meaningfully kept prices down, just as economic theory would predict.

Some of you know that Minneapolis passed a single-family zoning reform that allows duplexes and tri-plexes to be built on lots that previously were zoned only for single-family. In a surprise to some zealous city planning types, additional building on single-family lots accounts for only about 1% of the total increase in housing units.

OK, where did the rest come from? Primarily from more multi-family housing units being built. This occurred because:

1) Reduced, and then eliminated, parking minimum requirements made it more attractive and just plain more financially feasible to build apartments.

2) A new law streamlined the approval process for apartments along commercial corridors, allowing new three-story to six-story buildings to be approved rather quickly. In addition, much taller buildings are permitted near transit stops.

The unhoused population went down too, by around 12%, while the rest of Minnesota saw a 14% increase during the same time period.

What's not to like? Well, last time we talked like this, we heard plenty of pushback from people who say they are against any and all density increases. Now that housing affordability is at a crisis point in many places, let's see if minds are changing.

If your town has successfully kept rent increases at bay in a different way, reply to this message and tell us how you did it.

If your neighborhood association or community organization thinks it wants to increase its membership, check out this this excellent article about the what and the why of adding members. While you're on that website, scroll through some of the other outstanding resources.

This isn't brand new, but I bet you haven't read this article about why your City Council doesn't always behave reasonably.

Here's a story after my own heart. It's about collecting resident and business owner stories about the history of a place as a community development tool. This program in North Philadelphia is called Treasure Philly! and we hope more city planners and historic preservation folks will follow this example of a long but interesting process of digging into a community's past to help it forge a good future.

Spring is coming in the Northern Hemisphere. It's a good time to think about a new playground for the children in your neighborhood or community. Here's some good reading about community built playgrounds. Several playground equipment companies grant equipment to deserving community groups, so check out that possibility if you want a playground but your city says it doesn't have the money. (Check with Kaboom! for their occasional grants.)

Here's an interesting article speculating about whether it might be possible to prevent bad landlords from buying more properties.

What? Congress made a mistake? This article highlights an opportunity that an oops moment creates for experimenting with a low-cost safe streets strategy. For example, you could temporarily narrow down the number of driving lanes through your downtown to see whether it would reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities, especially those involving pedestrians. If you've heard of Vision Zero or are motivated to reducing pedestrian injuries, don't miss this opportunity to actually fund a project because of a mistake in what was supposed to be a solicitation for planning grants only.

Or how about one on why bike lanes aren't painted green in Austin.

This month we answered a question from a website visitor about a code officer ignoring written complaints.

We will return with the next issue of Community Development Plus on a Thursday in March. Feel free to reply to this email if you have a comment. For questions, please use the public-facing page to ask your question. We answer them on a page that becomes viewable on our website.

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