Committee Summary: House Local Government Division Committee meeting, March 2

Reporting by Lolla Nur, Freelance Community Journalist and UpTake Fellow

The House Local Government Division Committee met on Wednesday, March 2 at 8:30am. The meeting began with a discussion of HF3256 (Legalizing Affordable Housing Act; local land use and building permit provisions). Rep. Steve Elkins (DFL 49B) is the bill author. This discussion was a continuation from the committee’s discussion on Feb. 23.

HF3256 aims to increase affordable housing across the state by reforming zoning regulations, and removing barriers to new housing developments, especially starter homes. 

Committee members listened to testimony from: Paul Eger, Minnesota Association of Realtors, Lisa Barajas, Metropolitan Council Community Development (MCCD) Director, Irene Kao, League of Minnesota Cities, Charlie Vander Aarde, Metro Cities, Minnetonka Mayor Brad Wiersum, Hugo City administrator Bryan Bear, and many more city/local level administrators. 

There was mixed support of various provisions in the bill. Testifiers expressed concerns that the bill may take away power from local zoning authorities, cities in particular. Testifiers from greater Minnesota expressed concern that the bill would provide generic zoning solutions that may not fit for the unique needs, preferences or topography of the various regions and neighborhoods of the state. 

Bill author Rep. Elkins acknowledged those concerns and added that the intent of the bill is to promote zoning reform, citing several reports that name zoning “as a significant barrier that needs to be overcome” to achieve affordable housing. He mentioned that greater Minnesota has “the most segregated living patterns in the country and gross disparities in homeownership by race.” He also mentioned Minnesota is facing both a racial inequity and generational inequity gap in homeownership, with reports that identify a “missing middle of the housing market that’s not being satisfied,” including millennial adults who still haven’t been able to afford their first home. 

Rep. Elkins concluded by adding that he supports appropriating more funds for affordable housing, “but it doesn’t matter how much we appropriate for affordable housing if city ordinances won’t allow for it to be built.” 

After robust discussion and testimony, the bill was laid over. Rep. Elkins said he did not want a full hearing on HF3256 until some of the concerns and further details brought up during testimony could be addressed.

The second bill up for discussion was HF3682 (Qualified newspaper requirements expanded). The bill’s author is Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL 28A). There was just one testifier and no opposition to the bill. HF3682 addresses the digital revolution of the last 30 years, by synchronizing distribution in print and digital formats of public notices in newspapers. It ensures a public notice disseminated in digital format is a valid form of communication. 

Before the meeting adjourned, the committee voted in agreement for the motion to prevail – for HF3682 to be re-referred back to the State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

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