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According to data from the American Community Survey,[1]Minneapolis has the widest homeownership gap between its black and white residents. With only one in four African American households owning their homes, compared to four in five white household homeowners, the city topped the list for racial disparity. At the Unlocking the Market conference, sponsored by the Urban Institute and Fannie Mae, Janne Flisrand, co-founder of Neighbors for More Neighbors, discussed how a grassroots effort helped Minneapolis overcome NIMBYism.

Overcoming opposition and making history

Last December, Minneapolis became the first major city to end single-family exclusive zoning. This historic step was the result of a years-long effort to reimagine housing policy in this fast-growing city. Old zoning and housing regulations separate communities by class and ethnicity. Changing them takes an enormous effort, new approaches, and new partnerships.

Raising awareness and taking action

With the help of the advocacy group Neighbors for More Neighbors, Minneapolis found the way to overcome the NIMBY forces that have tanked similar efforts. Flisrand described a critical key to their success:

“In Minneapolis, white Minneapolitans — and this is true across most of the country — don’t know about our racist land-use history or how zoning is explicitly designed to keep people out. So we have a group called Mapping Prejudice based at the University of Minnesota. And they have engaged thousands of volunteers to read hundreds of thousands of historic documents, looking for racially restrictive covenants.”

Powered by people

To build the political will necessary and make it possible to unlock the market, Neighbors for More Neighbors engaged hundreds of volunteers and three critical partners: residents, elected officials, and city staff. Many months of hard work, meetings, and milestones later, Minneapolis 2040 — a comprehensive city plan that loosened decades of restrictive zoning policies — was approved.

Janne Flisrand tells the story of how it all unfolded and how other cities can replicate the success of Minneapolis. Watch the full presentation.