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Are Changes To Single Family Zoning Rules The Answer To Bloomington's Housing Shortage?

Prospect Hill

Old core neighborhoods like Prospect Hill may see changes to single-family zoning laws. (Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News)

Linda Kidwell says she hates letting her clients down, but when it comes to the Bloomington market, it happens more than she would like.

“When they call and say I need something for $400-$500 a month, sorry can’t do it, I don’t know of anything,” she says.

As part of our City Limits: Bloomington series she wanted to know how the city of Bloomington can make housing more affordable for her clients. She wonders what the city could do to increase housing options, like duplexes and triplexes, without building large apartment buildings.

“Some of the old houses here are huge, I mean it would be very, very, very simple to make them into quad units or even a triplex,” Kidwell says.

Kidwell isn’t the only one who thinks duplexes and triplexes could be one tool to increase housing stock and help lower prices. The issue has become part of the debate about the Unified Development Ordinance.

Kate Rosenbarger is the District 1 Bloomington City Council representative elect.

“We really have a situation where people are trying to buy homes and there are literally no homes to buy, especially in lower price points, she says.

red duplex
A duplex in a neighborhood zoned single-family, grandfathered in before zoning laws preventing it were put in place. (Seth Tackett, WFIU/WTIU News) 

She’s a proponent of a kind of housing targeted at people who may not be able to afford a single-family home, but don’t want to live in a large apartment building. It’s called “missing middle housing.”

“The big debate right now is where do these homes go and what do they look like? And this isn’t a discussion specific to Bloomington,” Rosenbarger says. “It’s happening across the country and it’s a big discussion I think about equity and climate action.”

She says the city needs to increase its housing stock dramatically and it should use every tool at its disposal to make that happen.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, we need to use good ideas and practices and things that have been proven to work in other cities across the country and even across the world.”

READ MORE: Affordable Housing And Bloomington's UDO

Minneapolis recently dissolved single-family neighborhood zoning entirely, to try and create more multi-family housing.

Bloomington didn’t put single-family zoning laws in place until the ’70s, and that, Planning and Transportation Director Terri Porter says, is why there are still duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods across the city.

“There are many, and they are sprinkled through all of the neighborhoods throughout the city, what we are talking about isn’t new,” Porter says.” Those housing types already exist and we are basically proposing they be allowed again.”

She says she’s seen in other cities that these kinds of modest homes fit well, even in older neighborhoods.

“You really could not tell the difference between a duplex or a triplex and a single-family home. “They are projects that are smaller, and they fit on the form of the neighborhood, we are not advocating big projects coming in and towering over existing housing,” she says.

gray duplex
A duplex in Prospect Hill that Rosenbarger says is hard to recongize as a multi-family unit. (Seth Tackett, WTIU/WFIU News)

But current District One City Council Representative Chris Sturbaum worries that might be exactly what happens.

“The city of Bloomington is, believe it or not, about 70 percent rental, so single family housing, that’s a minority, 30 percent,” he says. “What it really starts to do is convert ownership to a rental neighborhood again, so we’re already at 70 percent so are we going for 75 percent?”

And he’s quick to point out that these old core neighborhoods are being looked at for greater density, because the much larger lots in housing additions have Homeowners Associations and covenants that prevents multi-family units.

“It puts the target right-on working-class neighborhoods because that’s what you can regulate,” he says.

But he agrees with Rosenbarger that it’s vital to lower housing costs in the city.

“There is no market rate affordable housing, that’s the problem,” Sturbaum says.

He just doesn’t see adding multi-family homes in the old core neighborhoods as the best way to get there. He notes the current site of Bloomington Hospital will be vacant within a couple of years and will offer many new options. He also says there are plenty of lots in the city that are ripe for development.

That’s something Porter agrees with, but she thinks it doesn’t go far enough.

“It has to be a multifaceted approach, it’s not one thing that’s going to work,” she says.

City officials say carefully crafted zoning language could increase density in old core neighborhoods, while preventing those units from becoming entirely student occupied rentals. But how they might make that work is still unclear.

Porter says they are refining the latest draft of the UDO now and it’s likely to be released early next month. And a few weeks later they’ll hold public meeting where Bloomington residents can have their say about the future of the city.

Have a question? Ask City Limits:

Our community is changing, from closing businesses to traffic and road construction to affordable housing, and we see the impact of these changes all around us.

We want to know: What questions do you have about how the Bloomington of tomorrow will impact your work, your personal life, your community and your future?

Here’s how it works: You submit a question you’d like us to explore about how Bloomington has changed over the past few decades, what you want to see for the city in the future and how ties with IU continue to shape the community.  

So: What do you wonder about how Bloomington is changing and how it impacts your life?

Interested in an ongoing conversation how Bloomington is changing? Join our Facebook group!

 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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