Millennials change housing patterns

Metro development plans adjust for next generation



The millennials, ages 18-34, are forcing changes in the metropolitan area housing patterns, particularly in the first-ring suburbs and urban centers.

Steve Elkins is the District 5 Metropolitan Council member, representing Bloomington, Richfield, Edina and Hopkins, who spoke to progressives recently in Bloomington. He is an economist for Optum Technology, a division of United Health Group.

Drawing on the Metropolitan Council’s vast studies and research, Elkins said predictions are becoming true. He said more apartment units than single-family homes are under construction in many communities, the largest number of apartments built since the 1970s. Many millennials don’t intend to buy single-family homes, Elkins said; they prefer “walkable neighborhoods” near “cool” places where they can walk and bike to work and to their favorite restaurants and coffee shops.

Many, therefore, don’t intend to buy a car, preferring to ride the bus and the light rails. Elkins said that the number of miles driven by the average person has declined every year since 2004.

At the same time, baby boomers are starting to retire, downsize their homes and either buy condominiums or rent apartments. They, like the millennials, also want to relocate near convenient shopping centers and restaurants.

Elkins also predicted that populations in the first-ring suburbs will increase. For example, by 2040, the population of Bloomington is projected to go up from 85,000 to 125,000.

Turning to transit, Elkins said if the state Legislature doesn’t act on funding needs identified by the Minnesota Department of Transportation next session, the time is coming when there won’t be enough funds to build new roads. There only will be enough funds to repair roads and bridges.

Don’t depend on the federal government for funds, he cautioned, because the Federal Highway Trust Fund is going broke, spending 30 percent more than it is taking in.

The last increase in the state gasoline tax is providing a third of the funds needed by MnDOT, he said.

Elkins said a new line of bus rapid transit is scheduled to be operational by 2019. The orange line will go from Burnsville through Bloomington, under Interstate 494 to Richfield, to 66th Street, onto Lake Street and to downtown Minneapolis. Big buses capable of seating over 50 passengers will be moving along that route.

Those wishful thinkers who want a change in the dangerous I-494 and I-35W interchange better keep wishing. While there is a plan drawn, Elkins said, “There are no funds and none in sight.”

Elkins still has high hopes that some day the famous Dan Patch railroad line from Minneapolis to Savage can be used for light rail. He’s figured the rails and crossings could be changed and include “quiet zones” for less than $175 million.

What about water supply? Elkins said diverting plentiful water from the rivers will tide the communities over. He agreed it is time to draw less water from the aquifers and to use surface water.

The Met Council has adopted the Thrive 2040 plan in four areas: transportation, housing, waste water and parks. The council staff is preparing plans in those four areas to be ready by the end of this year. Next year and until 2018, mayors and council members will use the council’s plan to revise their local development plans, keeping in mind all those millennials as well as the baby boomers who will be retiring.


Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.