Janne Flisrand - Neighbors for More Neighbors

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“Eight is Enough” could never be the title of a show about Janne Flisrand’s life; “Cheaper by the Dozen?”  Now we’re talking.     

For Janne, more is more.  She is a proponent of more residents calling Minneapolis home and heads a volunteer citizen group called Neighbors for More Neighbors.  “We stand for those who want a place in this city,” she says, and hopes the City of Minneapolis will make good on its 2040 Plan’s intent to up-zone and re-shape neighborhoods so families of all sizes and economic realities can call this place home:  “I want everyone to have a place to live, a safe and healthy place to land.” 

Janne takes the position that Minneapolitans can do more to address historic, racially motivated segregation and reverse economic divestment.  “We can do this,” is Janne’s optimistic refrain.  “We are Minneapolis.  We are clear that we care for others, and now it is time to show that as well as just saying it.” 

As a fourplex landlord, Minneapolis resident and urban density activist, Janne says she leans into the uncomfortable and learns from others about efforts that could make her city easier to live in, with abundant jobs and services at-hand, greener and more affordable.  Janne and Neighbors for More Neighbors work to assure that housing options are afforded to everyone. 

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Growing up in Austin, Minnesota, Janne’s parents encouraged her to walk to school (she didn’t love it) and traveling outside the US during college showed her the advantages of using transit.  With age comes introspection:  “One of the best things my parents did was NOT give me a car,” she asserts now.  Because of that, Janne says she “developed the ability to navigate” the world.   Study in Norway taught her to get around by bus and train.  As a adult back in the Twin Cities, Janne says her “first car was a bike” bought used at a Minneapolis bike shop and she says, “I figured I’d buy a car when I needed it.”  Decades later “that still hasn’t happened.”  

Her work, while holistic in seeking to diminish disparities, is heavily focused on housing:  economic vitality, population health, public safety, racial equity, civic pride – these factors, she asserts, are all affected by housing.  “It’s hard for me NOT to connect these many issues to housing,” Janne says.  “Housing encompasses almost everything,”  

Neighbors for More Neighbors calls itself an “advocacy group working for abundant homes in Minneapolis.”  They have created lawn signs and hosted house parties to get stakeholders talking and taking steps to integrate neighborhoods racially, economically, and generationally by studying – and changing - trends, zoning codes and expectations across neighborhoods.  “We are losing 1000 housing units a year in Minneapolis that are Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NAO),” she notes.  Rents are going up across the city and rigid zoning codes keep density low in many neighborhoods, and that affects people’s upward mobility.   Janne says she wants every decision at the policy level to ask:  “Does this give people access to the things they need?  Transit, safety, food?  Stable, affordable, healthy homes in great places?” 

Janne Flisrand - Fourplex owner, Minneapolis resident, urban density proponent. Photo: New York Times

Janne Flisrand - Fourplex owner, Minneapolis resident, urban density proponent. Photo: New York Times

Minneapolis, like many cities across the country, is noticeably segregated by race and income.  A century of policy and legal, common practice limited homeownership to some (through racially restrictive covenants placed on individual home deeds and exclusionary lending practices) while allotting financial benefits to others.   Current maps denote where most people of color live and where whites live.  The Mapping Prejudice Project demonstrates that contemporary maps still hew to those early designations.  Even with legal discrimination abolished (via the Fair Housing Act of 1968), people of color in Minneapolis – and likewise other US cities – are still hindered in their ability to buy homes, build wealth, and establish footholds in neighborhoods that are safe, close to natural resources, and with easy access to good schools.  According to recent Census data, Minneapolis has the widest gap in the US between people of color owning houses and whites.

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One way to open up those pathways to wealth accumulation and stability is to open up neighborhoods that are currently zoned solely for single-family homes.   Changing the zoning restrictions - upzoning - would allow more types of housing (duplexes, triplexes, etc), across more neighborhoods, at more price points.  On their website, Neighbors for More Neighbors claims to support “apartments, condos, townhomes, senior housing, and supportive housing” spread throughout neighborhoods in Minneapolis.  They cite rising rents and low vacancy rates as evidence that Minneapolis is experiencing a housing shortage.  Janne, for her part, recognizes homelessness and high mobility as a huge drag on children and their ability to achieve in school.  “When I worked [in a drop-in after school care facility), kids were there one day and gone the next.  I’d ask, ‘Why is Sang not here today?’  It almost always had to do with homelessness:  Condemned.  Evicted.  Housing benefits revoked.  Or trouble accessing a new place close to transit.  I realized that if I wanted to continue having relationships with those kids, and keep those kids in the neighborhood, I needed to help the underlying problems,” says Janne.

Janne and Neighbors for More Neighbors are excited about Minneapolis’ bold comprehensive 2040 Plan where improving equity through housing is a driving strategy.  The New York Times even recognized Janne’s advocacy work (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/us/minneapolis-single-family-zoning.html) and praised Minneapolis’ proposed new zoning as a technique not only to address homelessness and housing issues for the poor, but as a strategy to assist in first time homeownership and wealth accumulation for the “missing middle.” 

Not everyone agrees with the notion of Neighbors for More Neighbors and some chaff at the idea that their neighborhood might change and become denser.  Counter signs have appeared in some predominantly white Minneapolis neighborhoods opposing zoning changes and charging, “Developers Win, Neighborhoods Lose!”  New York Architect and pro-density advocate, Vishaan Chakrabarti, says that response occurs because the merits of density are often misunderstood.  In his book, A Country of Cities:  A Manifesto for Urban America, Chakrabarti uses data and illustrations to argue that densification makes cities “more prosperous, ecological, fit, equitable and joyful,” as tax dollars generated from more tax payers sustains public transit, supports public open spaces, and provides a broader range of services to residents.  


The equity argument is compelling among all the reasons to densify, according to Janne.  Given our segregationist housing past, where city officials and lenders leveraged zoning as a proxy for race, Janne offers, “We need to make up for past mistakes.”   We do that by building a city that offers more housing and thereby more benefits to more people.  Janne is a powerful force of one: she is poised to open doors and open minds in this debate. When asked about the prospect and prosperity of more neighbors in her chosen Minneapolis, she nods decisively, “Yes, please!” 

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 Photo credits: Tracy Nordstrom, The New York Times, Star-Tribune, Neighbors for More Neighbors, Mapping Prejudice