A Better Building Code: Recommendations for Increasing Housing Resilience and Racial Equity for Renters

MHP is pleased to announce the release of its latest publication “A Better Building Code: Recommendations for Increasing Housing Resilience and Racial Equity for Minnesota Renters.” Report contributors include the City of Minneapolis, City of St. Paul, Community Stabilization Project, Fresh Energy, New American Development Center (NADC), NRDC (National Resources Defense Council). 

In 2021, HF831/SF2077, known as the Better Building Code, was introduced at the Minnesota legislature. The legislation would require new commercial buildings, including multifamily buildings four stories or greater, to have increasingly higher standards for energy efficiency until reaching net zero energy by 2036. As Russ Stark, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Saint Paul, said: “Better Building Codes are a critical tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across Minnesota, and can simultaneously reduce energy costs for the residents of multi-family housing. This is a win-win for the residents of Saint Paul, the State of Minnesota, and the planet.” 

The report analyzes the potential impact the Better Building Code would have on multifamily buildings in Minnesota, with a particular focus on buildings serving households most impacted by economic and racial disparities. Data was examined for four+ story multifamily buildings and interviewed renters and property owners, developers, and managers to develop the report’s recommendations. 

“The passage of a Better Building Code in Minnesota is a necessary step to address the severe household energy burden in multifamily buildings,” says Irene Nielson, City Strategist, Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “High energy burden creates significant health disparities, putting Minnesotan families with lower incomes in physical and economic jeopardy. The findings in the report reinforce the immediate need to address the disproportionate impact experienced by historically under resourced communities, especially existing residents of low-income multifamily households. Energy efficient housing is a win for all Minnesotans because it improves the quality of life for everyone in the North Star State.” 

Elizabeth Glidden, Deputy Executive Director for MHP highlights the interviews that informed the report: “Incorporating renter perspectives as well as those from property owners and developers led to some ‘a-ha’ moments, such as the importance of targeted strategies to preserve affordable rents in older buildings. Affordable properties, as well as market rate, deserve energy efficient investments to ensure quality of life for all residents.” “We heard a desire from residents to be at the table and part of the decision-making process,” Metric Giles, Co-Director of the Community Stabilization Project adds. “Ensuring impacted communities are valued as contributing to wealth and reinvestment requires involving them regularly in decision-making structures.” 

Key takeaways from the report include: 

  • An advanced building code such as the Better Building Code will decrease energy burden and increase livability to meet equity expectations for multifamily 4+ story residential homes. Affordable homes, as well as market rate ones, deserve this increase in quality. 
  • Energy efficient housing, which results in healthier homes and higher quality of life, is a right that must be paired with sufficient regulatory, compliance, and enforcement resources. This is especially true for BIPOC residents, who disproportionately experience harm from environmental and poor housing quality. 
  • An ecosystem approach is needed, coordinating resources, education, and expertise among developers, architects, contractors, and residents. 
  • Accelerated energy codes require intentional inclusion strategies for construction and design industries, ensuring business development and growth opportunities are targeted to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and women entrepreneurs and workforce. 
  • Affordable properties that require major retrofits should be an area of particular policy focus, with goals of preserving homes and retaining affordable rents. 

“Fresh Energy is thrilled that this report reinforces the benefits of commercial code improvement to all Minnesotans,” Ben Rabe, Director of Building Performance for Fresh Energy says: “especially BIPOC communities that are often under-resourced and under-represented. Reducing energy burden is a key benefit of building decarbonization for Minnesota families.” Adds Kim Havey, Director of Sustainability for the City of Minneapolis: “As recent weather extremes have proved we need more resilient and adaptable buildings to ensure the health and safety of our residents. That’s why we need more energy efficient Better Buildings in MN.” 

The report also includes an evaluation of co-benefits of the Better Building Code and maps out ten comprehensive recommendations, including system changes.

The Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge is an initiative that empowers 25 of the largest U.S. cities to implement near-term climate goals and become primary drivers of progress towards meeting America’s pledge on climate. Recognizing that cities account for more than 70% of global carbon emissions – and that mayors have significant authority over cities’ highest emitting sectors: transportation and buildings – the Climate Challenge aims to enhance the work already being done by mayors across the U.S. and to support cities in the fight against climate change. 

You can access the full report (PDF): here, and a one pager (PDF) here.