Q&A: Marnie Peichel, on Affordable, Sustainable Housing

Minneapolis architect Marnie Peichel sat down to talk about ways Minneapolis is building better options for our full community — and ways we are not.

As one of the 2015 Eco-Blend award winners, for her work designing sustainability into an affordable North Minneapolis multifamily unit, Marnie Peichel is finding the balance between family life and city engagement that makes a difference in new ways.

Her family uses solar power and electric vehicles. And professionally, Peichel is seeking ways to create meaningful impact by designing housing types Minneapolis needs. We have a lot of basic multi-family rental and single-family home ownership stock — but what about that middle ground?

I sat down with Peichel to learn more about the ways the City of Minneapolis, local innovators, and housing developers are creating more sustainable communities.

New Housing Options in Development

  • The new “accessory dwelling unit” policy was passed by Minneapolis City Council zoning code amendment a year ago, and offers flexibility for separated living spaces for renters or elders.
  • Cluster housing would enable grouped homes to share land space. For example, the Northside Home Fund is a partnership focused on redeveloping housing clusters in North Minneapolis to strengthen homeownership options.
  • Minnesota Green Communities is actively seeking to create energy-efficient affordable housing with healthy materials (many housing options are otherwise plagued with dangerous toxic chemicals in the products used). Green Homes North is one sustainable city initiative; 55 of 100 homes have been developed so far.
  • RREAL is a Minnesota initiative that is offering solar energy savings to low-income communities globally. Innovative Power Solutions and Cooperative Energy Futures also are doing good things with solar so low-income families can reduce energy bills.
  • Aeon is one local non-profit doing good things in affordable housing.
  • WeGoWise is a good (national) benchmarking tool that enables sustainably conscious building owners to find efficiencies through data analysis.

Wish List

Public funding in housing development is a slow process. I also talked with Peichel about room for improvements in serving our broader Minneapolis population. Some of the items on her wish list for a more sustainable, connected community:

  • Scale up the solar model. Single-family units are not energy efficient in general. Collective, consolidation of energy at a more localized level — which requires zoning code innovations — could create a greener pathway.
  • Offer more flexible housing types. Development is still slow. More money is invested in single-family and young professional higher-scale developments. Many members of our community are multigenerational, and need flexible spaces for extended family members.
  • Require affordable units in city codes. There is currently little enforcement toward building affordable multi-family units.
  • Strengthen investment in filling empty lots with meaningful development. In the ideal, sustainable community, private developers also would focus on the wider Minneapolis. Currently only a handful of developers with investment funding are engaged alongside primarily non-profit groups.
“The middle housing need is big in our city,” Peichel says. “We also need to preserve what we have — not just create new construction. How do we stabilize what we have, and make more of our properties desirable and sustainable well into the future? How can re-use become a stronger element in our community?”