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Rethinking how Saint Paul’s Zoning Code defines “family”

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Saint Paul’s Zoning Code defines how and where people can construct residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout the city. But did you know it also defines what it means to be a family?

Here’s how the Zoning Code has defined the term “family” since the 1970s: 

Family. One (1) or two (2) persons or parents, with their direct lineal descendants and adopted or legally cared for children (and including the domestic employees thereof) together with not more than two (2) persons not so related, living together in the whole or part of a dwelling comprising a single housekeeping unit. Every additional group of four (4) or fewer persons living in such housekeeping unit shall be considered a separate family for the purpose of this code.”

This definition misses  the many and varied ways that Saint Paulites form ‘families’ or households in the 21st century, such as large multigenerational families or groups of unmarried adults who choose to live together. That’s why the Saint Paul Planning Commission is rethinking the definition of ‘Family’ in the zoning code and  gathered public feedback on three alternative definitions of “family”, one of which would replace the current definition. 

We from Sustain Saint Paul made sure to submit our written comments to the Planning Commission and spoke at the Planning Commission public hearing on  November 13th. We advocated that the Saint Paul Zoning Code should define “family” as broadly as possible. But the folks from the Summit Hill Association and the Payne-Phalen Community Council did us one better: they proposed eliminating the definition of family from the Zoning Code altogether! We think this would be the best solution: allow Saint Paulites to decide who makes up their household, without legal and familial definitions. Such definitions are out of date and hard to enforce. Defining and using the term ‘Family’ places moral judgment on the different ways that people cohabitate. As currently defined, it also imposes unnecessary limits on the number of people who can live together and share housing costs. The purpose of defining household occupancy today should rest solely on building code and capacity issues related to the health and safety of the occupants.

Make your voice heard

Let’s make it easier for people to live together however they see fit.