Bloomington, Indiana – The Bloomington City Council voted 4-5 on Wednesday night to reject an amendment that sought to expand affordable housing by leveraging an increase in three bedrooms per home, rather than two, for developers that have cheaper homes.

The city council voted on three amendments last week relating to the Unified Development Ordinance, which is the governing document for land use and development.

They voted down a proposed amendment May 4 to reject the Bloomington Plan Commission’s recommendation to allow duplexes, amended the commission’s recommendation last Wednesday to allow duplexes on a conditional basis and passed an amendment providing restrictions to duplex construction Thursday.

The amendment attempted to create more affordable housing and restrict a duplex to have no more than two bedrooms per unit.

Susan Sandberg, councilmember and amendment co-sponsor, said this amendment would incentivize developers to offer certain affordable units of a newly-constructed duplex in exchange for the increase of the maximum allowed bedrooms to three per unit.

If the developer does not wish to add affordable housing units, she said they could develop a duplex with two bedrooms per unit each priced at what they desire.

“In achieving our shared goal of increasing our affordable housing stock to suit a mix of incomes, Amendment 4 will help to get us there, a small step, but one we can leverage for the public good,” Sandberg said.

Local governments in Indiana cannot mandate affordable housing or enact rent control, which would limit what a landlord can charge for rent.

Sandberg said she and councilmember Dave Rollo, who is the other co-sponsor of the amendment, are trying to mitigate harm and establish protections for traditionally single family housing neighborhoods where duplexes will likely be introduced. She said she does not oppose plexes, but they should be placed strategically.

Development Services Manager Jacqueline Scanlan said the Bloomington Planning and Transportation Department is opposed to the amendment. Duplexes shouldn’t be limited to rental use but be open to ownership, she said.

Adding duplexes would increase housing options and forms in desirable neighborhoods close to downtown, Scanlan said. With the addition of the 15 newly-constructed duplex cap, she said the current UDO draft already limits how many new units can be built to a very small number of homeowners.

“If the point of this amendment is to add additional regulations, we don’t need it,” Scanlan said. “All this amendment does, whether intentional or not, is further limit the likelihood that duplexes won’t be built.”

Council President Jim Sims said councilmembers previously supported and voted to pass earlier amendments to seek a compromise between those for and against duplexes in single family residential neighborhoods. However, he said this amendment oversteps and creates barriers to duplex development.

“Supply must be commensurate with the demand,” Sims said. “And that must be achieved through the creation and addition to our housing stock, and that includes duplexes.”

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said duplexes by nature are relatively affordable compared to a single family home and this amendment is misguided.

“I don’t buy the premise that if I care about affordable housing I should vote for this amendment,” she said. “I reject that premise completely.”

Piedmont-Smith said she doesn’t think the amendment sponsors support duplexes whole-heartedly in this manner since they previously wanted to eliminate duplexes from existing in single family neighborhoods.

“It really is death by 1000 cuts,” she said. “Let’s just add more bureaucracy, more conditions, more red tape to creating duplexes so that nobody is going to want to invest the time and money to build them.”

Some community members also said the amendment’s intentions seemed disingenuous. However, many continued to support the amendment citing it aligns with the city’s goal to provide more affordable housing.

The city council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to continue UDO discussions for an additional special session.