Forest Lake

Implementation of Affordable Housing

The City of Forest Lake is a community that struggled with their first affordable housing development. In 2005, the City denied a proposal for an affordable housing project, resulting in a lawsuit from the developer. As part of the settlement, the City approved the project in 2007. This settlement brought positive changes to the community resulting in various plans and projects to meet the community’s housing need. Through planning, partnerships, and funding, this City is setting an example of how to implement an affordable housing plan with an average of one affordable housing development per year since 2009.

<div class='lb-heading'>Trailside Senior Living</div><div class='lb-text'>City of Forest Lake started the implementation of Affordable Housing in a challenging situation. Though this process included a lawsuit, the results of the case were positive changes in the community. </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Trailside Senior Living 2</div><div class='lb-text'>A study of market place, number and type of existing housing units, housing conditions and growth trends was conducted to identify gaps and help with future development opportunities. </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Trailside Senior Living 3</div><div class='lb-text'>City staff engaged residents into an extensive public education process in order to show the benefits of having affordable housing in the community.   </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Headwaters Workforce Housing</div><div class='lb-text'>The new Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan adopted stronger policies and implementation strategies to create more affordable housing in the community. Since 2009 an average of one Affordable Housing Project per year has been developed. </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Headwaters Workforce Housing 2</div><div class='lb-text'>The City of Forest Lake utilized financing tools such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), project-specific trade-offs, fee waivers, tax bonuses and other incentives to cover the funding gap and attract higher density development. </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Mixed Use development in downtown area</div><div class='lb-text'>Through the updates and changes to the Comprehensive Plan, new Mixed Use category was added to areas suited for higher density developments.  These new regulations also allowed Mixed Use in all commercial corridors. </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Roundabout</div><div class='lb-text'>Forest Lake added higher densities along transportation corridors with exiting infrastructure  to optimize development. The City also joined Transit Taxing District to provide additional transit options. </div> <div class='lb-heading'>Roundabout with the surrounding businesses</div><div class='lb-text'>One of the most effective changes for the City of Forest Lake was adopting an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to encourage a housing mix and development of affordable housing. The new ordinance requires all new developments of 10 or more units to include a minimum of 20 percent affordable units in a project.</div> <div class='lb-heading'>Bike and Pedestrian bridge</div><div class='lb-text'>Forest Lake’s housing shed also serves the neighboring communities. With flexible regulations in place and a culture of acceptance, more projects are developed in the city. </div>
Click image to open image gallery.

Planning for affordable housing includes frequent communication between community members and City staff.  To start, the City completed a Housing Study to research the existing market, housing conditions, type of existing units, commute shed, and growth trends. The study assisted in identifying housing gaps and connecting residents to better opportunities. The City also created a Citizens Affordable Housing Task Force, made up of residents appointed by the City Council. The Task Force assessed the City’s existing Comprehensive Plan and developed a new Housing Chapter. The Housing Chapter adopted stronger goals, policies, and implementation steps that focused on how to create affordable housing. Other changes made to the Comprehensive Plan were the inclusion of Mixed Use in prominent commercial corridors, along with identifying potential areas for higher residential densities. The City also reduced lot sizes within the zoning ordinance to create more flexibility for affordable housing and the ability to better respond to the market conditions. Higher densities were added to the areas with existing infrastructure along transportation corridors and near the Rush Line. For example, the downtown area has residential densities of up to 29 dwelling units per acre.

In addition to these studies and comprehensive plan changes, the City adopted an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance to encourage the development of affordable housing within Forest Lake by offering incentives to encourage a diverse supply of housing opportunities for low to moderate income households. The City also allows Accessory Dwelling Units in Single Family Residential units with a fee of $50. 


What may help other communities?

Good Resources

The City of Forest Lake added more flexibility to their ordinances and zoning to help attract more development. The flexibility includes no setbacks in the downtown area, more focus on design and change to the culture of acceptance to welcome more diverse projects. The City utilized funding tools such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to fill funding gaps and provide more housing unit counts. Other incentives include project-specific fee waivers (e.g. park fee and building permit waivers), trade-offs, density and tax bonuses.


City’s time and staff investment in public engagement during the comprehensive planning process from the early stages was an additional effort that helped raise participation and awareness from the community. The City launched a citywide education process with the help of Twin Cities Public Television on affordable housing to familiarize people with benefits of affordable housing in the community.
Close staff interaction with residents, along with the task force’s role and conducting the Housing Study, provided opportunities for the City to better understand the community and its needs to draw more development interest to the area.


Developing the right partnerships helped the City’s implementation process. The City partnered with Washington County HRA to build additional affordable housing to meet their housing need. Forest Lake is also a participating community in the Livable Communities Demonstration Account (LCDA) program and received funding from the Metropolitan Council, as well as other financing from local banks. Forest Lake has been able to raise their housing performance score from 20 in the early 2000’s to a score of 69 in 2014, placing them among the top 3 participants in Washington County. Most recently, the City offered support in the form of development flexibility and reduced park fees for a 36-unit affordable housing project expected to break ground in fall 2015.

Awards and Recognitions

  • Trailside Senior Living was awarded “Property Excellence- Best New Development- Affordable Housing” in 2012 Multi Housing Achievement in Design, Advertising, and Community Support (MADACS) Awards.

Contact the City of Forest Lake

Donovan Hart – Zoning Administrator, (651) 209-9734; [email protected]


More housing resources are linked here.

Printable PDF