Although future funding remains uncertain, the Twin Cities region appears to be on a path of developing a network of transit lines that promise to eventually remake development patterns. The Hiawatha LRT line now has a track record of strong ridership levels, the Northstar Line is up and running, Central Corridor is in construction and on track to open in 2014, planning for the Southwest LRT line is proceeding with an opening date projected for approximately 2017, while earlier stage planning is underway for possible corridors in Bottineau through North Minneapolis and Gateway, running through the East Metro.
Partly in recognition of all this activity, a consortium of governmental, nonprofit and philanthropic partners have combined efforts under the name “Corridors of Opportunity” to win a major HUD Sustainable Communities planning grant as well as major funding from Living Cities, both funding sources designed to promote equitable outcomes from these large public transportation investments.
Many in the Region will benefit for decades to come from these investments, not the least of which will be lower income transit dependent households. But there are serious hurdles to ensuring that these households benefit from these investments. One hurdle is ensuring access; all indications are that in the future the demand to live along transit corridors will increase dramatically, raising the concern that opportunities to live along these corridors will be seized by more affluent households, thus squeezing out the most transit dependent families. The other concern many have is that with the development that will likely come along these corridors there is also the real possibility of gentrification of certain adjoining lower income neighborhoods. Gentrification can bring real benefits to such a neighborhood but it also threatens displacement of more economically vulnerable residents, as property values and rents rise. This is why HPP has been working with community organizations over the last several years to promote strategies to ensure that a fair share of new housing built along these corridors is affordable, and to find ways to protect adjoining neighborhoods from the negative effects of possible gentrification.
Through its leadership of the Central Corridor Affordable Housing Partnership, and its subsequent advocacy for affordable housing as part of the Corridors of Opportunity regional process, HPP has been pushing the following ideas:
- Establishing corridor wide affordable housing goals, both as to new construction and as to preservation;
- Gathering more complete data on rental housing existing along these corridors, in order to track neighborhood change over time, and to facilitate preservation strategies, like targeted nonprofit acquisition of affordable properties at risk of losing affordability;
- Pushing the use of inclusionary housing policies where market conditions can be expected to become strong, as a means of achieving additional affordability beyond the limited public subsidies expected to be available;
- Tracking both subsidized rental housing and unsubsidized naturally affordable housing, to assess preservation opportunities;
- Identifying excess publicly held land along these emerging corridors, for dedication for affordable housing development.
If we as a Region can put into place effective affordable housing policies now, we can ensure low income households will eventually have real access to the connections to opportunity and reduced transportation costs promised by this emerging transit network.