The Twin Cities region is in the middle of building out a regional network of light rail and bus rapid transit corridors, with profound future consequences for development patterns in the Metro Area. These new corridors also hold the potential of great benefit for lower income households in connecting them to jobs, education and services, but access is not automatically assured. All indications are that the demand to live along transit corridors will escalate in the future, raising the concern that more affluent households will crowd out lower income more transit-dependent families in gaining access to housing opportunities along these corridors. This is why HPP has made a major commitment to participating in regional planning efforts to ensure adequate affordable housing along these corridors. That work is now starting to pay off.
When a Met Council-led consortium of agencies (Corridors of Opportunity, or CoO) won a $5 million HUD grant to promote equitable land use planning along these corridors, HPP wrote to point out that CoO’s plan lacked a coordinated effort on affordable housing. CoO responded by creating an affordable housing working group and invited HPP to participate. HPP proposed the idea that the collection of local governments involved in each transit corridor should produce a corridor wide affordable housing plan including the establishment of numerical goals to produce and preserve affordable housing, along with a set of strategies to accomplish those goals. The CoO formally adopted that recommendation, an action the Met Council chair termed “a really big deal.”
The first such corridor wide housing plan has now been established, the Central Corridor Affordable Housing Coordinated Plan, also known as the “Big Picture Project.” HPP participated as a Big Picture project member, along with representatives of multiple levels of government, finance, development and community. The plan contains many useful recommendations, along with the establishment of specific numerical goals for affordable housing new production and preservation by the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In this modern day “Tale of Two Cities,” a commitment was made to produce between 2,540 and 4,500 new affordable units over the next decade. HPP is particularly focused on two recommendations contained in the report which will now require further development. One project involves how to design effective density bonus policies for affordable housing in both cities, so as to provide incentives for market rate developers to include some affordable units in their new developments. The second project involves exploring the feasibility of a strategy to at least partially protect low income tenants from escalating rents following light rail construction and the gentrification of the adjoining neighborhoods that is likely to follow. HPP will be exploring the possibilities for a legislative enactment that would provide landlords a property tax break in exchange for rent restrictions to ensure continuing affordability. These projects will be taken up in Phase II of the Big Picture.