Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Twin Cities taking promising steps to ensure housing near transit is affordable

by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference 


Promising work continues in Minneapolis/St. Paul to ensure growth in the region’s transit system lifts all boats. I had two separate opportunities to see this for myself a couple weeks ago.

On Sept. 25, I presented the keynote address to a gathering of county officials, community advocates, neighborhood support institutions and local developers interested in how affordable homes and other community assets can be preserved near transit as the region adds two new transit lines to the southwest and northwest of Minneapolis. The full-day event drew a mix of stakeholders and public sector decision makers with a growing commitment to ensuring transit in the region is broadly accessible and beneficial to existing communities over the long term.

The next day I spoke at length with a group of city councilmembers, developers and county housing and transportation planners who are taking a serious look at how inclusionary housing can be adapted to local circumstances to enlist the help of private developers in creating affordably priced homes in booming downtowns and new transit communities. The opportunity to think with local council members about creative policy options and national best practices for inclusionary housing was especially gratifying. The meeting clarified just how much the Center’s research on inclusionary housing fills a real need. Local staff and elected officials are hungry for information about how inclusionary housing might fit within their specific market and legal context. And they’re especially curious about how their peers are addressing common challenges. We’ve placed ourselves in a great position to help.

It was a wonderful culmination to a week during which I was struck by just how much our definition of “successful transit development” has changed over the past seven years. Back in 2007 when I co-authored a report exploring the case for mixed-income, transit-oriented development in the Denver region, few planners and officials were asking, “Will transit and transit-oriented development be accessible to low-and high-income households alike?” Since then, strong advocacy by coalitions such as those that won a more equitable Green Line in the Twin Cities, along with smart research, sustained investment from forward-thinking foundations and inspired leadership at the local, regional, state and federal levels, have changed the questions we ask. There is now much broader recognition that a “successful” transit expansion: 

  • Engages a diversity of communities upfront in the planning and decision-making process.
  • Lifts up rather than sweeps aside existing neighborhoods and businesses.
  • Includes supportive housing policies and investments to ensure transit is accessible to – and expands job accessibility for – people up and down the income spectrum.

Recognizing this, various institutions in the Twin Cities are starting to take proactive steps to preserve and create affordable housing before the region’s transit system is built out. Other regions are farther ahead, but it was hard not to be inspired by the positive conversations I saw happening in the metro area.

Inspired by this work, NHC’s Center for Housing Policy is doubling down this fall and winter on expanding our toolkit on inclusive housing policy, and making more of it easily accessible in one place. As our nation’s transit boom continues, and with your help, we’re excited to keep moving the conversation forward on what’s needed to create successful, resilient, mixed-income communities near transit.

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