November 17, 2011
By Big Picture Project Co-Chairs Gretchen Nicholls (Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation), Tom Streitz (City of Minneapolis) and Al Carlson (City of Saint Paul)
After four months of throwing ideas against a wall to see what sticks, the Big Picture Project Team revealed its draft proposal for a Central Corridor Affordable Housing Coordinated Plan at the fourth and final Community Forum last night (November 15, 2011).
The process was named to underscore the importance of keeping the “Big Picture” in sight while focusing on specific opportunities for strategic investment. Within the larger vision for the Central Corridor, affordable housing plays a vital role in creating access to opportunity for those most in need. Our investments in affordable housing must integrate anti-displacement and mortgage prevention, market rate housing, small business opportunities and jobs, green space, good design principles, and positive placemaking. By raising some boats, we must raise all boats.
The goals of affordable housing also have to align with the other priorities for the corridor. Setting guidelines for what should be preserved and what should change requires strong community engagement. And achieving results requires robust developer capacity, a committed set of finance partners, and governmental leadership that sets the stage for private investment. To quote Albert Einstein, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
It’s important to remember that placemaking means different things to the diverse communities along the corridor. To achieve a corridor-wide vision of equity and vitality, housing must both respond to current contexts and seed future opportunities. Families that already live here must be supported to stay and thrive, while culturally and economically diverse new residents must be drawn to the area by the quality of life and mix of housing options.
Finding the right mix
An optimal mix of housing options along the Central Corridor will require a range of strategies and policies. Through the coordination of public and private investment, we hope to achieve greater impact in advancing our shared goals. A unified housing strategy for the whole corridor can not only attract millions of investment dollars to this stretch of the Twin Cities, it can stabilize existing housing stock, preserve affordable rentals, and make sure new development projects improve the quality of life for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.
From ideas suggested by other national models and by our local partners, we’ve divided our options into the following policies and strategies. New resources and innovation are imperative. Multiple strategies will be needed to achieve our goals that include two critical areas:
I. Invest in activities that help low-income people stay in their homes, and address substandard and vacant properties
II. Invest in the production and preservation of long-term affordable housing
To demonstrate strong commitment to building out a greater potential for investment, the coordinated plan identifies a numeric goal that nearly doubles the baseline projection for new and preserved affordable housing units; a feat that will only occur if new resources (public and private) and ways of doing business are identified.