Affordable Housing Goals Ahead of Schedule on Green Line

June 14, 2016

By Gretchen Nicholls, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (TC LISC)

 

The Big Picture Project (BPP), a public-private partnership established to ensure and strengthen affordable housing along the Green Line, has just released a progress report showing it’s already exceeded the half-way mark for its 10-year goals.

Since 2011, when the collaboration began:

  • 3,573 units of affordable housing have been built or preserved—80% of Big Picture Project’s 10-year goal.
  • 968 lower income families have benefited from resources that help them stay in their homes—61% of the 10-year goal.
  • Of the 6,388 new housing units built along the Green Line, 1,269 (20%) are designated affordable.
  • More than $4.2 billion has been invested in residential and commercial development (not including the new stadiums) along the existing Green Line—more than half-way to the projected goal of $7 billion worth of development over 30 years.

“Five years ago, we were uncertain that our collective resources could meet the Big Picture’s ‘stretch’ goal of creating and preserving 4,500 affordable housing units along the Green Line by 2020,” says St. Paul City Council and BPP Member Russ Stark. “But we were able to meet that goal—years ahead of schedule—by focusing attention and resources on the need for affordable housing as part of new development along the Central Corridor.”

To ensure people with low incomes benefit from access to light rail transportation by finding affordable housing nearby, the Big Picture Project originally set out three objectives along the Central Corridor:

  • Invest in the production and preservation of long-term affordable housing
  • Stabilize the neighborhood and invest in activities that help low-income people stay in their homes and benefit from the new transit opportunity
  • Strengthen families’ stability and quality of life through coordinated investments in housing, transportation, and access to jobs and education.

“The Big Picture Project has benefited stakeholders along the Corridor precisely because it looked at the big picture,” says James Lehnhoff, vice president of housing development at Aeon and a BPP member. “The project recognized the vital interconnections between people, transit, employment, housing, and amenities. As an affordable housing developer and owner, we appreciate this incredible interconnectivity because it has the ability to provide new or expanded opportunities for our residents.”

While the Big Picture’s first five years have produced impressive results, the group’s work will continue with a focus on highlighting successful examples of mixed-income housing–such as 2700 University, a project by Indiana-based private developer Flaherty and Collins–and addressing challenges faced by low income renters who are having a harder time maintaining and finding quality affordable housing. Residents with no financial buffers to absorb housing cost increases are often the first to feel the pressures of displacement. As the market potential of the Central Corridor increases, the collaboration wants to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the community don’t get pushed aside.  If they want to stay in their community, they have good options.

“This is the next phase of the Big Picture’s work,” says Gretchen Nicholls, program officer at Twin Cities LISC and the project’s coordinator. “We’ll keep up the pace of affordable housing solutions, and share what we’ve learned with other emerging transit corridors as the region-wide system is built out. We’re encouraged by the amazing progress we’ve made, and we’ll continue striving toward an equitable economy—one in which everyone can participate and prosper.”

Starting this July, the Big Picture Project will host a series of convenings focusing on promising solutions and innovative strategies to cultivate communities of opportunity along our regional transit corridors. More information is on the Twin Cities LISC website.

BIG PICTURE PROJECT 2016 ANNUAL REPORT (includes data and BPP membership list)