Light rail plan could lead to more segregation

7:38 PM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Central Corridor light rail project is expected to dramatically improve access to venues across the Twin Cities for residents who live along the corridor.

That is especially true for those along the eastern end of the corridor in St. Paul; however, one expert argues that government subsidized housing along the rail route could add to an already racially segregated neighborhood.

"Most of the housing on the Central Corridor is affordable (low income)," said Myron Orfield, Director of the University of Minnesota Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. "It is one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing in the Metropolitan area and many of the neighborhoods are among the poorest in the Metropolitan area."

Orfield, a law professor who was a Minnesota State legislator in the 1990s, argues that other sections of the Twin Cities should get some of the affordable housing grant money.

"A lot of less poor neighborhoods have applied to build those units and it would be good if some of those less poor neighborhoods won the grants when they applied," said Orfield. "You have outer ring suburbs and communities that would like to build the housing for their own poor people and they are being turned down so you can put these units in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the Twin Cities that (already) have lots of affordable housing."

Dr. Beverly Oliver Hawkins, CEO of Model Cities of St. Paul, said it is not ideal to choose between the inner city and the suburbs.

"To me, it is not an either-or. I think it is a both-and," said Hawkins.

Hawkins agency expects to add 50 units of affordable housing at two sites along University Avenue as the Central Corridor opens. She said there is no problem with the 4,500 affordable units to be added to the Central Corridor area.

"I would like to think that when we have these affordable housing projects, or these TOD (Transit Oriented Developments) projects that are, in some cases subsidized, that they would be an incentive and a catalyst for some private development that also could occur along the University Avenue strip," said Hawkins.

Orfield sent a letter on Nov. 2 to Jonathan Sage-Martinson, Director of the Central Corridor Funder's Collaborative, detailing his concerns.

Sage-Martinson said he and other members of the 13 agency Collaborative spoke with Orfield on Dec. 6. Orfield said he has been invited to speak to the "Big Picture Project," which includes representatives of both cities on March 1.

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