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Affordable housing along transit corridors

Transit connects areas and brings opportunities for new jobs, new schools, broader cultural communities and yes, even new restaurants and theaters. These new opportunities are critical to reducing disparities. When lower-income workers can live near high-quality transit, they are connected to better jobs, higher income, more education opportunities — all of which affect their overall health and well-being.

But for people to really take full advantage of the benefits of transit, they need affordable housing, said Kerri Pearce Ruch, a project coordinator in Housing and Economic Development who leads the Southwest LRT Community Works and Bottineau LRT Community Works initiatives.

Hennepin County’s Community Works bring cities and partners together to plan for community and economic development opportunities along major transit routes and other key transportation corridors. Guiding investment in a range of affordable housing options is often a keystone in these broader efforts.

“Housing equals health when looking at disparity reduction,” Pearce Ruch said. “That’s why Hennepin County is investing millions to develop affordable housing near the Southwest light rail line, Blue Line Extension and other major transit corridors.

“If we leave it up to the market alone to create housing in station areas, which we define as within a half mile of a station platform or a 15-minute walk, we tend to see more market-rate and luxury housing. That prices out people who would most benefit from living near good transit connections, and it prices out people who face the steepest disparities and can most benefit from other transit opportunities like new jobs,” Pearce Ruch said.

Hennepin is engaging cities along new transit corridors to coordinate public investments and attract private investments, especially for affordable housing. “Cities take the lead in developing housing. They see the need for a full range of housing choices, and Hennepin Housing and Economic Development helps with tools to create affordable housing that fits each community,“ Pearce Ruch said.

Artist rendering of an affordable housing complex

Southwest Light Rail comprehensive housing plan

When the Southwest Light Rail Transit line opens, it will extend 15 miles from Target Field Station in downtown Minneapolis through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. It is expected to carry 34,000 riders per day by 2040. Planning began more than two decades ago, as leaders envisioned a line that would connect people to job centers, from downtown Minneapolis to the “golden triangle” in Eden Prairie.

But they also knew that affordable housing was critical to help people with lower incomes take advantage of new opportunities offered by light rail. So, they decided to try something new.

“What’s unique to Southwest LRT is we started in 2012 with a housing inventory to see what existed in the corridor and who lived there,” Pearce Ruch said. “Then we did a gaps analysis, asking ‘What would the market produce and what would be needed to create a full range of housing choices?’”

Hennepin County and staff from cities along the corridor developed a housing strategy aimed at creating and maintaining a full range of housing choices; but the data was clear that intervention was needed to develop affordable units. “The market rate and luxury would take care of themselves,” Pearce Ruch said.

All the cities along the corridor, including Minneapolis, have adopted tools for creating affordable units in housing developments. “The suburbs are actually outpacing Minneapolis in terms of number of affordable units,” Pearce Ruch said. “All of that work to collaborate across cities was very innovative and we’re seeing results.”

In 2016, the Federal Transit Administration said, Southwest LRT Community Works “appears to have one of the most comprehensive sets of affordable housing initiatives in the country."

To date, more than 4,000 units of new housing have been created or are planned within one-half mile of planned SWLRT stations. Forty Percent of those are affordable.

This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in housing, health and income.