Blue Line, Housing, and Taxes.

Last week I attended the Minnesota Human Rights Symposium. Affordable housing was a constant theme. A concern shared by human rights advocates across the state. A presenter from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency stated that we need 122,000 affordable housing units state-wide to meet the current need.

If the Blue Line extension is approved and constructed in Brooklyn Park, it will certainly improve life in Brooklyn Park for many of us, in many ways. New development including mixed use housing and retail will come to neighborhoods in deep need of revitalization. Brooklyn Park workers will have vastly improved access to Downtown Minneapolis. Visitors will have easier access to Brooklyn Park from the airport.

The city is already planning and making space for these new opportunities as evidenced by the June 25th council passage of rezoning in the areas to be served by the light rail.

Unfortunately benefits often have costs. Consider the following shared by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

Statistics provided by the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors show staggering price fluctuations in the neighborhood immediately after the Green Lines opened, far in excess of the city’s overall statistics.

In late 2013, the year after the line opened, median sales prices again shot up just over 80 percent, compared to a 28 percent peak jump in the city overall. There was another 60 percent jump in the first quarter of 2015, as well.

There is no reason to believe that the same thing wouldn’t happen in Brooklyn Park. As home values increase and amenities increase, so too will rental prices. Homeowners would see dramatic increases in property taxes.

The new development is vitally important for our city. To me, the potential is exciting. For some of our neighbors it is horrifying for the reasons above. While many families see the potential for an 80 percent increase in their property values to be a cause for optimism, others, who live on fixed incomes, or at the edge of financial sustainability, see it as the eventual loss of their home, the inability to save for their children’s education, the tough choice between paying their rent or property taxes and replacing the car they use to get to work. The needs of these neighbors cannot get lost in our excitement for new restaurants and condominiums.

The city council has made a path for this development. It must now act to secure the future of our neighbors. There are ways forward. We must consider some or all of the following options:

  1. Guarantee that a certain percentage of new development is affordable to residents who are at 60-80 percent of our median household income.
  2. Use whatever legal tools are available to the city to insure that current homeowners within a certain distance of the Blue Line do not see property taxes increase in proportion to their property value increase, but rather, at the same rate as the rest of the city.
  3. Create an assistance fund to help families who already live here and end up in danger of being priced out of their own neighborhoods through property tax increases or rent increases.
  4. Assure that businesses who benefit from their proximity to the light rail pay their fair share of property taxes so that additional tax burden does not fall on residential property.
  5. Ensure that increased need for traffic capacity and parking does not demand significant loss of property through use of eminent domain.

We are asking much from our neighbors who live close to the proposed route. Increased traffic, lost property, and increased noise among them. We owe it to them to consider ways to lessen the negative impacts that they might face if the Blue Line is built.

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