Owners scrutinize light rail housing options

Concerns arise about the affordability of housing development along University Avenue.

by Eric Nehring

As construction for the Central Corridor light-rail transit draws nearer, so does the issue of housing along University Avenue. St. Paul Mayor Chris ColemanâÄôs policy director, Nancy Homans, is coming to the Carlson School of Management on Friday to speak about the issue. The areas where housing options will change once the line is operational include one mile in either direction of stations along the Central Corridor line in St. Paul, Homans said. She said there are practical and social values to living close to the line. âÄúWhen people live around public transit, they can afford to do more things because they save money,âÄù she said. Transportation is the second highest cost for people after housing, Homans said. Many people are concerned about how an increase in development along University Avenue will affect the existing neighborhoods in the area. Homans said land will be preserved because the light rail will go down the middle of University Avenue. She also said they are developing strategies for preserving the character of the neighborhoods, but are also figuring out how to increase development closest to stations. Neighbors in the area have mixed views on the impact light rail will have on housing options. Jeremy Fox lives in an apartment building on Curfew Street off of University Avenue in St. Paul. He said he is excited for the light rail because it will make it easier for people to get to work. But some people are concerned that low-income housing along University Avenue may get pushed out because of people wanting to move closer to the light rail. Tim Thompson is the president of the Housing Preservation Project, a non-profit public interest advocacy and legal organization. He said growing neighborhoods could lead to rising rents and property taxes, in addition to the potential displacement of long-term residents. âÄúYour house [value] isnâÄôt all of a sudden going to go up, but more people will want to live near transit lines, and the bids [for those properties] will go up,âÄù Homans said. âÄúI think we have a window, though, until values go up and we canâÄôt afford them anymore.âÄù Joan Murphy lives off of University Avenue in St. Paul and said she hopes any new developments will be subsidized. Homans said there have already been about 1,000 housing units built on University Avenue between the state Capitol and the city border, and 20 to 30 percent is affordable and will be affordable for a number of years. Thompson said his organization is interested in developing strategies to protect the neighborhood, including getting public or non-profit agencies to take over properties so that they remain affordable. Other strategies involve making sure that subsidized housing remains privately owned, and owners do not try to convert their units. The CURA Housing Forum to discuss housing along the Central Corridor is Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m. in L-110 Honeywell Auditorium in the Carlson School of Management. The event is free to the public.