More than a dozen community groups called on Metropolitan Council leaders to avoid displacing immigrant communities and communities of color as they plan the extension of the Blue Line light rail into residential neighborhoods of north Minneapolis and adjacent suburbs.
The groups held a news conference Thursday where they asked leaders to adopt recommendations in a report highlighting strategies to avoid displacement that was presented to the Metropolitan Council’s Blue Line Light Rail Extension Corridor Management Committee meeting.
About a dozen people stood outside the Metro Transit’s Fred T. Heywood Office Building, holding up brown signs under the shade of budding green trees.
“We aren’t opposed to the train, but we’re opposed to injustice and displacement,” said Amanda Xiong. Xiong, 21, was a member of an anti-displacement working group of 26 community representatives providing feedback on the report.
Community groups speaking out against displacement Thursday include Pueblos de Lucha Y Esperanza, Lao Center of Minnesota, and the African Career Education and Resources Inc.
“If you invest in the train before you invest in the mechanisms that are going to be able to support sustaining the current community, the community will already be displaced,” said Nelima Sitati Munene, executive director of ACER Inc.
Hennepin County commissioned the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs to analyze data and collect community input about potential displacement resulting from the Blue Line extension. According to the report, property values and housing costs significantly increased and demographics shifted in station areas, which is defined as an area within a half-mile walking distance from a train station.
Some of the local leaders who attended the committee meeting included Mayor Jacob Frey, Metropolitan Council Chair Charles Zelle, and Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison.
The project would extend the light rail’s Blue Line from downtown Minneapolis through residential neighborhoods in north Minneapolis and the nearby suburbs of Robbinsdale, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park.
“This is really an important moment, one we’ve totally been looking forward to,” Zelle said at the start of the committee meeting.
About a 100 people packed the room, representing community organizations and neighborhoods highlighted in the report.
A statement from the organizations said: “For more than a decade, community members and organizations along the Blue Line extension project have called for government leaders to ensure that the immigrant communities and communities of color along the corridor directly benefit from the multi-billion-dollar public investment.”
Ricardo Perez was one of the several people who testified at the committee meeting. He has been involved in anti-displacement efforts for four years* as an organizer for the Blue Line Coalition with The Alliance, a group of community-based organizations advancing equity and justice in economic growth and land development in the Twin Cities.
“If you cannot help us understand how we can tap into that abundance, it is not possible for us to give our consent as a community for you to build this train through our communities,” he said. “However, we do believe there are opportunities for us to make it about the people, for [you all] to prioritize the needs that you’re hearing out there.”
C. Terrence Anderson, director of community based research at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, presented the report and recommendations at the committee meeting.
In an interview with Sahan Journal, he said about ten researchers were part of a 20-month-long process to create the report. They analyzed data on displacement from other Metro Transit light rail projects and the various impacts, including on property values, rents, and housing market trends.
The report has 17 policy recommendations to avoid displacement, some of which have been implemented in other states and others that are new. One of the policies, Mandatory Relocation Assistance, would provide renters with the right of financial support due to a “triggering event,” such as a no-cause eviction.
Some residents have already experienced displacement in neighborhoods along the Blue Line extension route, according to the report. In Minneapolis’ Harrison neighborhood, residents reported rising property values and “speculative land ownership,” meaning that people were buying land for the purpose of reselling it for profit.
Anderson said the Blue Line extension will displace more residents, and that the same occurred along some areas along the light rail lines in the Twin Cities. However, he added, the report includes recommendations and “desired outcomes” voiced by community members that would minimize the harmful impacts of displacement.
In crafting the report, Anderson said, the central challenge was less about research than it was about finding common ground.
“It wasn’t that the community had ideas, and it wasn’t that that government didn’t have ideas. It was whether these folks at the table could find a consensus vision to communicate,” Anderson said. “I think that’s what we found out at the end of the day.”
Although advocates were disappointed that a vote to adopt the recommendations did not happen at the committee meeting, Perez said the fight will continue.
“We’re going to continue to have community meetings. We’re going to be meeting with our city council to get support,” Sitati Munene said. “We’re just asking them to go a little farther than where they [committee members] are right now.”
The Blue Line Light Rail Extension Corridor Management Committee’s meeting can be viewed here: https://metrocouncil.org/getdoc/1f4cebc3-63c6-4ee0-87d7-b522c099fe2e/Agenda.aspx.
*CORRECTION: Ricardo Perez has been a Blue Line Coalition organizer for four years. The Coalition formed in 2013.