Getting planning on track: Twin Cities community organizing around $5 million HUD transit corridor grant

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As planning for development along the five major corridors begins, community members hope to have a say in the process. On October 14, HUD awarded the Metropolitan Council a $5 million grant, which is part of a nationwide $100 million HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant to create sustainable communities by integrating affordable housing, the environment, and transportation.

According to the Met Council press release, the grant is to be used to create “optimal development” along five major corridors: Southwest Light Rail Transit, Bottineau, Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit, Northstar Commuter Rail and the Gateway Corridor. In the press release the Met Council said it will look to the current planning around the Central Corridor as an example, focusing on energy efficiency and affordable housing.

According to Bonnie Kollodge of the Met Council, they are currently working on hiring a project manager and they are still “flushing out” the plans.

While $750,000 of the grant has been set aside for community outreach and engagement, Russ Adams of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability said the criteria have not been created yet. The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, along with NEXUS Community Partners and the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing make up the Community Engagement Team (CET) for the grant.  

The CET is hosting an information session about community engagement around the five corridors on Wednesday, November 17 at 1:30 p.m. While the CET is unable to make decisions, Adams said, “The CET’s task is to make recommendations to the Policy Board (which is headed by the Met Council) in terms of projects and strategies that should receive funding.” Adams said the CET will play a “bridging role” between public agencies, like the Met Council, and the communities. Adams said Repa Mekha of NEXUS will sit on the Policy Board and while he is unable to vote, he will represent the CET.

When asked why the meeting was being held at 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m., a time when many people are unavailable because of work, Adams said it was due to a panel partner’s schedule. Adams recognized this time was less than optimal, saying, “We are not going get all community members.”

Metric Giles, an active community organizer from St. Paul, said he hopes that community engagement will be different this time than it has been with the Central Corridor. Speaking of the Central Corridor, Giles said, “We were given a project after all of the decisions were already made.”

Giles said communities, especially those of color or low-income who are often ignored, need to have a “Community Bill of Rights.”

“If you are developing in the community and it is going to have an impact on the community then there is an overarching umbrella that says you have to engage the community in a qualitative way…the train is already speeding down the tracks and now we are trying to correct, revise, and stop a train that has already left.”

Giles hopes that planning along the five new corridors will be more effective because of the more collaborative approach that is being taken, in which community members and elected officials are “starting to sit at the same table.” Giles used the regular community meetings organized by Representative Bobby Champion on the North Side as an example of this. Giles said Champion has been keeping his constituents involved from the beginning.

 

 

“We still have a ways to go. We are still working on it because something like this (the collaborative approach) is a new concept.” Said Giles.

To learn more about the $5 million HUD grant and community engagement efforts in development along the five major corridors, attend the informational meeting on Wednesday, November 17 at 1:30-3:00 p.m. The meeting is free and open to the public, but people are asked to register in advance.