“We’re living here for a reason and we don’t want to leave,” said Claudia Hernandez, a member of the Jackson Heights Resident Association at a June 13 protest over the potential closing of the her mobile home community due to the Highway 41 River Crossing Project.
Members of the Jackson Heights Neighborhood Association, which was formed in January in response to the Highway 41 expansion, joined up with the All Parks Alliance for Change, a mobile home tenants union to make the protest possible. Other groups in attendance were the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Housing Preservation Project, Sierra Club Northstar Chapter, East Chaska Neighborhood Group and school teachers from Chaska and Shakopee.
The protesters oppose the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) recent proposal to choose a route for a new freeway that will wipe a neighborhood that is currently home to 180 low-income people.
Mobile home residents in Jackson Heights will be uprooted from their homes if MnDOT moves ahead with the current proposal for the highway. Forty percent of the residents of the neighborhood are children, 95% are Latino and the average income per family is $20,000- $29,999 a year. Jackson Heights is a highly affordable neighborhood in a region that is struggling to fill an expanding gap in affordable housing.
“Here we can give our children the kind of life we want them to have,” Sonia Hernandez says, “there are good schools, clinics and a very supportive community at two local churches, one in Shakopee and one in Chaska. We are a family here.”
MnDOT was willing to modify the route to preserve a baseball field, but not for the neighborhood. “I have a question for MnDOT,” said Felix Diaz. “Why are you willing to go around a ball field, but not our neighborhood? We live here and no one lives in a ball field.”
While only 10% of park residents in Minnesota are people of color, 54% of residents who would be displaced by the Jackson Heights park closing are people of color. “Destroying our neighborhood to build a highway would be an injustice, it would be discrimination,” wrote the members of the Jackson Heights Association in a letter to Lynn Clarkowski, the South Area Manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Residents also express concern that they will not be compensated for their displacement for another twenty years. Although MnDOT plans to choose a route within the year, it could be twenty years before the bridge is built and the residents get compensation. “If you are going to take homes away,” the letter to Clarkowski states, “we should be able to decide when we move within the long 1-20 year time frame.” According to Sonia Hernandez: “”We want MnDOT to hear the recommendations we have for them and make the right decision, one that will bring satisfaction on both sides.”
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.