No cool-down for affordable housing debate in Tangletown

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Despite a recent concession by promoters to scale back the size of plans for an affordable housing project in the Tangletown neighborhood of South Minneapolis, organized opposition to the proposal has not cooled.

Nonprofit project developer Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation (PCNF) announced plans in April of last year to build a 40-unit affordable housing complex on land donated by Tangletown’s Mayflower Church. Last month, Plymouth changed its plans in deference to neighborhood criticism, calling instead for a 30-unit complex with 12 three- and four bedroom apartments, 14 two bedroom apartments and 4 one bedroom apartments, according to the foundation.

“Parents earning around $20,000 to $40,000 will be able to raise their children within walking distance of Minnehaha Creek in the Tangletown neighborhood of Southwest Minneapolis, with excellent access to public transportation,” said PCNF Executive Director Lee Blons on the Plymouth Church website.

Neighbors near the site designated for the Creekside Commons project at 54th Street and Stevens Avenue, especially residents who have rallied around an organization called “Minneapolis Residents for Smart Density,” say that the scope of the new development is still too ambitious. Some charge that the project will put too much stress on traffic and scarce parking space, and say they’re worried that a concentration of the poor in a city housing project will mean an increase in area crime and a decrease in property values. The group claims to speak for 90 percent or more of the people who live within two blocks of the proposed project site, and has pushed for no more than 12 units if there is to be a rental project.

And the debate has spilled over into the larger community, with blog and issue forums’ posts from throughout the city leveling charges of racism and intolerance against Tangletown residents.

Last year in November, the Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development’s Planning Division approved PCNF’s building permit with rezoning and code variances, paving the way for construction on the project to begin late next year.

At that time, the City also provided its own answers to a number of the criticisms applied by Tangletown residents, saying in its report that the housing project “will not endanger the public health, safety, comfort or general welfare.”

The project “will not substantially increase the congestion of the public streets … nor would the parking reduction variance be detrimental to welfare or public safety,” according to the city. “This area of the city is well served by transit. There are a handful of bus routes that run along Nicollet Avenue, Diamond Lake Road and Interstate 35W,” the City added. Other sources have also disclaimed any negative influence by affordable housing on traffic.

“Local state legislators and northwest suburban mayors believe affordable housing is essential in reducing costly large-scale traffic congestion in Chicago and its suburbs,” said an article appearing last month in Illinois’ Arlington Heights-Post.

According to the story, “Rolling Meadows [Ill.] Mayor Ken Nelson said affordable housing ‘just makes good sense’ for reducing traffic congestion,” and that its city council had “recently approved an ordinance that designates 20 percent of new home units as affordable, while Illinois state law requires only 10 percent.”

And although there remains considerable debate about affordable housing and its relationship to standard of living, several studies have concluded that the effect of subsidized housing projects on those issues is negligible if not nil. For example, a 2006 study subsidized by the Southern California city of Poway (pop. 48,000) about that community’s six affordable housing developments, which had sprung up over a ten-year period, concluded that, “Home values proximate to affordable housing communities have kept pace with market trends … school quality remains high …. and data from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Dept. indicate there is no increase in crime.”