Rail transit, affordable housing a winning combination


The combination of affordable housing and accessible transit is tough to find, especially in suburban and rural Minnesota. Families who want to live outside of the city (or are forced to for financial reasons) often lack public transportation to work, school, or other daily needs. I’ve personally seen clients struggle when they move from homelessness to housing when their new home is in a suburban area that’s tough to navigate without a car. The lack of easy transportation to their support network, employment opportunities, and health care leaves some people feeling isolated.

One way to overcome this issue is to develop affordable housing near the region’s strongest transit options, and that’s what The Crossing at Big Lake Station has accomplished. When the Northstar rail line opened, the city of Big Lake created a Transit-Oriented Development plan for area surrounding its rail station. One crucial aspect was mixed-income housing. The Crossings development includes 33 townhomes for low-income families, some of whom are moving out of long-term homelessness. Despite Big Lake’s exurban status, these residents walk just one block, then hop on the train for easy access to downtown Minneapolis (about 50 minutes away) or anywhere in between. Bus service extends to St. Cloud.

This development isn’t perfect, of course, with one key challenge being that the Northstar only runs at rush hours most days (just as with many other suburban/exurban transit options). Residents whose lives don’t operate on a 9-to-5 schedule may still struggle to meet their transportation needs. Still, this combination of affordable housing and decent transit is better than what many small cities can offer their residents. There are few other places in Minnesota where someone could live 40 miles from a downtown area and still get there in a reasonable amount of time without a car.

As rail advocates push for expanded Northstar service and additional lines, communities along these routes should take notice. Rail transit, when paired with affordable housing, offers a unique opportunity for residents of low or modest incomes to stay connected, productive, and healthy in the place they call home.