St. Paul forum to focus on gentrification


In less than a year, construction could begin on the planned Central Corridor light-rail, which the Metropolitan Council claims will bring increased transportation opportunities to Twin Cities. But for many Central Corridor neighbors, it could bring something very different: unsustainable property tax increases, gentrification, and the loss of historic, racially diverse, and close-knit neighborhoods such as St. Paul’s Aurora-St. Anthony and Frogtown.

To prevent such displacement, St. Paul neighbors have planned a community forum with elected officials on November 21. At the time of writing, Ward 1 Councilmember Melvin Carter III and Ward 4 Councilmember Russ Stark have confirmed their participation.

Community forum – everyone is invited

Saturday, November 21 from 10 – noon

Ober Center, 376 Western Avenue, St. Paul

Aurora-St. Anthony resident and community leader Rena Moran says good intentions alone aren’t enough to ensure racial justice and community sustainability. Residents want to know what their elected officials will do to ensure that hardships associated with light rail transit (LRT) do not have a disproportionate impact on working class communities and communities of color. That, she says, will take preventative public policy.

“The light rail will foster racial disparities if nothing is in place to defend the community,” Moran says. “We’re concerned with the outcome that the light rail will have on the communities that are here, which are predominantly communities of color.”

Some St. Paul neighborhoods are still reeling from an earlier transportation project that had racially disparate impacts. Less than fifty years ago, residents of the predominantly African American Rondo community (now Aurora-St. Anthony) saw 650 homes and their main business corridor destroyed by the construction of Interstate Highway 94. Neighbors say the Central Corridor could repeat or even increase that destruction, displacing working class people and people of color with property taxes instead of bulldozers.

“People in this neighborhood have families,” Moran says. “Racial justice is about sustaining a neighborhood for families, for a generation of elders. If it could happen here, it could happen somewhere else.”

To prevent that outcome, forum organizers say they plan to talk about the meaning and value of their neighborhoods, both in their own lives and to the city of St. Paul, which officials tout as a “city of neighborhoods.” Then, they’ll get down to the nitty-gritty, challenging officials to get specific on policy. They’d like to see local officials fight to keep property taxes for Central Corridor neighbors at sustainable levels, particularly for and middle- and lower-income residents.

Organizer Victori Vu, a St. Paul Central High School alum whose family lives in the Frogtown neighborhood, says it’s imperative for neighbors to know they can make their voices heard. Vu, who is Hmong, says the only way to prevent displacement is to build a multicultural coalition.

“The concerns of many people in the Hmong community are not being addressed by the Met Council or elected officials,” Vu says. “Many people in the Hmong community feel like they have no voice, but they have so many neighbors – Hmong, Black, white – who share their values. Together, just by speaking out, we can be powerful, and we can be heard.”