Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

June 2014

Are we ready for rail?
7 facts to know

by Jane Tigan, formerly of Minnesota Compass research team

Jane Tigan

On June 14, service begins on the new Green Line light rail, connecting downtown Saint Paul and downtown Minneapolis by way of the University of Minnesota, and neighborhoods in between.

There has been much debate on the impact and potential impact of the new light rail on surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. Two new reports, Central Corridor Key Outcomes and “Tracker” and Big Picture Project, provide data from the past couple of years to inform the discussion. I’m a researcher on these two reports, but I also grew up just a couple of blocks from the line, long before a single track was laid along the Green LIne, and now work right at a station, so for me it’s especially fun to share with you these data bites about the Central Corridor:

1. Residential development is on the rise

From 2010 through 2012, 2,181 new housing units were added along the Central Corridor. Much of this development is concentrated in areas that already have higher residential densities: the two downtowns and the University of Minnesota. What’s more, the pace of development is on the rise: while not included in the Tracker dashboard yet, a large number of multi-family projects were also added to the corridor in 2013. Development throughout the neighborhoods has been less rapid, though a number of projects are in the works.

2. More people are moving into the Central Corridor

People are moving into these new units, and alongside these increases in residential developments, we’re seeing an increase in the number of people living in the area. Notably, increases in African-American and Asian populations within the corridor have contributed to the overall population gain.

3. Despite population increases, there are few signs of broad residential displacement

One of the potential concerns that comes with a big project like this one is that it will result in new development and increased property values that might push out current residents.. So far in our tracking, the mix of household incomes has been stable. Similar to pre-construction, the most recent figures show about 45 percent of Central Corridor households earn less than $30,000 per year and about 20 percent of households earn less than $10,000 per year.

4. Despite major construction the last couple of years, there are few signs of broad business displacement

Orange cones and road work signs dotted much of the Green Line route for the last couple of years and so did efforts to mitigate the impacts of construction. Since the beginning of major construction in February of 2011 to the end of 2013, there has been a net increase of nine businesses that immediately front the line: 128 businesses chose to open doors along the Green Line while 90 businesses closed and 29 relocated off the corridor.

5. Rents throughout Minneapolis and Saint Paul are rising, but even more so for units along the corridor

While the income-mix of households seems to be holding steady, the same cannot be said for the rental market. In fact, between the fall 2011 and fall 2013, median rent for available 2-bedroom units has risen faster along the Green Line – a staggering 24 percent – than for the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul overall, which saw a still substantial increase of 17 percent. That extra increase in the corridor is likely, in large part, due to higher-end developments in downtown Minneapolis and University of Minnesota areas, but pressure on renters is really widespread. Single-family property assessments, a lever of homeowner pressure that we track, haven’t had similar increases due, in part, to the housing recovery.

6.While new units are primarily market-rate, about 7 percent are affordable housing for low-income residents

In the past three years, 7 percent of the new residential units along the Green Line have built-in, long-term affordability for low-income residents (338 subsidized units). Public, private, and nonprofit investment also secured the long-term affordability of 1,738 existing affordable units, many from the Riverside Towers rehabilitation. This means the goals for the corridor set by an affordable housing working group are on track to be met. To stay on track for the 2020 goal of 4,500 new or preserved units, 350 units per year are needed.

7. Efforts on the Central Corridor are coordinated, but there’s work to be done to ensure there is long-term, equitable development overall

Groups along the Green Line are working together on art, business, housing, green space, and everything in between. We asked stakeholders of these efforts how it’s all working together. By and large, these stakeholders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors believe that there are shared goals for equitable development and that people are coordinating the efforts to achieve them. They say they feel informed about what’s going on and cite achievements like the three additional stops as examples of the success of these coordinated efforts.

However, fewer than half of the stakeholders we interviewed believed that there were systems in place to ensure that, overall, equitable development would be achieved in the long-term, particularly goals for business and workforce development. However, responses were much more positive regarding business mitigation (aid to businesses during construction) and affordable housing, which were often cited as areas where the systems to ensure equitable development had been established.

These seven facts about the Central Corridor help us understand what has changed or stayed the same since construction began. They also give us clues and suggestions about what to watch as the train begins to run: Will increases in rent let up and will assessments begin to rise alongside a strengthening housing market? Will the income mix remain stable? What about the mix of businesses? These are just some of the community-level changes we will continue to track along the corridor. See you on the train!

Jane Tigan is the lead author of the 2013 Tracker and Key Outcomes Report. She worked on Minnesota Compass and related projects that monitored economic and social change through indicators.