Although the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) acknowledges that “construction of I-94 in the 1960s destroyed homes, disconnected neighborhoods and led to a pattern of community distrust with the [department],” the Rethinking 94 project in its current form does not provide reparative solutions aimed at reversing the harm caused by construction of the highway and benefitting current residents.
To repair the harm caused by I-94, the Twin Cities Boulevard seeks to reverse the impacts of racist and classist policies that dictated the freeway route and shaped the current economic and environmental realities of neighborhoods along the corridor. Throughout Minneapolis’ and Saint Paul’s history, intentional policy decisions helped some communities prosper at the expense of others. Redlining and racially restrictive covenants dictated where anyone considered not white could live, and where public and private investments were distributed. Lending and marketing strategies were aimed to exclude people of color, immigrants, and Jews, forcing them to locate in specific areas designated as “hazardous” or “definitely declining” by the Homeowners Loan Corporation.
When highway planners decided the route for I-94, they intentionally targeted those neighborhoods for demolition–displacing residents and businesses, destroying generational wealth and devastating Black, immigrant, and low-income communities. Despite the repeal of explicitly racist housing policies and transportation planning practices, the effects of such decisions are still felt today in the communities along the I-94 corridor and are reflected in the Twin Cities’ worst-in-the-nation racial disparities. Intentionally harmful policy and public disinvestment created these disparities; it will take intentionally reparative policy and active public investment to reverse them.
This is why the Twin Cities Boulevard vision is centered in a reparative justice framework that calls for large-scale public investments and policies capable of solving the large-scale problems caused by I-94.
Preventing displacement is essential for the future prosperity of our neighborhoods and region. Advancing intentional strategies to halt the forces that are pushing low-income people and people of color out of cities while creating the conditions for all to thrive must be fully integrated into the Rethinking I-94 project. Gentrification and economic pressures in areas of historic disinvestment that receive new transportation investments often attract developers and investors eager to extract wealth. Local businesses and community members should be centered in the economic planning and development along the corridor to ensure that locals are able to enjoy the opportunities and amenities that the Twin Cities Boulevard will bring.
We will continue to organize and advocate for the following policies and benchmarks as part of the Twin Cities Boulevard vision:
Policies, programs and benchmarks to be directly implemented as part of the Rethinking I-94 project
Create a Community Land Trust encompassing the Project Corridor
- Place all vacated freeway land not used for the new boulevard and adjacent publicly-owned land within the project corridor into a community land trust to ensure community control over its future use
- Committees composed of neighborhood residents should be established to guide future development on the land
- This land trust should be used to create affordable homeownership opportunities that are prioritized for BIPOC residents and those who have been disproportionately impacted by the highway
- LA Metro is one example of a transportation agency that is using land banking a strategy to preserve affordability along future light rail lines
Establish a Commercial Land Trust
- In addition to a community land trust, a commercial land trust is needed to ensure that affordable and equitable business opportunities are created and preserved in the project corridor
- The Twin Cities have some of the worst racial disparities in the nation and this is demonstrated in ownership of commercial property. One tool to address the racial disparities in business ownership is using a commercial land trust to prioritize opportunities for local BIPOC entrepreneurs and business owners.
- A commercial land trust works to provide perpetually affordable commercial ownership opportunities by acquiring land and removing it from the speculative, for-profit, real estate market. Commercial land trusts hold the land “in trust” indefinitely for the benefit of the community, ensuring that the land will always remain affordable for business owners.
- The Minneapolis Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED) recently entered into a partnership with the City of Lakes Trust Fund to support a commercial land trust initiative. Community organizations like neighborhood associations have also begun to create community-ownership models to ensure commercial spaces remain affordable for local business owners.
- The implementation of a commercial land trust can also help to ensure that new businesses are designed to be fully accessible
Retention of Publicly-Owned Land/Expansion of Public Housing
- The only truly affordable housing option for most residents whose households fall into the 30% annual median income (AMI) category is public housing
- There are very few options outside of public housing that address the needs of households earning $30,000 and below. Public housing is not only attainable for low-income residents, but it guarantees affordability by capping rental payments to 30% of the tenant’s actual monthly income, thereby ensuring tenants are not cost-burdened.
- Minneapolis and Saint Paul have thousands of residents on a waiting list to obtain public housing. Local governments must prioritize both retention and increase the supply of publicly owned land within the project corridor
- Publicly-owned sites along the project corridor should be used to construct new public housing that is fully owned and operated by the local public housing authority
Inclusive Hiring Goals
The Rethinking I-94 project should include construction labor hours of 30% women and 48% people of color, with one third of the total workforce recruited from the surrounding neighborhoods of the Rethinking I-94 project corridor. Furthermore, at least 10% of the project labor hours should be conducted by people with a disability and substandard wages for disabled workers must be eliminated.
- Hennepin County currently has a benchmark of project labor hours 20% women and 32% people of color. Given the specific neighborhood demographics of the Rethinking I-94 project corridor, we should set a higher bar than these goals
- In 2019, Governor Walz signed an executive order tasking Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) with developing best practices for recruitment and retention for individuals with disabilities.
- These goals are needed to ensure that project job opportunities actually benefit the local neighborhoods and spark a diverse workforce that can advance our region’s effort to increase diversity on construction projects
- Accountability should be built in to ensure contractors and agencies deliver on these goals. A recent Star Tribune report showed that no penalties are currently in place for failing to meet inclusive hiring goals and that participation goals are rarely met.
- Investment in workforce partnership is needed to achieve these goals. Construction workforce training programs already exist across the Metro. MnDOT and project partners must adopt best practices for attracting and retaining diverse candidates in the trades, including listening to local communities’ experiences with workforce programs and employers.
- MnDOT should also support local construction business owners as a strategy for developing the local workforce.
- Construction businesses owned by women and people of color are best positioned to mobilize diverse workforces and change the industry.
- Partnering with existing small business support organizations and lenders also can help diverse entrepreneurs build their capacity for growth.
Creation of a Support Fund for Local Businesses During Project Construction
- A fund should be established to support existing businesses along the project corridor throughout the project construction process
- MnDOT, Metro Transit and all project partners should collaborate to ensure that transportation access along and cross the corridor, whether by walking and rolling, biking, public transit or driving, is preserved for local residents throughout the construction process
- In advance of the project start date, a plan for mitigating these impacts should be developed and presented to the public
- This plan must include a specific focus on the potential impacts on disabled residents within the project corridor
- All project design features in the new boulevard should be fully accessible and comfortable for all ages and abilities and should abide by the principles of universal design
- These features include but are not limited to:
- Wide sidewalks and pathways (10 feet minimum)
- Attenuated acoustic environment
- Areas for socializing, including protection from the elements
- Quiet places of enclosure
- Multi-modal transportation options
- Perpendicular tactile paving to clearly indicate hazards and provide clear wayfinding for all users
- Well-lit and consistent lighting
- Pedestrian safety islands and frequent, comfortable crossings
- Frequent public seating with arms
- Green infrastructure
Zero Fare Transit
- A new public transit line within the Twin Cities Boulevard would link Minneapolis and Saint Paul and would significantly expand transit access for residents along the corridor
- This transit line should be used to pilot zero-fare transit, also known as fare-free transit, to encourage ridership, eliminate transportation barriers and address inequities in fare enforcement, as has been demonstrated in cities like Kansas City and Boston
- Fare enforcement is often used as a pretext to stop and harass Black, brown and Indigenous transit riders. Data has shown that Metro Transit police issue citations at a higher rate to people of color, while white transit riders are much more likely to receive a warning.
- Transit fare enforcement costs far more than the value of the fines that are issued
- Investing in public transportation access by eliminating fares is a far better use of tax dollars than criminalizing the access of those who cannot afford it
- The new transit and connecting lines should be fully accessible and designed to close the gap in public transportation access for people with disabilities
Protect & Expand Community Gardens
- There are numerous community gardens within the Rethinking I-94 project corridor
- These gardens provide a number of community benefits, including convenient access to free or affordable fresh produce and outdoor space for community gatherings
- Minneapolis and Saint Paul communities along the Rethinking I-94 corridor have historically had limited access to affordable fresh produce.
- The Rethinking I-94 project must support and not threaten these essential community amenities.
- Our demands include that no community owned garden is impacted.
- The Twin Cities Boulevard should create new opportunities for community gardens, especially accessible community gardens, which are needed throughout the corridor
- MnDOT should partner with local community garden organizations, like the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance, throughout the project process
Racial, Financial and Health Impact Analysis
- Beyond the required Environmental Impact Study (EIS) process, MnDOT should commission a study that details the impacts of the various potential project alternatives on racial, financial and health outcomes for residents in the project area.
- This analysis should be conducted by an external entity that does not have a financial incentive in the project outcome.
- This would be backed by existing policy, include the City of Minneapolis’ Racial Equity Impact Analysis (REIA)
- Similar studies have occurred on other MnDOT projects. MnDOT conducted an “Equity & Health Assessment” for their I-94/252 project corridor in response to community pushback and environmental justice concerns
Public Engagement & Community Consent
- All project information and updates should be communicated to local residents and businesses via a variety of mediums and all major languages along the corridor
- Public comments should be actively solicited throughout the project process in a manner that is accessible and understandable to all, including accessibility best practices that allow for all members of the community to participate. These include but are not limited to: ASL and language interpreters as needed, alternative forms of communication for non-speakers, closed captions and physical accessibility as needed.
- MnDOT project staff should not use leading or confusing questions during public engagement and should fully explain all of the potential project alternatives and the costs and benefits associated with them
- Public comment sessions should be more frequent and should be held during varying times of the day and week to make it easier for working class people to attend.
- Project leadership and staff should make themselves available for public forums and comment sessions at the request of community groups and advocacy organizations
- A community working group should be created to oversee the engagement process and ensure that the project is effectively meeting community needs. Membership should include advocacy organizations that work on issues of transportation, housing, accessibility or disability justice and environmental justice, neighborhood organizations from the project corridor and community members. Membership should be representative of the project area in race, income and disability.
- 100% of the households in the project area should be contacted in writing and electronically in advance of key project deadlines, including the selection of the preferred alternative. Written notice should be written in plain language to allow for ease of understanding and accessibility.
- Through this engagement, project staff should achieve and be able to publicly demonstrate a minimum 60% approval rate from a population representative of the project area in race, income and disability before selecting a preferred alternative.
Policies and programs that should be implemented in conjunction with the Rethinking I-94 project within the broader corridor
Create a Local Business Incubator Program
- A program should be established to help local entrepreneurs and small business owners establish and grow their business and utilize the new opportunities created by the Twin Cities Boulevard and commercial land trust. Government agencies should create and contribute to a fund to support these efforts, which could be funded in part through the new tax revenue that results from the boulevard conversion.
- These funds should be prioritized for Black owned businesses and local entrepreneurs to repair the deep historical disinvestment that communities along the corridor have faced from all levels of government
Establish a Right to Cure Policy
- With a “right to cure” policy, tenants are given a reasonable opportunity to remedy their lease violations instead of being evicted immediately.
- While the window of opportunity “to cure” varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, our current economic conditions necessitate, at the very least, a pre-eviction filing period of 60 days in order to allow tenants a reasonable opportunity to catch up on back rent payments, or remedy violations of their lease agreements so that they may remain in their homes.
- Establish a pause on eviction if tenant is pursuing a discrimination complaint regarding the violation of lease agreement.
Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Agreement (TOPA)
- TOPA is a policy tool to stabilize neighborhoods, preserve affordable housing permanently and create shared equity by giving tenants an opportunity to take collective control of their buildings by group ownership when the property is sold.
- A tenant opportunity to purchase ordinance is about providing all tenants with the power to decide what happens to their housing regardless of how long they’ve lived there, how much they earn, or what type of housing they live in – a power that does not currently exist for thousands of renters across our city.
- It is critically important that Minneapolis and Saint Paul pass a tenant opportunity to purchase policy rather than a community opportunity to purchase policy. One of the most important features of a TOPA policy is that, at its core, it is a tenant empowerment tool that seeks to address the power imbalance between property owners and the renters who pay the mortgage. It gives tenants the right to collectively purchase their buildings when they go up for sale and to give them some leverage in a deeply inequitable housing system. Furthermore, the policy creates pathways for tenants to become first-time homeowners, and facilitates democratic resident ownership and grassroots community development.
- This policy must empower tenants with the right to purchase their building OR assign their rights to another entity
- In the event that tenants choose not to exercise their right, they should have the power to assign their rights to another buyer. Assignability of rights is key to a successful TOPA policy. In our current housing system, and in the absence of a TOPA ordinance, tenants have no leverage when their home is sold to a new owner.
- Ownership changes often lead to rent increases but rarely result in significant building improvement, displacing entire buildings of tenants at a time. Displacement is irreversible, and the formerly affordable units are permanently lost.
- Tenants who are considering assigning their rights to a buyer should be supported in making the most informed decision possible.
- Potential buyers should follow a code of conduct that requires they are transparent with information that could impact the tenants’ decision, such as eviction history, rental license tiering of properties in their portfolio, and other relevant information. This will ensure that tenants are fully informed in this important decision-making process. This also allows for tenants to work with a potential buyer who may not have had the time, resources, or knowledge to previously become a Qualified Buyer but are still interested in working with tenants in good faith. Lastly, it will prevent tenants from getting taken advantage of by unscrupulous bad actors.
Inclusionary Zoning for Private Developments
- Inclusionary zoning is a common policy both locally and nationally for promoting mixed-income housing. Developers of new multifamily housing are required to include a certain percentage of affordable units in their buildings and put long-term affordability protections in place.
- Affordability must include access for low-wealth renters; in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the bottom quarter of renters are severely cost-burdened and have little to no access to affordable units in their areas
- At least 30% of all new housing units developed on privately owned land should be affordable to and occupied by households with an income at or below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
- This policy should apply to rental and ownership developments of 10+ units that require any action from the cities (funding, zoning variances, permits, etc.).
- Affordability protections should be guaranteed for a minimum of 30 years
- Requirements should also be established that require a certain percentage of these new, affordable housing units to be accessible for both physical and sensory disabilities
- Any existing accessible housing that is lost should be replaced two-fold
Creation of a Rental Assistance Fund
- Hennepin County’s GIS emergency rental assistance program map illustrates how communities along the Rethinking I-94 corridor are some of the largest recipients of housing aid in the county. The Rethinking I-94 project must not add to the risk of displacement in these communities.
- In addition to the other listed policy demands, we ask that project partners create a fund to help vulnerable residents in the project corridor make their rent payments.
- This fund could eventually be supported through new tax dollars resulting from new development that results from the Twin Cities Boulevard project.
- In November 2021, St. Paul voters approved a strong rent control policy that caps annual rent increases to no more than 3% for all rental units. Minneapolis voters also gave the Minneapolis City Council the authority to enact a rent control policy.
- Strong rent control policies will help to ensure that our community members are not priced out of their homes by infrastructure investment that is intended to improve their quality of life.
- We advocate that the Minneapolis City Council follow Saint Paul’s lead in passing a rent control policy that caps annual rent increases at no more than 3%, applies universally to all units regardless of age or size of the building, and prohibits vacancy decontrol.
Property Tax Transparency
- Publicly disclose the impact on property taxes by neighborhood and address
- Create a program to prevent burdens from property tax increases on residential and commercial properties within the broader project area
Broader policies and programs that we support to help achieve reparative justice on the I-94 corridor
- Providing municipal IDs can promote public safety for our most vulnerable communities, which include unhoused residents, youth, low-income elderly, and undocumented residents. Lack of identification is a huge barrier to resources from both public and private entities.
- Fear around the lack of identification can inhibit undocumented residents from interacting with law enforcement when they are victims of crime or workplace violations like wage theft.