OUR Alliance: Frank Hornstein on Connecting the Dots for Regional Equity

In 2019, the Alliance marks its 25th Anniversary — and a leadership transition! We know that our successes have come from coalition and community power so we’re lifting up the reflections and achievements of leaders from our network who have advanced our collective campaigns for regional equity. We want to hear from you! Share your reflections in this short survey to be recognized in our 25th Anniversary celebrations.

From left: Russ Adams with Frank Hornstein

Like so many overlooked infrastructure investments, the Elm Creek Interceptor could have easily slipped under the radar. But in 1994, a small group of advocates turned a spotlight on the massive sewer infrastructure project, mobilizing hundreds of suburban residents to hold the Metropolitan Council accountable — and ignite a coalition movement for regional equity.

As the organization’s first staff member, Frank Hornstein was at the center of that campaign, which effectively launched a new organization: the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability.

Now a state legislator, Hornstein was working for Clean Water Action in the early 1990s when he and others noticed a gap in the advocacy landscape. While there were a number of organizations in different parts of the metro working on issues related to affordable housing, development and sprawl, there was little coordination among those groups — especially in the suburbs.

“There was a sense that there was a real imbalance in so many infrastructure investments being made in the outer ring areas while other parts of the region were suffering disinvestment,” Hornstein says, “but there was no organization helping to coordinate those efforts or connect the dots. There seemed to be a lot of energy and interest in a coalition that would bring us together at a common table to strategize and set priorities.”

The tactical opportunity to do just that arose in 1994 with the proposed construction of the Elm Creek Interceptor, a sewer project that would pave the way for development in northwest suburbs like Maple Grove and Plymouth. While such a project might have coasted through the Metropolitan Council in the past, advocates weren’t going to let this one slide. “If you’re going to make this investment, then where are the guarantees for affordable housing, access to transit and density?” Hornstein recalls asking. “If those aren’t there, you’re just subsidizing more sprawl that doesn’t include the diversity of housing we need.”

To push for assurances around sustainability, access and affordability, the newly formed Alliance played a key role in connecting constituents to meet with their Metropolitan Council members, and turned out more than 200 people for a public meeting — and unprecedented number for the historically overlooked entity. While the coalition didn’t get a win on the interceptor, it marked the start of an ongoing effort to hold Met Council accountable and advance regional equity.

And a significant win for regional investments came early on. At the state legislature, the Alliance was a leading force for the passage of the Livable Communities Act in 1995, which created a new funding source administered by the Met Council that, through 2018, had provided 1,086 grants totaling more than $400 million to scores of communities. “That has been transformative in cleaning up brownfields, and resulted in a lot of developments in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the suburbs that have created affordable housing, commercial spaces and new types of mixed-use developments that were cutting edge in the late 90s,” Hornstein says.

Also cutting edge? The way the Alliance and its coalition stitched together the interconnected issues within regional growth and development. “The notion that all of these issues are connected; that you can’t talk about transit without talking about housing, and you can’t talk about housing without talking about a living wage, that’s becoming standard now but it wasn’t in those early days,” Hornstein says. “The Alliance helped to pave the way there.”

“And the Alliance took a really hard look at race and how it affects our public policy decision making, pointing out regional disparities and the notion that people of color, indigenous people and those directly impacted by the issues have a place at the table — that you can’t just have developers and officials making decisions,” he adds. “That wasn’t front-and-center like it is now, and that’s partly a credit to the Alliance.”

After serving as the Alliance’s first staff member, Hornstein went on to found Jewish Community Action, an organization that has been a coalition leader and Alliance member for two decades, and was elected to the state legislature in 2002. In all of those roles, he’s seen firsthand the vital need for community organizing — and the continued role of the Alliance.

“We’re not going to make change without very broad movements, so this idea of making sure citizens are involved and that large numbers of people showing up at meetings, making demands of power, that’s what’s needed the most,” he says. “Now and over the next 25 years, we have to train many more community organizers, develop new leaders and build strong coalitions. And we need groups like the Alliance doing that.”

Share your reflections in this short survey to be recognized in our 25th Anniversary celebrations! And don’t forget to sign up for our party on September 26!