Intentional Exclusion: Alliance and Housing Justice Center File Lawsuit Demanding Affordable Housing at Region’s Largest Redevelopment Site
Despite a massive public investment of more than $40 million for the acquisition and clean up of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site in Arden Hills, plans for the largest mixed-use development in the Twin Cities region actively perpetuate inequity and exclusion by failing to meet even the lowest bar for affordable housing production.
This week, the Alliance, in partnership with the Housing Justice Center, filed a complaint in Ramsey County District Court alleging the city has violated both federal law and state statute by intentionally disregarding their responsibility to ensure that low-wealth residents and residents of color have equal access to housing options at this publicly owned property and that the contract dispute between the city and county cannot be resolved without addressing the desperate need for affordable housing options.
Since acquiring the 427-acre TCAAP property in 2012, Ramsey County has invested tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to remediate the superfund site for new, private development. In 2018, the County entered into an agreement with the City of Arden Hills that outlined the planned development of 1,460 homes, 1.4 million square feet of commercial/office space, and a 200-room hotel. Missing from the agreement and subsequent negotiations: adequate and required units of affordable housing.
There is broad consensus and overwhelming evidence that the Twin Cities region is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. As a result of generations of explicitly racist housing, planning and economic policy, the burden of this crisis falls disproportionately on communities of color. Federal data show that households of color in the Twin Cities region are 4.1 times as likely as white, non-Hispanic, households to be renters with incomes at or below 50% of area median income with serious housing problems.
Yet, as 44,000 renter households of color in this income bracket struggle on a daily basis to pay the rent and still meet their daily needs, the plans for the TCAAP site provide zero housing units that would be affordable to these families. Instead, the TCAAP plan calls for a meager 146 housing units affordable to households earning 80% of the area median income (or $94,300), a level that is dramatically out of reach.
“For decades, our region has created and implemented policies that have intentionally and explicitly excluded households of color from community investments and avenues to wealth building, like homeownership, while subsidizing those same assets and opportunities for white households” said Russ Adams, Executive Director of the Alliance. “At every turn we have seen the city of Arden Hills intentionally act to exclude truly affordable housing commitments at the TCAAP site. Even after repeated warnings from us, they actively pursued a plan that eliminates any chance for people of modest economic means to be able to live in the Rice Creek Commons enclave. We cannot stand idly by while the city demonstrates such a fundamental disregard for the harm that this will cause to current and future residents. We must insist that all of our cities and counties adopt, enforce and implement plans that ensure new developments — certainly those subsidized by taxpayer dollars — do not continue this disturbing legacy of intentional exclusion and instead provides housing for low-wealth families to live in cities of their choosing across the region.”
The City of Arden Hills has already exhibited a troubling disregard for the production of affordable housing. For instance, while the Metropolitan Council assigned the City a need to produce 288 new affordable housing units from 2011 to 2020, the City has produced only 4. In its recently submitted Comprehensive Plan, the city acknowledges the need to create 229 housing units affordable to households earning at or below 50% of the area median income for the next decade (2021 to 2030). However, the city refused to adopt a plan for a single unit at that affordability level at the TCAAP site, effectively guaranteeing that no progress will be made in meeting its share of that regional need in the coming decade.
“Fair housing is not optional and when government actors block efforts to meet the housing needs of low income households of color it cannot go unchecked,” said Margaret Kaplan, President of the Housing Justice Center. “For far too long cities like Arden Hills have failed to take seriously their obligation to create fair housing opportunities. Here in the Twin Cities, the TCAAP site is one of the largest redevelopment projects we are ever likely to see with millions of dollars in public subsidy already embedded into the property — and we cannot allow the dispute between the city and the county to proceed without strong voices for deeply affordable housing and equitable development at the table. But this case also has implications nationwide, putting on notice countless communities who practice intentional exclusion, as well.”
With this intervention, the Alliance and HJC are asking the District Court to give the Alliance a place at the table in this ongoing dispute, recognize the serious fair housing implications decisions about the TCAAP redevelopment and affirm the obligation of Arden Hills to meet their fair housing obligations. Ultimately, though, the result could have ripple effects across the country by affirming the responsibility to create opportunities that are affordable and accessible to low income households of color when major redevelopment opportunities occur.