Seeing Past Gentrification to a True Path Toward Housing Equity

This week, we are asking those who read, believe in and benefit from Strong Towns to support us by becoming members of the Strong Towns movement. Our small nonprofit is supported primarily through donations from members like you and we need your help to keep doing this important work.

Shaina Brassard is a Strong Towns member who works for a community development corporation in Minneapolis, MN. Today, she tells the story of how Strong Towns encouraged her to challenge local leaders—even those whom she might typically agree with—in her quest to help make her neighborhood stronger.

Shaina (right) with a friend at a local market

Shaina (right) with a friend at a local market

I live in Minneapolis, a city where virtually all politicians are Democrats, with the occasional Green Party member. Strong Towns has inspired me to publicly challenge candidates and elected officials who are on my side of the political spectrum, but with whom I disagree with about tired or disproved and costly approaches to city government and development—from street design to affordable housing and income integration vs. gentrification.

The nonprofit, place-based community development corporation where I work has been struggling to get others to meaningfully engage in a nuanced discussion of income integration and housing scarcity in our statistically low income but vibrant Minneapolis neighborhood. No market rate housing has been built in the neighborhood for forty years. In this situation, traditional lenders, who have no local context and little interest in a project without comparables, are not interested in investing without public sector encouragement.

Working with the city on financing (like TIF) proves challenging because the effort becomes entangled with a very discouraging and superficial national obsession with “gentrification,” which preempts a results-focused conversation on the housing scarcity crisis, finance and the role of the public sector, and meaningfully improving low income neighborhoods.  In this environment, our city council has little political appetite to push for and finance market-rate housing in neighborhoods like ours, despite enormous investments in light rail transit in the area that was meant to spur transit-oriented development.

Strong Towns has helped me articulate the value of diversifying housing options in our neighborhood in a way that creates opportunity for everyone who lives and owns businesses there and newcomers as well.

I'm a member of the Strong Towns movement because I believe city planning, management and governance need a dramatic transformation in order to be forces of greater equity in civic, cultural and economic life.

If you appreciate Strong Towns' non-partisan, nuanced perspective on issues like housing and gentrification—a perspective that seeks to help all Americans find prosperity and build more successful places—support us by becoming a member today.

(Top photo by Johnny Sanphillippo)

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