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Golden Valley’s attempt to close home ownership gap met with questions about equity

Some residents are asking why the city is pursuing affordable housing next to a freeway.

Design examples that were submitted by developers as part of the Request for Qualification process.
Design examples that were submitted by developers as part of the Request for Qualification process.
City of Golden Valley

Golden Valley is gearing up to create more affordable housing.

The city has started a Home Ownership Program for Equity (HOPE) targeted to first-generation homeowners, Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Statewide, white residents have the highest homeownership rate at around 77.5%, and Black residents have the lowest at around 30.5%, according to census data. Cherie Shoquist, the city’s housing and economic development manager, feels Golden Valley reflects that gap, although she said the city does not track that data.

The city identified 17 sites suitable for single-family, duplex or triplex developments. The selected properties were looked at by city staff for things like water management, lot size and other factors that tie into suitability for development.

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“We brought the program to the City Council with an emphasis on knowing that even if we provide homeownership opportunities on all 17 vacant city-owned properties, we’re not gonna change the racial disparity gap in home ownership in Golden Valley, but we still believe it’s the right direction to move,” Shoquist said.

The developers, including Habitat for Humanity, the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation and others, aim to begin construction on three of the lots – into single-family homes before 2024, Shoquist said.

More than 80% of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and 70% of Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation’s home buyers are Black, Indigenous and people of color, according to the city.

Keeping homes affordable? 

The developers will use a community land trust model, which Shoquist said keeps the homes affordable and enables homeowners to build equity while in the home.

Community land trust organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity or the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation, would receive money from city and county governments through grants. They buy the real estate or secure mortgages on the property and then resell the properties to lower-income people at more affordable prices.

The organizations maintain ownership of the land while selling the home to the buyer. Without having to pay for the land, more people can afford to buy the home. For example, a house valued at $700,000 with land could be purchased at $500,000, Shoquist said.

The project will target households making between $71,000 to $94,600 a year.

Community feedback 

Shoquist says that community sentiment on the project has varied – with many people supporting the developments and others objecting for various reasons.

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“There are a couple of immediate adjacent or diagonally adjacent homeowners that are not in support of the development. I’ve heard anything from, ‘It’s our green space, it’s our dog park, it’s where our kids play’ to some concerns about change in the neighborhood with bringing a lower-income homeowner into the neighborhood,” she said.

Janis Hardy lives across the cul-de-sac from one of the city lots – 4747 Circle Down. She and many of her neighbors are against the development of that lot, she said.

The lot is in front of the Hwy 100 freeway wall. Hardy says she wants more people to have affordable housing but disagrees with the city’s approach.

“The reasons behind it seem good, but the execution of it seems really haphazard. There is something very elitist. It’s like, ‘This piece of property is good enough for you. You’re lucky to have it’ kind of attitude,” Hardy said. “Our concerns are more with this elitist thinking of, ‘We will show how we really care about helping BIPOC, medium-incomed people moving into Golden Valley, but let’s not give them really good pieces of property. We can spare these properties next to the freeway wall, or in the case of another piece of property, right next to railroad tracks.'”

Hardy says that incentivizing people of color and lower-income families to buy homes where there could be health hazards, specifically from fine particle pollution, is not equitable.

“There are other properties in Golden Valley that are much better situated for a family than to be stuck in that environment where they’re getting a lot of freeway carbon exhaust from cars, and to put in a house, they will have to be cutting down most of the trees that are on that lot,” she said.

Last summer, a pollution reader near a home close to Hwy 55 found that particulate levels were in compliance with state standards, Shoquist said. However, no environmental survey work has been done on these specific properties in the HOPE project.

Living near a road with heavy traffic increases the risk of harm to one’s health, according to the American Lung Association. The Circle Down lot is located near the junction of Interstate 394 and Hwy. 100.

The Circle Down lot is located near the junction of Interstate 394 and Hwy. 100.
The Circle Down lot is located near the junction of Interstate 394 and Hwy. 100.
Air pollution played a role in 10% of all deaths in the Twin Cities metro in 2015, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Life and Breath Report. 

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Certain measures – like freeway walls, which this section of the freeway has, can reduce traffic-related air pollutants. The extent of this reduction can vary, and little research has been done looking at specific walls and the reduction in pollutants.

Hardy says around 10 other neighbors are also against development at that location. When asked about the validity of community concern over environmental issues, such as traffic pollution and noise at the property, Shoquist responded, “These environmental and sustainability issues are real. However, I find it disingenuous when it comes from a property owner that also lives near a freeway or near a railway,” she said.

Hardy moved to the area 25 years ago. Her home is farther away from the freeway than the Circle Down lot. Had the impacts of traffic pollution been researched then, would she still have chosen to live there?

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Twenty-five years ago, the traffic was different, and concerns about pollution were not huge. I can’t imagine we would have been so eager to get into this neighborhood that we wanted our family to be right up next to that freeway wall.”

The city says that the developers believe the lots are environmentally “sound” and that they would have homebuyers.

“If they (the developers) believe that the lots are environmentally sound and that they have homebuyers that would choose and would welcome the opportunity to live near a freeway or a railroad track, just like the neighbors in those communities, then we rely on the experts,” Shoquist said. “We also rely on homebuyers being able to have that opportunity and make that decision for themselves. Weighing the difference between living next to a freeway wall compared to maybe good schools or a neighborhood that they’re interested in.”

In a flyer aimed at answering frequently asked questions about the project, the city responded to concerns about the environment and noise pollution, writing, “The train tracks and the highways are pre-existing conditions and potential homebuyers will have the opportunity to make their own cost benefit analysis as current residents have.”

Hardy finds that approach inequitable.

“They said, ‘It’s up to people to do their due diligence.’ That was their response to their concerns,” Hardy said. “That’s not a very good way to act if you’re a government; an entity that is trying to help people’s situation, and you say, ‘Oh, by the way, we didn’t ever mention that you should be concerned about this because it’s your business, not ours.’ They’ve already made it their business.”