The Courtyard Apartments in Ward 1 are home to many SLP families in need of affordable housing.
I recently heard from a woman in St. Louis Park who's struggling to maintain her housing. She lives in the former Meadowbrook Manor complex (now Era on Excelsior) with her husband and two kids. They’ve lived there six years, and their boys attend Susan Lindgren Elementary School. Like most people I’ve talked with while running for city council, she and her family like St. Louis Park a lot.
Until a few months ago, the family paid $900/month in rent. Last year, the 64-year-old Meadowbrook complex changed hands. Now, they pay $1,200/month for the same apartment. Since the vacancy rate for affordable housing in SLP is practically zero, if this family of four wants to stay here, which they do, their only option is to accept the 30 percent rent increase and live on less.
These days, many families in our community are struggling to maintain their housing. And in fact, many have already left. Since the 551-unit Meadowbrook changed hands in 2016, 80 percent of the people who lived there have been displaced, most to other communities, far away from their jobs, schools, and friends.
As affordable housing disappears from St. Louis Park, including in Ward 1, we risk losing the socioeconomic diversity that is part of our community identity. We also risk discontinuity in our schools and classrooms. Susan Lindgren saw the loss of about 40 students when Meadowbrook got a new owner; many kids lost their teachers and friends. Some of the displaced students were known to families I’ve talked with while door knocking. They and other community members are concerned and want to know what, if anything, we can do.
The good news is, there are things we can do to create and preserve affordable housing in our community. In fact, our city council has already taken a serious look at this issue and begun to address it. As a member of the St. Louis Park Community Housing Team, as well as a concerned citizen and potential city council member, I applaud the council’s efforts. I also support the continued exploration/implementation of measures such as:
Opening night party for the Our Town: Faces & Places project in 2006.
One of the most memorable projects I ever worked on was during my tenure as Managing Director for St. Louis Park Friends of the Arts. The project was called “Our Town: Faces & Places” and its purpose was to connect people – across age, gender, cultural & racial backgrounds – through photography. The nine-week teaching project culminated in a packed opening night party at Excelsior & Grand, attended by a diverse gathering of the amateur photographers’ family members and friends, along with the mayor and other city leaders. It was, from a community building perspective, a success.
Many communities, including ours, recognize the value the arts bring to community life. Our annual budget includes $40,000 for Friends of the Arts (FOTA) to promote the arts and offer activities for residents. This summer, FOTA hosted a “Unity Sing” that attracted an intergenerational crowd of more than 200 residents to sing together on a beautiful July evening at Wolfe Park. With only modest support from the city, FOTA has been building social capital in St. Louis Park for more than 20 years. I think it’s been a worthwhile investment.
The arts are also a powerful economic engine. A recent study by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts showed the economic impact of the arts in Minnesota is about $2 billion annually. The study also zeroed in on St. Louis Park and found $1.5 million in economic impact in our community alone, including $164,000 in government revenues, each year.
I believe the arts can transform lives, economies, and communities. A recent article in the Star Tribune told the story of how Fergus Falls, MN experienced just such a transformation, bringing state and federal grant money, along with a renewed sense of optimism and energy, to a changing town.
As your Ward 1 City Council member, I’ll work with other city leaders to identify ways we can increase the social and economic impact of the arts in our own community, for the benefit of all. Partnering with FOTA and other arts organizations, and with a fiscally responsible mindset, I’d like us to explore: