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Walking the talk on public transportation

The Rev. Jonathan Zielske, Hope Lutheran Church (ELCA), St. Paul, expresses his hope that Light Rail Transit in the Central Corridor of St. Paul can be for the benefit of all. Metro Lutheran photos: Bob Hulteen

While downtown St. Paul workers walked to lunch around them, a group of faith community leaders – both clergy and lay – began a 24-hour vigil at noon on April 5 in front of City Hall to express concern about the effect of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line on the residents of the corridor. The St. Paul City Council was set to hold a hearing on zoning-related issues at its April 6 meeting.

“The vigil for the next 24 hours is both a prayer to God and a demand to the City Council,” explained the Rev. Grant Stevenson as he called the gathered protesters to prayer. “Light rail will make the area more attractive to new people, but some people who have lived there and created community there for decades should not be forced out by increased rent and increased taxation [associated with the light rail line],” he added. Stevenson is pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church (ELCA), St. Paul, and president of ISAIAH, a coalition of 90 member-congregations that brings a public voice to issues of biblical justice and the common good.

The public vigil was sponsored by a group of community organizations, including the St. Paul Pastors Collective, Jewish Community Action, ISAIAH, and Healthy Corridor for All (HCA), a coalition of groups working on issues facing the light rail construction project.

The Rev. Paul Erickson, assistant to the bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod, led the Rev. Jonathan Zielske, Hope Lutheran Church; the Rev. Gary Dreier and Sarah Huelskoetter, both of Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill; and the Rev. Grant Stevenson, St. Matthew's Lutheran and Spirit of Truth Church, in song and scripture reading through the night.

HCA released a report on March 5 that detailed the potential impact of rezoning and policy decisions being made by the City Council and other governmental agencies regarding the Central Corridor line. The study demonstrated that many people along the corridor are paying a high portion of their income on rent, and that affordable housing was a significant need in those neighborhoods. With more than a billion dollars in investments flowing into the neighborhood, members of HCA want to ensure that the financing is used to reduce economic and racial inequities, rather than exacerbating them, according to Kate Hess Pace, project manager for HCA and ISAIAH.

The coalition offered the following recommendations to the St. Paul City Council for consideration:

* pass a policy whereby all development receiving any public subsidy or financing must include affordable housing;

* reward developers who include affordable housing with a density bonus, the lifting of design standards, and/or the lifting of parking requirements;

The vigilers sat in front of St. Paul City Hall for 24 hours April 5-6 in hopes of impacting decisions by the city council regarding light rail and the protection of citizens affected by its construction.

* require that large developers either include below-market-rate units or pay into a housing trust fund; or

* ensure a one-to-one replacement policy for affordable housing that is lost or destroyed.

“The Council is set to vote on some aspects of this plan on April 13,” Hess Pace told Metro Lutheran. “We are asking them to delay that vote beyond next week” so that the recommendations could be further considered.

“So many people have suffered through the foreclosure crisis,” said Dave Snyder of Jewish Community Action. “As housing is developed [along the corridor], we are simply asking for an additional investment in the community.”

“The measure of this city is not the skyline,” said the Rev. James Thomas, pastor of Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, St. Paul. “It is the way we are with the left out, the left behind, and those who have been intentionally overlooked.”

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