Cleaning Up the Park

Creative financing and suburban renewal in Brooklyn Park.

Whatever the reason, chances are minimum-wage earners and others near the poverty line will find it harder to get a place to live in Brooklyn Park--and elsewhere, if the method catches on. Over the last few years officials in metro-area cities have been watching the statistics that show how much affordable housing each of them has: In 1995 Brooklyn Park, with some 24 percent of its units counted as affordable, sat right near the metro average. Minneapolis had 43 percent affordable units, and Minnetonka 6 percent. And while there's been much debate about encouraging places like Minnetonka to bring their numbers up, little has been made of the other possibility--that places like Brooklyn Park and Minneapolis could start bringing theirs down.

The latter scenario became quite a bit more likely when the Legislature approved Brooklyn Park's novel tax-increment financing scheme. All of a sudden, notes Drew Osterud of the Legal Services Advocacy Project, cities had a legal precedent for using a whole new set of accounting fictions: pretending that certain buildings didn't exist, and using that assumption to raise money to take them down. "Our greatest concern is what happens if this mechanism is going to be transferred to Minneapolis and St. Paul," she says. "It's a very attractive way for the city to come up with some more money. And we know they have lots of low-income buildings they'd like to get rid of."

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