Gayle Bonneville’s copy of the Neighborhoods 2020 recommendations was covered in red ink; her notes, comments and underlined text stood out sharply against the white glare of the paper. The veteran neighborhood leader slapped it down on the table. “This report is incomplete,” she said. It was the beginning of a volley of frustrated comments from neighborhood leaders across the city who gathered at East Side Neighborhood Services the evening of Feb. 27.
David Rubedor, director of Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) for the City of Minneapolis, and Policy Specialist Steven Gallagher spent the next hour getting their ears filled by representatives of neighborhood associations that included Shingle Creek and Prospect Park as well as various Northeast neighborhoods.
Vision and goals
Neighborhoods 2020 is an effort by the City of Minneapolis to encourage more diverse leadership and participation in city policies at the neighborhood level: “The Neighborhoods 2020 vision is to have an inclusive community where all people are valued, all communities are engaged, and leadership mirrors the great diversity of the city.”
The goals are to provide transparency in financial information, programming and operations; accountability to city residents; consistent operations at both the city and neighborhood level; simplicity in operation so any Minneapolis resident can participate; equity in the decision-making and resource allocation processes; collaboration and partnership between neighborhood organizations, community organizations and the City; maintenance of a sense of place and pride for communities.
Those in attendance at the Feb. 27 meeting did not seem to have a problem with the vision and goals. But they were bothered by what they felt was the heavy-handed, top-down language in the 14-page recommendations booklet.
NCR, created in 2010, had been working with the Neighborhood Community Engagement Commission (NCEC) on the Neighborhoods 2020 initiative since 2016. Last spring, NCR convened three work groups to take over the work.
The groups included neighborhood organizations, cultural groups, people with equity/undoing racism experience, and representatives appointed by the Mayor and the City Council. However, Pat Vogel, Logan Park, said that the work of the NCEC 2020 Committee and the findings of city-wide Community Conversations held in 2017 appear to have been mostly disregarded by NCR. The recommendations are presented as the culmination of meetings by the work groups.
Carin Peterson, Sheridan, was a member of Work Group 3. “I gave five months of my life to this project, and our work merited a single paragraph. We did all the work and someone from the city re-wrote it. [The recommendations] are an empty shell. It’s disingenuous of the city to tell people you can vote on something when there’s nothing for them to read and make a decision about.”
The backstory: the birth of neighborhood orgs
Rubedor called Neighborhoods 2020 “the next generation of neighborhood programming.” But neighborhood organizations became involved in neighborhood planning back in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began a program of urban renewal that tore up old housing stock and ripped freeways through neighborhoods. “Neighborhoods said, ‘Hey, we want a say in what happens here,’” said Vogel. The organizations were run on shoestring budgets and volunteer grit.
Minneapolis started the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) in 1991. Considered innovative at the time, the legislation that created NRP was to dedicate $400 million to be distributed to 81 neighborhoods throughout the city over 20 years to help residents repair/maintain/improve their property. The money was allocated to neighborhood associations, which then decided how the money was spent, subject to city council approval. Some made low-cost loans, others subsidized home improvements. This author received money from the Audubon Neighborhood Association which was used to install glass block windows in the basement of her home; the amount was roughly equal to the cost of one window.
NRP funds were reduced by $25 million in 2001 when the State of Minnesota changed its property tax system. The City of Minneapolis now provides funding through the Community Participation Program (CPP), which gets its funding through tax increment financing districts in the city. But those funds will run out at the end of 2019. Some neighborhoods still have NRP money available to use. The NRP Policy Board will continue to operate as an independent advisory board.
Funding tied to new rules
Neighborhoods 2020 will operate under the aegis of a newly-formed Community Engagement Commission which will be made up of ten to 15 members from neighborhoods, cultural communities and city staff appointed through the city’s appointment process. The CEC will advise the Mayor and the City Council.
Under the Neighborhoods 2020 funding plan, money will come from the City’s general fund rather than through tax increment financing. Neighborhood associations will have to “opt-in” if they want city funds, and renew their commitment each year.
They’ll also have to abide by program guidelines. Those guidelines include limiting their base funding for staff, rent, phones, mailers and newsletters to 50 percent of the allocated funds. Impact funding would require the neighborhood associations to direct 25 percent of their funds to neighborhood organizations or cultural groups to increase neighborhood engagement. Impact funding would be awarded on the basis of the intended outcome.
Another 25 percent of the amount allocated would be discretionary funding, which neighborhoods could use for one-time projects that could become self-sustaining in the future. For example, a neighborhood could use discretionary funds to establish a farmer’s market, but could not use them to keep the market going in subsequent years.
Gallagher, former executive director of the Stevens Square Community Organization, began to use a $100,000 allocation as an example of how the money would be used at the local level. Vogel, treasurer of the Logan Park Neighborhood Association, raised her hand. “Let’s bring this down to reality,” she said. “Logan Park’s entire budget is $38,000 a year. If we raised it to $40,000 a year, we’d have $20,000 for office and staff.”
“How can you afford staff if the minimum wage is $15 per hour?” asked Peterson.
“It looks like we’ll be fighting each other for funding,” said Dan Brady, St. Anthony West.
One way neighborhoods could offset some costs would be pooling services, office space and staff, said Rubedor. NCR would provide training, technical assistance such as accounting software or low-cost insurance options and resources such as its website and handbooks.
Diversity and outreach
One of the most controversial elements of the recommendations includes the “diversify or die” requirement. Neighborhood associations will be required to work with NCR on a diversity plan that matches the neighborhoods’ demographics. The plan would outline ways in which the organizations would encourage new membership that takes race, gender, age, income and homeowner and renter status into account, but would not set a quota. Organizations that don’t meet the diversity standards within 18 months could see their funds reduced or terminated.
Neighborhood associations would also be expected to develop an outreach plan that uses something other than a newsletter to connect with residents. The work groups who made the recommendations favored face-to-face meetings at local events or a door-to-door recruiting campaign, a prospect many in the room seemed to find daunting.
Performance expectations and bylaw adherence
Other new rules including mandatory quarterly membership meetings and an annual meeting where the board of directors are elected. A city-wide Neighborhood Election Day would be established by NCR to gin up more interest and citizen participation.
Term limits would be imposed, and no more than 25 percent of a neighborhood association’s board members could serve more than six consecutive years at a time.
Not only will neighborhoods have new rules to live by, they’ll have to account for their spending. “Neighborhood organizations will report contract deliverables annually,” the recommendations read. They will also have to make sure their bylaws meet a city compliance review.
Vogel said, “Neighborhood organizations are generally very responsible and diligent about their roles and how they spend the city funds. The tone of the NCR recommendations seem to suggest that there are major problems with what neighborhoods are doing – but that is just not true. Part of the problem is that a lot of folks on the work groups didn’t actually have any neighborhood organization experience.”
Bonneville said, “This plan wants us to take on more duties, it puts more compliance reviews on neighborhoods and it will cut into a reduced amount of money.”
Said Rubedor, “We’re not trying to punish neighborhoods. How do we help neighborhood organizations survive?”
Peterson said the City is moving too fast. “[The plan] doesn’t need to be done this quickly. We should take a year to pause and allow neighborhoods to weigh in. We need to keep more power within the neighborhoods.”
The recommendations go to the City Council for approval of the framework in April. Until then, you can comment on them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, text or voice mail at 612-440-5762. For a copy of the recommendations, go to http://www.minneapolismn.gov/ncr/2020.
Guidelines will be published by the end of summer, and the program will begin taking grant applications in January 2020.
Below: Frustration was evident at the Feb. 27 Neighborhoods 2020 meeting at East Side Neighborhood Services. Many neighborhood association representatives said they felt the city had not listened to them. Dan Brady, St. Anthony West, asked, “Is St. Anthony West being punished because other neighborhoods have failed? We’re trying to prevent developers from raping us!” (Photos by Cynthia Sowden)