Categorized | OPINION

The fate of Minneapolis neighborhood associations beyond 2020

Posted on 08 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By Candace Miller Lopez and Melanie Majors
Neighborhood Associations (NAs) have long been the connective tissue between the city of Minneapolis and its citizens, but as the Neighborhoods 2020 (N2020) planning process closes, it looks like a total unraveling is on the horizon.
NAs come in all shapes and sizes — serving from fewer than 1,000 residents to over 20,000 annually. There are 70 serving 81 separate neighborhoods. Since the early 1990s, NAs have received funding from the city under the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) and the Community Participation Program (CPP). For many, this was and is the primary source of revenue. In return, NAs provided the city with a direct link to residents. Key to the success of these programs was the emphasis on citizen-driven engagement and, in most cases, adequate resources to get the job done.
Neither program was perfect. The NRP has faced questions of disproportionately benefiting white homeowners and the CPP about the level of representation of minorities and renters on NA boards. Yes, there were unintended outcomes and not all communities benefited equally.
However, NRP was a well-resourced, $300-million bricks-and-mortar investment that, over 20 years, stabilized the city’s housing stock and made neighborhoods safer and more livable. By any standard, it was a success. The program, administered through NAs, empowered residents to develop plans for their neighborhoods. It was fully driven by citizens.
CPP, which replaced NRP around 2010, focused on broad citizen engagement and has been funded at a dramatically lower level – $4.1 million a year for the past 10 years. Because of this substantial cut in funding, many neighborhoods have been limited in the type and amount of programming and engagement they could reasonably provide.
So what is next for neighborhoods? In May 2019, the city council voted to adopt a set of draft recommendations assembled by the Neighborhood Community Relations (NCR) Department that would define the next iteration of neighborhood engagement and funding. The council included a requirement to engage an outside consultant to work with NCR, the associations, the Black, Indigeneous and People of Color (BIPOC) community and other stakeholders to address many of the concerns raised by NAs about the patriarchal and punitive nature of the draft 2020 framework as well as to gather the perspectives of marginalized groups and their relationships with NAs. The council also required the new program not to cost any more than the current one: Base funding for each neighborhood would be set at $25,000 annually. The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) was selected to do this work.
There have been a couple of significant problems with the NCR/CURA process. First is the abbreviated timeline condensing what was supposed to be a six-month process down to six weeks during the holidays, due to delays in executing the contract with CURA. Second, a proposed set of program guidelines bears little resemblance to the input from the participants at five large group meetings. Last, key deliverables in the CURA contract, like developing the program guidelines, logic model, defining input, outcomes and how NA participation results will be evaluated, are all being developed without input from NAs. In fact, the entire process has largely ignored the insights and opinions of NA staffers and board members.
This has resulted in a new program outline, driven primarily by the results of a Racial Equity Analysis that CURA conducted of the previous funding models (NRP and CPP), and their conclusion that both programs were representative of systemic racism experienced throughout the city. It is important to know that NRP in particular was not designed with racial equity in mind. CURA has developed a program and funding model that prioritizes racial equity. Under this model, the lion’s share of $4.1 million per year would go to community-based nonprofits (CBOs) other than NAs and a select few neighborhoods with a high percentage of BIPOC and housing cost burdened residents, which will most certainly destroy the current NA system. It is important to acknowledge that across the board, participants in the large group meetings held by CURA overwhelmingly stated their support for both the need for racial equity work and the funding of CBOs to increase the efficacy of this work, but we firmly reject the idea that this is an either/or proposition.
Under this model, NAs like Standish-Ericsson and Longfellow Community Council will see their funding from the city fall to roughly $1 per resident per year, down from the current level of around $7. This means that less than 25% of available funds will go to base funding for neighborhoods. The city says it is providing this $5,000 to $10,000 in annual base funding to “preserve the network of neighborhood associations to minimum standard.” There is no minimum standard that can be supported by this paltry sum. The network the city is hoping to preserve will crumble. “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you your values.”
What happened to the council’s requirement of $25,000 in base funding? The balance of the funds will be distributed through competitive grants to NAs and CBOs focused specifically on racial equity work, with priority given to racially diverse communities experiencing gentrification and housing disparities. What does this mean for residents of neighborhoods that do not meet this criteria and whose NAs will not survive without meaningful funding from the city? No more community meetings to inform about new developments, transportation activity and other community concerns; no more summer festivals or community garage sales; no more newsletters, environmental programs or programs that serve residents like home improvement loans, support for small business, emergency grants, or clean-up events, etc.
CURA uses a racial-equity framework to inform its work. It is based on three precepts: Context, or insuring solutions address systemic inequity; Community-centered, or working with the population negatively impacted to co-create solutions; and Reparative, or co-creating solutions that are commensurate with what caused the inequity. This framework is the driving narrative in its proposed changes to the program.
We applaud the city and CURA’s intentions regarding racial equity, but we question this strategy. The new program is feeling a lot like reparations, but how on earth do they expect to address and correct inequity generated out of a $300 million capital investment with $3 million of outreach funding? This response does not fit with the CURA framework, and the declaration that all neighborhoods should be doing equity work but with only some benefiting from the city’s financial support for this work is simply wrong. Additionally, and no less important, the city has yet to define what racial equity will even look like under this new program.
The decision-making process for the future of neighborhood associations will come to a close by April 9. It has been an arduous and often frustrating process. Recommended program guidelines will be released for public comment on Feb. 24, and residents will have 45 days to review the guidelines and submit comments. As directors of two successful South Side neighborhood organizations, we want to make sure that residents understand what is at stake if the city council adopts the recommendations of NCR and CURA. Some NAs will no longer exist, all but decimating this decades-old network.
Thirty years of resident-driven organizing and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours created the NA network we have today, which has benefited the city in countless ways. In determining the fate of Minneapolis’ neighborhoods, residents must decide whether they will be voiceless consumers of local government output or citizen participants driving the decision-making process.
* Editor’s note: In order to further define the recommendations, the city postponed the release by a few days of the Neighborhoods 2020 guidelines for public comment. As of press time, it anticipated releasing the guidelines by Feb. 28.

Letter to the Editor
Minneapolis waging war on neighborhoods

Dear Editor:
The city of Minneapolis has been waging what I choose to call an undeclared war on neighborhood organizations as well as neighborhoods and neighborhood activists. By the time this letter is published and read it is likely that this attack will have reached its climax at the monthly meeting of the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC) on 2/19/20. At this meeting the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department is supposed to have made public its plan for what amounts the dissolving of NCEC.
For years the city has been pursuing “engagement” with neighborhoods and the community. Now there is evidence that the city was better off with empowered neighborhood organizations thanks to NRP (Neighborhood Revitalization Program). Dissolving NCEC will leave many neighborhood organizations on life support. Some will ultimately cease to exist. The City power grab will be complete.
The interaction between the city council, the Neighborhood and Community Relations Dept. and the Neighborhood and Community Relations Commission (NCEC) cries out for some solid, in depth investigative reporting that exposes exactly what is going on in the name of engagement and the spending of our tax dollars. A good place to start would the neighborhood grounded members of the NCEC.
Donald Hammen