New process for funding neighborhoods moves forward

After years of intense planning, Minneapolis is a big step closer to the completion and implementation of its new process for community engagement and neighborhood funding. 

The City Council’s Committee of the Whole on Nov. 18 unanimously approved guidelines for neighborhood participation in the program, designed to fund community-driven initiatives such as crime -prevention efforts, enhancements of public space and much more. 

The new process will replace the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), which funneled millions of dollars into neighborhoods during the past two decades. When it was formed in 1990, NRP was designed as a 20-year program, split into two 10-year phases and funded by large Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. As the program neared its end, the city started developing its new process, which brought neighborhood programming under its own wing financially and managerially. 

A new Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCT) Department oversees the program, guided by a citizen board called the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC). Funding comes from new TIF districts, but the program is significantly smaller than it used to be, a reflection of financial challenges faced by the city and state. 

Still, the mood at the Committee of the Whole meeting was upbeat, with council members and Mayor R.T. Rybak offering praise for the work done so far. 

“The single biggest thing we do in this city, and we do it better than almost any city in America, is we have an organized way to take all that incredible energy from people out in the community and funnel it into the operation of city government and that is a tremendous thing,” Rybak said. 

The approved guidelines for neighborhood funding lay out eligibility requirements, standards and expectations, a policy for filing grievances, instructions for the handling of unused funds and more. Neighborhood funding will be distributed based on a variety of factors including population size, the number of housing units, the ratio of under-represented groups, racial and cultural diversity and income.     

In 2011, a portion of available funds will be held back, so the NCEC can consider adjustments after the release of 2010 census data. Next year’s neighborhood allocations total $3 million, but neighborhoods will eventually be able to seek additional funding for programming and projects.

NCR staff and NCEC members spent several months last spring and summer meeting with 64 of the city’s 71 neighborhood organizations to gather input for the funding guidelines. They also hosted community meetings and accepted written comments before drafting the recommendations, which were eventually sent to neighborhood groups for a 45-day comment period and revised. 

“It was an absolutely beautiful summer in the city of Minneapolis, and that’s news to you because you spent all of it inside at meetings,” Rybak told the NCEC members Nov. 18. 

One of those members, Fulton resident and neighborhood board member John Finlayson, could hardly contain his excitement following the committee’s approval of the guidelines. 

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something new,” he said. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be a part of it.” 

Finlayson said there’s still plenty of work to be done. Next up, he said, is figuring out how to involve ethnic groups that might not be tied to a specific neighborhood organization. 

He said he recognized that NRP, because of its success, had many supporters and not everyone is excited about the new program and the smaller funding pool. But he expects the financial picture to improve.

“When times change, there will be more money for projects,” he said. “And times always change.” 

NCEC member Matt Perry said the mourning of NRP and the strong citizen involvement in the development of the new program is reflective of residents’ affection for their neighborhoods.

“The passion is alive and well,” Perry said. The commitment has not gone away.”  

The full council is scheduled to vote on the guidelines Dec. 10. 

Southwest funding allocations as of Nov. 10

Armatage: $20,799.26

Bryn Mawr: $14,510.21

CARAG: $33,466.44

Cedar-Isles-Dean: $14,363.97

East Harriet: $18,746.83

East Isles: $20,138.71

ECCO: $18,856.86

Fulton: $19,750.95

Kenny: $14,663.15

Kenwood: $9,278.89

Kingfield: $39,524.11

Linden Hills: $27,829.50

Lowry Hill: $21,984.26

Lowry Hill East: $37,233.72

Lyndale: $58,575.73

Lynnhurst: $18,459.33

Stevens Square: $37,126.06

Tangletown: $20,022.10

West Calhoun: $16,569.95

Whittier: $90,758.73

Windom: $33,523.82