The Minneapolis City Council approved a new framework for Neighborhoods 2020 in May that calls for neighborhood organizations to reflect the racial and housing status diversity of their communities and aims to make it easier for residents to participate in such groups.
Under the framework, community engagement funding would be awarded to neighborhood and community organizations in three-year cycles. Neighborhood organizations would get 75% of the community engagement funding, with the other 25% going to community orgs.
Half of the neighborhood organization money would be dedicated to staff and other expenses like rent, internet and newsletters. Other funds would be made available for those in need of childcare, food and interpretive services at meetings or events. Minimum base funding for neighborhood groups would be $25,000, with more funds allocated to individual neighborhoods based on average income and demographics.
The other half of neighborhood organization funding would be divided evenly between impact funding to increase outreach to underrepresented communities and discretionary funding for local projects such as community gardens.
Neighborhood groups will be required to develop a “Diversity Action Plan” that lays out how each organization’s leadership reflects the demographics of their neighborhoods based on gender, race, age, income and homeowner or renter status, and specifies the process each organization will undertake to match their respective areas.
Community organizations funded through the program would be required to partner with a neighborhood group to receive city dollars under the framework.
The framework calls for an “opt-in” system for neighborhood funding, which requires neighborhood groups to agree to city requirements for more reflective boards and outreach guidelines. It also includes an optional citywide neighborhood election day, a move intended to get more participation in elections for neighborhood boards, which are typically held during neighborhood annual meetings.
The framework, which passed on a 7-5 council vote on May 17, was met with concerns by council members that it was too broad and doesn’t recognize the vast differences in neighborhoods across Minneapolis.
“It’s hard, I think, to have a document that tries to look at neighborhood organizations as a whole and adopt one kind of method of accountability or goals around diversity because the neighborhoods are so different from each other,” Council President Lisa Bender (Ward 10), who voted against the framework, said at the meeting.
Council Member Steve Fletcher (Ward 3), made an amendment to remove the required $25,000 minimum to each organization, arguing it was redistributive in the wrong way.
“I think maybe we tried to make so many compromises that it ends up not accomplishing anything for anybody,” said Fletcher, who voted against the resolution.
Neighborhood and Community Relations director David Rubedor said the framework was intended to be broad.
“Now we’ll get into the details,” he said.
Kaley Brown, executive director of the Whittier Alliance, said her neighborhood was among several organizations who wanted to delay the recommendations. She said the framework does not reflect a lot of the input neighborhood groups have voiced in the process.
The process, she said, felt more like the NCR department telling neighborhoods what to do instead of dialoguing with them.
“This framework is trying to force neighborhoods into one box that doesn’t necessarily match the needs,” Brown said. “It doesn’t match the activities and capacities of different neighborhoods.”
Whittier Alliance, one of the more structured neighborhood organizations in Southwest, has three full-time staffers and several active committees.
Although many neighborhood organizations had objections to the new recommendations, some were supportive and about 30 haven’t commented at all, Rubedor said.
City staff have been directed to submit a new recommendation draft for Neighborhoods 2020 by the end of the year, to be followed by a 45-day public comment period, a public hearing and a City Council vote for approval.
“The public and neighborhoods will be engaged in this process moving forward,” Rubedor said.
Engagement and equity
Alongside the framework, the City Council asked staff to hire a consultant to help define program goals and how to measure success. It also asked staff to audit the city’s current community engagement efforts and form a new, universal policy of outreach that all departments will use going forward.
Work with a consultant, which was initially planned to be the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, but could be another group, will focus on developing goals and metrics to determine success for Neighborhoods 2020. The work will include defining a racial equity analysis for neighborhood organizations, emphasizing outreach to people not currently engaging with such groups and drafting a logic model for Neighborhoods 2020 that will lay out hypothetical causes and effects to proposed changes.
The directive calls for finding a budget-neutral way for the city to continue to fund neighborhood groups. Since the launch of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program in the 1990s, neighborhoods have benefited from revenues produced by the city’s consolidated tax increment financing district. The district expires at the end of this year, and TIF district money will dry up by the end of 2020.
The community engagement directive will attempt to assess the strengths and weaknesses of how the city reaches out to residents today, clarify the roles of stakeholders and establish expectations for engagement citywide.
“How we communicate is one thing, how we evaluate our community engagement efforts is much broader,” said Council Member Linea Palmisano (Ward 13), who helped author the engagement directive with Bender and council members Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4) and Cam Gordon (Ward 2).