A consultant who has challenged a University of Minnesota study concluding funding for Minneapolis neighborhood organizations propped up racial inequities will not get to present his report to the City Council.
Minneapolis is approaching a deadline for Neighborhoods 2020, a multi-year plan to reimagine the goals and funding formula for the city’s 70 neighborhood organizations.
As part of the effort, the City Council hired the U of M’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) to analyze the program’s history through a racial equity lens and make recommendations on how the program could be more equitable moving forward. In January, CURA released its findings, which showed that neighborhood group funding largely benefited middle-class homeowners, who in Minneapolis were and remain disproportionately white, and thus propped up historical inequities.
But there has been some resistance to CURA’s findings, with some members of neighborhood organizations feeling the analysis slights their past community work.
Robert Thompson, a consultant with deep ties to the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), put out a report defending his former organization’s work by challenging CURA’s findings and arguing that the U of M cherry-picked data to make the work of neighborhood organizations seem less equitable. Thompson’s report was based on CURA’s initial summary of its findings and published before CURA’s full analysis was released.
On Feb. 12, while CURA’s C Terrence Anderson presented the report to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole, Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) asked her colleagues to allow Thompson to present his report to the body on Feb. 26. That motion was rejected 7-6, with several council members arguing that the body should defer to the consultant hired by the city.
Goodman told CURA she thought the group picked data that fit a desired outcome and said the lack of data from the more robustly funded NRP era makes it seem not comprehensive. She said many neighborhood organizations in her ward feel the study is intended to shame them for their work over the years.
“I think what they would say is, ‘Don’t discount the work that we did. We feel like you’re calling us racist,’” Goodman said.
Anderson denied cherry-picking data and said CURA used all data provided by the city that measured outcomes by race. Record keeping during NRP was poor, he said, but CURA did analyze all past studies on the NRP program and found research consistently pointing out a disproportionate amount of benefits went to white homeowners and that white homeowners have been overrepresented on neighborhood boards.
The goal of the racial equity analysis, Anderson said, is not to deny good work done by neighborhood associations over the years but to recognize that outcomes disproportionately benefited white households.
“This is not a moral judgment — it’s data,” Ward 4 Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said.
A look at the data
Thompson, the author of the rebuttal study, worked for NRP for 12 years from the late 1990s to 2010, when the city created the Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department. He was part of the group that helped develop the Community Participation Program (CPP) that succeeded NRP and has since gone on to do consulting work for many neighborhood groups.
He said he was not paid to produce his 20-page response report. He and Dave Ellis, who also has a long history working with neighborhood groups, also applied to be the city’s consultant for conducting the racial equity analysis and producing a new funding framework for Neighborhoods 2020 — the role for which CURA was selected.
On Feb. 4, The League of Women Voters hosted a well-attended discussion between Thompson and CURA’s Anderson, in which both were able to share their findings.
Thompson disagrees with CURA’s assessment that the CPP funding scheme was more equitable than previous NRP allocations. While NRP dollars clearly went to more diverse neighborhoods with lower incomes, CPP funding was more even across the board, according to Thompson’s data.
CURA’s analysis agrees with Thompson’s findings that CPP funding gave similar amounts to wealthier neighborhoods as it did to poorer neighborhoods. CURA believes CPP prioritized equality over equity — that is, it tried to evenly spread resources by population instead of advantaging poorer, more racially diverse neighborhoods experiencing gentrification and displacement. But because CPP made greater efforts to bring racial diversity and renters to neighborhood boards, CURA found it to be a more equitable program than NRP.
Thompson believes the NCR department is trying to delegitimize neighborhood organizations as a voice in the city.
“What you’re seeing at work here is the expert view,” Thompson told the crowd at the League of Women Voters event, held at the Black Forest Inn in Whittier.
There are two main data sets that tie outcomes to race: 1) Neighborhoods distributed home improvement grants through the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) from 2013-19, and 2) Neighborhoods made loans through Northside Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) from 1993-2003, mostly in North Minneapolis.
CURA pointed out that white households made up 67% of applicants for housing benefits through CEE but received 77% of the funding from those programs.
When CURA released a draft of its analysis in mid-January, it included only the CEE example, though CURA did study NHS outcomes as well. Thompson was critical of CURA for releasing an initial summary of its equity analysis without showing all the data the organization used to conduct it.
Thompson noted that 56% of NHS loans went to black households, a statistic that is included in CURA’s full report, which was released the week of Feb. 7. CURA noted that while most NHS loans went to black households, even that program disproportionately funded white households because the loans were made in neighborhoods where black residents mostly outnumbered white residents.
No matter how residents feel about the analysis, CURA is recommending the City Council commit to incorporating racial equity work in Neighborhoods 2020.
“The challenge is not to litigate history; it’s to acknowledge it, move forward and do better,” Anderson said.