With Neighborhoods 2020, the city of Minneapolis is on track to change how it gives money to neighborhood organizations, which are often the guiding voices for the city’s policies on development, public safety and more. Here is a guide to better understand the plan — and what it could mean for different parts of Minneapolis.
Why are neighborhood organizations so important in Minneapolis?
They are 70 independent nonprofits that represent Minneapolis’ property owners, renters and visitors by neighborhood — often with paid staffs, regular meetings and skilled researchers. All groups elect volunteers as leaders, or board of directors, and shape decisions at City Hall by working hand-in-hand with elected leaders. But the groups, themselves, have no official political power.
The organizations’ work ranges from hosting block parties to analyzing development plans. About 100 volunteers with the Prospect Park Association, for example, spent hundreds of hours last year on a 45-page report to help guide development ideas in Minneapolis 2040, the city’s long-range plan for development. Other neighborhood groups did similar work. Critics of that process argued that the perspective of longtime homeowners, rather than renters, dominated that research — since a disproportionate amount of homeowners attended project meetings and voiced concerns. That is often the case for other efforts at the neighborhood level, even in areas where there are more renters than homeowners.
So what is Neighborhoods 2020?
Right now, it’s a 16-page report of recommendations that city staff hopes to turn into specific guidelines to make the organizations more racially and economically diverse. Its main objectives are these: to ensure leadership proportionally reflects neighborhoods’ renters and people of color, and to change how the groups are connected to the city via municipal funding. Ultimately, the plan would tighten Minneapolis officials’ control of neighborhood groups after decades of a shifting power dynamic.
Among other things, the report recommends that neighborhood organizations, in order to maintain city funding, should diversify their membership by race, gender, age, income, and homeowner and renter status; establish term limits for board members; share services and staff with other groups, and implement rules that are consistent citywide. It also proposes a city commission for oversight and a “Neighborhood Election Day,” or a special day for leadership elections. And if that happens, the city wants “an alternate method to vote” for people who can’t attend the elections in person.
Why is the city considering these changes now?
For years, neighborhood groups have collected money from a tax increment district that is set to expire at the end of this year, leaving the organizations with a $4 million budgetary shortfall in 2019 and more next year. The current funding structure is a result of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which began in the early 1990s and ultimately decentralized neighborhood development by giving the individual groups more autonomy. Some groups have received substantial money from grants or fundraisers outside the city, too. Under Neighborhoods 2020, much of the money flow would remain the same — just with new stipulations.
What do neighborhood organizations think of the proposed changes?
Some are skeptical of the city’s new ideas to tie municipal funding to their demographics, while still supporting the goals to diversify leadership. The Northside Neighborhood Council, which represents several associations in north Minneapolis, said in a statement the city should shift its analysis to the department overseeing the plan, Neighborhood & Community Relations, instead of the work of neighborhood organizations, among other suggestions. “Without equal intentional focus on the structure that holds that outcome, it fails to be work that is centered in equity or a genuine and authentic desire for meaningful impact in policy and procedure,” the statement says.
Council Member Steve Fletcher, who represents downtown and parts of northeast Minneapolis, said the initiative is part of the council’s commitment to broadening the type of people who interact with City Hall. “There’s going to be that tension [from] people whose voices have been heard — they’ve been at table — they’re losing power. We saw that expressed in the debate around the 2040 plan. We’re seeing it in the Neighborhoods 2020 conversation,” he said. “(There’s) legitimate anxiety about what does that change mean. …We are creating healthy tension in the community.”
The city’s Neighborhood & Community Relations is hosting a series of events for people to discuss the initiative over weeks, while also collecting feedback online and via phone and mail. Then, after the public comment window closes in March, staff will revise the plan in order to present it to the City Council in April, with the goal of writing new specific guidelines into city code this fall.