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Minneapolis officials say they need more time to formulate neighborhood association plan

The city is bringing in researchers from the University of Minnesota to learn about the challenges of neighborhood leaders and to see why others don’t participate in neighborhood groups.

From the start, neighborhood leaders citywide have criticized the city’s approach, arguing that it’s a misguided attempt to diversify neighborhood leadership that could force some of the groups to combine or shut down completely.
MinnPost file photo by Corey Anderson

After heated meetings that exposed Minneapolis residents’ opposition to the city’s goal of asserting greater control over neighborhood associations this spring, city staff told Minneapolis City Council members Monday that they need more time to research the city’s current relationship with the organizations before making any changes.

David Rubedor, director of Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR), told the council’s Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights, and Engagement Committee that his team will miss an original deadline of Oct. 28 to come up with specifics for Neighborhoods 2020, the new program that aims to diversify the Minneapolis’ 70 neighborhood associations, which receive funding from the city. In May, the council approved a preliminary framework for the initiative without any details about how the city should leverage those dollars to accomplish that goal. 

“Now we’ve had a chance to kind of rest on this a little bit,” Rubedor said.

The project has moved more slowly than the city originally expected. Rubedor released recommendations for Neighborhoods 2020 in January, with the intention of establishing a new program by the end of 2019, when the mechanism that funds the groups, a tax district, dries up. NCR saw the expiring funding plan as a prime time for changing the city’s relationship with neighborhood groups and establishing new rules for leadership. Historically, white homeowners have made up a disproportionate amount of neighborhood association board members, despite the city’s racial diversity and the fact that most residents are renters.

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But from the start, neighborhood leaders citywide have criticized the city’s approach, arguing that it’s a misguided attempt to diversify neighborhood leadership that could force some of the groups to combine or shut down completely. 

David Rubedor
David Rubedor
In May, the council approved the framework for Neighborhoods 2020 on a 7-5 vote a move that established the original Oct. 28 deadline for program guidelines, as well as a plan to hire an outside consultant to help NRC. 

Supporters of the plan said the approval was needed to provide legal groundwork for the city to fund neighborhood groups next year, even though the Neighborhoods 2020 plan is not done. In August, as part of his 2020 budget plan, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proposed keeping funding for the groups at existing levels over the next five years by dipping into the city’s general fund rather than relying on tax increment financing.

“What happened in May was a lot of conversation, a lot of anxiety about how neighborhoods were going to be funded, where they were going to get their money from, and at the same time we were trying to talk about changes in programming,” Rubedor said Monday. “We have answered, in essence, that funding question. We can now, I think, really focus on the programming without the kind of the backdrop of wondering where the money’s going.”

Consultants selected

Since the framework’s approval in May, NCR staff has reviewed six applications for the consultant position and interviewed two finalists. In the end, the city selected researchers within the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) to help them, and Rubedor said the hiring process is among the reasons for the new timeline for Neighborhoods 2020. 

Beginning this month, five researchers within CURA will start surveying members of neighborhood associations to learn about their challenges. They also plan to reach out to residents who aren’t involved in the groups to hear why they are not participating and what they want from neighborhood leadership.

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The researchers are planning to dive deep into city budgets over the past decades to determine whether the city has favored groups in more affluent neighborhoods than those with more economic and racial diversity. The academics are calling the entire research project a Racial Equity Analysis, and they plan to release their findings in November.

C. Terrance Anderson
C. Terrence Anderson
“We really want to start there to get a clear picture of what’s happening, what’s not happening with neighborhood associations, as well as looking at the representation gap,” said researcher C. Terrence Anderson, CURA’s director of community programs. “[It’s] looking at it more complexly than just whose faces, what color are those faces on different boards, but really what is the experience more deeply that people are having on those neighborhood boards, as well.”

In addition to the partnership with U of M researchers, NCR is reshaping its internal staff exploring how the city should administer Neighborhoods 2020 so that groups maintain autonomy. Rubedor said it’s too soon to say whether neighborhood groups’ annual municipal funding will be part of the new accountability measures.

“If a neighborhood is not a good performer, what are we going to do in order to help either get that to change or what do we do about it?” Rubedor said. “The approach is intended to be much more supportive in helping identify where neighborhoods need assistance.”

What’s to come

Under the new timeline, the city is planning to release a draft of the new rules and accountability metrics in January. Then, they say they’ll oversee a 45-day public comment period and bring back revised guidelines for Neighborhoods 2020 in March, with the hopes of receiving final council approval in April or before city departments submit their budget requests for 2021.

Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
After that, Rubedor said the city will give neighborhood groups a year or so to adjust to the new guidelines, considering they will likely require changes to the groups’ bylaws or new leadership elections.

At the council committee meeting Monday, Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins emphasized concerns from neighborhood leaders who question the groups’ changing relationship to the city, while Council Member Cam Gordon said he appreciated seeing an adjusted time window and a team of researchers ready to flesh out next steps. 

Meanwhile, Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who was among the five council members who voted against passing the preliminary framework in May, highlighted the work ahead. “We want to make sure that we … reflect the shifting demographics of our city,” he said. “It was a challenging conversation [this spring] … and I think what we really pulled out of that is how do we do this work in a new, collaborative, thoughtful way.”