Confusion and frustration were apparent during an April 20 focus group held by the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Relations Department (NCR) to discuss future funding options for neighborhood groups. The meeting at the Farview Community Recreation Center on Minneapolis’ North Side was attended by members of the Hawthorne and Beltrami neighborhood groups as well as a local business owner.
The meeting was small, with fewer than half a dozen community members in attendance. The members of both the Beltrami and Hawthorne neighborhood groups were friendly with the NCR staff, and for the most part seemed to know each other well from past projects. It was clear that these neighborhood groups knew the ins and outs of the old NRP system well, but were uncertain about how, and even if, they could improve their neighborhoods under the new normal of NRC and NCED.
Until December 14, all 81 Minneapolis neighborhoods had access to funds from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) II program, which extended the very popular, nationally and internationally acclaimed NRP I program, a twenty-year endeavor to improve the city’s neighborhoods by giving direction of redevelopment dollars to local neighborhood organizations.
On December 14, the City Council froze $12.68 million, more than 50 percent of NRP II dollars, earmarking the money for property tax relief. On April 1, the city council voted to release 21 percent of that money.
|Sorting out the alphabet soup|
NRP – Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was authorized by the state legislature in 1990 as a 20-year, $20 million per year program funded by tax increment financing (TIF) in two phases through 2009, with further funding through 2020.
NCR – Neighborhood and Community Relations was established by the Minneapolis City Council in 2010 as a city department under the Minneapolis City Coordinator’s office, to replace NRP.
NCEC – Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC) was created by the city council as an advisory task force.
During the meeting, Hawthorne neighborhood group members asked to know what funds are available, on what they can be spent, and who to contact at the city to get things done. Because the $12.68 million frozen by the city was all money that was yet to contracted out, some voiced fears they must spend funds or lose them. Bev Scherrer of the Hawthorne neighborhood group attempted to pin down a date by which funds must be spent, questioning whether funds must be spent within a fiscal year, or 12 months from disbursal. The NRC staff had no clear answer on that yet.
Members of the Hawthorne neighborhood group expressed concern that with so little city funding, it will be extremely difficult to recruit others to donate to neighborhood projects. North Siders feel the loss of the revitalization dollars acutely. Some Hawthorne residents questioned the need for funds in wealthier sections of Minneapolis, such as Lake of the Isles, which is classified as needing protection. A middle classification, revitalization, applies to neighborhoods such as Seward and Standish.
Last year, the NCR adopted an eight-factor, needs-based formula for disbursing funds in accordance with neighborhood requests. Some key factors include the number of residents, number of ESL (English as a Second Language) residents, overall diversity, the number of houses, number of foreclosures, and crime levels. In light of neighborhood feedback, the NCR may keep this formula, or alter it. Other possible changes include funding the existing neighborhood groups to a much lower level, while keeping a second pot of money distributed based on grant applications, or doing only one of these two options.
A significant amount of confusion stems from the city’s efforts to revamp the groups that oversee the neighborhood revitalization funds and policies at the city level. It recently replaced the NRP board with the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department (NCR) and a sixteen-member Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC). For more information, see Fighting City Hall – Neighborhood Revitalization Program versus City of Minneapolis.
Many of the NRP’s staff transferred to the newly formed groups. Neighborhood Support Specialist Robert Thompson, who led the focus group, formerly worked for NRP, as did Stacy Sorenson and Carrie Day Aspinwall, other Neighborhood Support Specialists present at the focus group. NCEC commissioners Matt Perry (Ward 2) and Jeff Strand (Ward 1) also attended.
Still, neighborhood organizations are not always clear about who to call or even what acronyms are current. A member of the Beltrami neighborhood group said that they have started putting the new acronyms on the agenda of every meeting, just to keep their members up to date. At one point, Susan Friedman, the only person in attendance who was not a member of a neighborhood group, requested flash cards of all the acronyms being thrown around.
Four focus groups will be held in all. The second occurred Monday, April 25, at the Lyndale Farmstead Recreation Center. The third will be on April 27 at the Matthews Recreation Center, and the fourth on April 28 at the Audubon Recreation Center, both from 6:30-8 p.m. The NCR is accepting written comments through the end of the month. Participants need not be residents of the particular neighborhood to attend. Thompson said that the NCR and Commissioners anticipate a complete plan for funding neighborhood organizations by July.