Almost three years ago, our city councilperson and many other Minneapolis officials and representatives came to Farview Park to make a promise to Hawthorne neighborhood, and specifically, EcoVillage residents. “Hang on. It’s going to get better. We’re working with you on this.” That promise was an extension of a decades-old commitment made to Minneapolis neighborhoods through Neighborhood Revitalization Programs. The work that Hawthorne residents did together with virtually every level of city government was nothing short of astounding. One resident, Peter Teachout, even garnered accolades from our city council for his heroism as he stood up to the criminal element on his block. Although neighbors like Peter have kept their end of the bargain, this week, the city council broke their promise and commitment to our neighborhoods.
The initial proposition from the city council went so far as to freeze virtually every dime in neighborhood organizations’ coffers. That was scaled back to allow some funds to be utilized, but eliminated uncontracted NRP Phase II money. In the name of equitable distribution, neighborhoods that haven’t yet spent 50% of their Phase II funds would now be graciously allowed to keep half of what has been anticipated. The mayor’s budget holds neighborhoods hostage, in hopes that we will be relieved at keeping half of what was committed to us. But our communities should not suffer from Stockholm syndrome, nor should we be grateful that we have been given one black eye instead of two.
Additional information on NRP/Property tax decisions
OPINION | NRP and Politix by Cam Gordon
OPINION | RT’s tax policy making me a three-time loser by Justin Eibenholzl
The University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) has prepared a series of maps showing the impact of NRP. Click below for PDF maps:
In the Hawthorne neighborhood, where I am employed as Housing Director, we stand to lose almost $730,000 – even under the current proposal allowing neighborhoods to keep half of their original Phase II money. To the south of us, the Near North and Willard-Hay neighborhoods (NRRC) don’t fare as well. Having spent almost half of their funds, NRRC would be left with less than $70,000. Five north Minneapolis neighborhoods have already exceeded the council’s 50% threshold, and would not see another dime of Phase II money from NRP. Aside from NRRC, the Jordan neighborhood would be among the hardest hit, losing out on over $400,000 that has been promised to them. Collectively, north Minneapolis neighborhoods stand to lose over $2.8 million.
The Kenwood neighborhood, while not in need of significant NRP or Neighborhood and Community Relations funding, would actually see a $3,000 increase in such funding in 2011. Talk about “equitable distribution!”
Last year our mayor and city council began dismantling the NRP framework and funding in spite of the fact that quite literally every single person who spoke at public hearings was against the move. So it’s hard to see this budgetary sneak attack as anything but the culmination of a planned power grab. However, either many of our current council exhibited thespian credentials worthy of an evening at the Guthrie or their dilemma of how to balance the budget was genuine. “I will lose friends over this,” claimed a visibly shaken CM Colvin Roy when trying to navigate the decision between lowering taxes and continuing neighborhood funding.
If we are considering a true cost and savings analysis, the dilemma needn’t be this way. The proposal to freeze Phase II money entirely would save a taxpayer with a $197,000 house only $42 per year. Leaving aside the dearth of $197,000 houses in many of the neighborhoods directly affected by the cuts, allowing 50% of Phase II to remain will save even less. And according to NRP director Bob Miller, every dollar of NRP funds spent in Minneapolis leverages four dollars of additional investment. In Hawthorne, we had only sixteen boarded and vacant homes in July of 2002. By March of 2009, that number had mushroomed to 144. During roughly the same time period, over 180 households received down payment or rehab loans through NRP funds, and only fifteen of those homes have become vacant. Five of those fifteen received funds assisting development partners such as PPL or even the city of Minneapolis in the acquisition, rehab, or demolition of those structures. Even as the housing crisis exploded around us, those homes impacted by NRP funding became a shelter from the storm.
Much of the acquisition activity has recently been concentrated in the Hawthorne EcoVillage, along with funds that helped create a tree nursery that has distributed over fifty free trees across north Minneapolis, and new buyers have utilized down payment funds to make their transactions viable. These efforts contributed to national recognition from the MetLife Foundation and a $15,000 award to the Minneapolis Police Department that will be used to further reduce crime in Hawthorne. Toney Xiong, the owner of the Bangkok Market in the EcoVillage, has said the lower crime rates and neighborhood development have stabilized his grocery and deli business in spite of a turbulent economy. As a result, he has made significant renovations and additions to his business and purchased two rental properties in Hawthorne. Toney has done this without a penny of NRP funding.
Neighborhoods across Minneapolis have used NRP not to become dependent on an operating revenue stream, but with the goal of fostering a healthy socioeconomic climate in which such programs become less and less needed. The city council should eliminate any cuts to NRP from its current budget. Not merely because of a promise made to residents across the city, but for a far more simple yet profound reason: NRP works.