Neighborhoods 2020: an unclear future for neighborhood associations

The Northside Neighborhoods Council (NNC), a group of neighborhood association leaders, meets monthly to discuss collaborative advocacy and projects.  Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

The Northside Neighborhoods Council (NNC), a group of neighborhood association leaders, meets monthly to discuss collaborative advocacy and projects. Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

By Kenzie O'Keefe Editor 

The city’s funding source for neighborhood associations (NAs) to do community engagement work will dry up come Jan. 1, 2021. NA leaders in North Minneapolis fear that the process to determine how the city does engagement after that time may significantly weaken their ability to serve their communities.

Minneapolis’ 70 NAs are independent nonprofits, primarily, and often entirely, funded through two city sources: the Community Participation Program (CPP) and The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP).

CPP, the sunsetting source of community engagement funding, is supported by property taxes gathered through a tax-increment financing district that will expire at the end of 2019. “Come Jan. 1, 2021 there is no longer an ongoing funding stream for neighborhood organizations in the City. That’s the date we need to have everything in place to be able to continue with our place-based neighborhood system in the city,” said David Rubedor, director of the City’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department (NCR), which serves as a liaison between NAs and the city. 

City leaders appear committed to funding community engagement efforts out of the the city's general fund in the future, but exactly how NAs factor into the engagement strategy and the level of funding they will receive is up for discussion.

NAs have been criticized by NCR and community members for lacking diversity and being inaccessible to their residents. Some Northside NAs, like Folwell and Webber Camden, have undergone significant leadership overhauls in recent years in response to that criticism. NCR has been implicated in the dysfunction, accused by several NA leaders of providing inadequate support and financial oversight.

“NCR has been tasked with overseeing our work. They have failed miserably,” said Cleveland NA Executive Director Kirstel Porter. 

Rubedor says it's more complicated: “When neighborhoods experience significant conflict, which is often the case with major leadership changes, NCR's role is to make sure the NA follows the CPP program guidelines, adheres to its own governance, such as bylaws, and offer conflict resolution support if and when possible. We don't advocate for one particular side of the conflict. This can leave some residents frustrated.”

A collective of Northside NA leaders, including Porter, meet monthly in a group called the Northside Neighborhood Council (NNC). Together they have been advocating for city support that empowers them to implement supports and services specific to the unique needs of their neighbors. 

“What we want is a more minimal structure that could support the work while allowing each NA its autonomy,” said Dani Tietjen, chair of the NNC and staff member at Folwell NA.

As the city evaluates its community engagement strategy, Rubedor says there is a desire to take a more “comprehensive” approach by bringing together the city’s “place-based” and “people-based” strategies. Right now, NAs are critical to place-based engagement strategies and cultural groups and organizations have been vital to “people-based” engagement. 

NAs received over eight million dollars in city funding in 2018. “People-based” funding received around $257K, according to Rubedor. Some leaders from Northside NAs worry that the city’s effort to bring together these strategies will lead to money being siphoned away from their budgets.

“We are fighting to be valued at the city level as necessary agents of placed-based organizing. While our history is complicated, major work has happened in turning these institutions into vibrant, reflective, agents of change,” said Tietjen.

Rubedor is sympathetic to that fear. “I can easily see where neighborhood organizations may feel it adds more competition to the pot in essence; that we’re spreading it thinner. That’s not really the intent here,” he said.

Porter says NAs offer more than just place-based engagement.  “'People-based' engagement is what we do every day.  We are intentional about understanding the needs of our white, black, Hmong, Native American, Latino, Christian,  Jewish, Muslim, LGBT, disabled communities, etc," she said.

“As we move forward, when we move from a framework and actually into the program, making sure that we don’t adversely affect it to result in one against the other but to be really a symbiotic relationship where they’re supporting each other,” Rubedor said.

Additionally, Rubedor says the city hopes to make its community engagement processes more simple; they want to see representation in NA leadership diversified, and they want to implement better service from NCR staff. “We know we can do better.” he said, promising that NCR would “shift” moving forward. 

THE FUTURE PLANNING PROCESS

To have a plan in place for the future of city-supported community engagement work by the time CPP funds are gone, NCR initiated a project called Neighborhoods 2020.

Neighborhoods 2020 began in 2017 when city staff held five open community meetings across the city to gather community input from over 700 attendees. “That was really the beginning of this conversation on what should we be doing with our neighborhood organizations and also why they are important,” said Rubedor.

In May of 2018, NCR brought findings to the City Council, which established three workgroups comprised of neighborhood association and community-based organization representatives and city government appointees. They were charged with coming up with recommendations for: 1) programs, funding and implementation, 2) governance structure and 3) a citywide community engagement framework.

According to NCR, those workgroups met 28 times between August and December of 2018. After that, five community meetings were held to “open up a dialogue” around the group’s recommendations, according to Rubedor. 

The workgroups then incorporated feedback from those meetings into final recommendations. They handed them off to NCR, which then released its own recommendations on Jan. 28. “We’re substantially building off what the work groups came up with. …I don’t see a major deviation from what the workgroups came up with,” Rubedor said in early January before the recommendations were released.

The recommendations can be found at www.minneapolismn.gov/ncr/2020. A public comment period for them runs now through March 31. To ensure ample feedback, NCR leaders have scheduled several public meetings throughout the city to discuss the recommendations and will have a large presence at the Community Connections Conference on Feb. 2. “Our goal is for there to be a dialogue,” said Rubedor.

So far, the workgroup recommendations have not eased the discomfort some Northside NA leaders feel about the future. At an NNC meeting in January, attendees expressed fear that NCR is being given too much top down power over their organizations and that its measurements to hold them accountable to diversity goals are “limited and faulty” and need to be more accurately measurable. They are not convinced the city is committed to making NAs a “forever part” of its planning. They plan to rally their residents to provide feedback during the public comment period.

NCR hopes to present final framework recommendations to the City Council’s PECE Committee in April. From there, the council is anticipated to direct them to build out program specifics. 

Kenzie O'Keefe