Equity Analysis Makes Some Neighborhood Groups Feel Like They “Suck”

Last year, in the midst of deciding what future funding of neighborhood associations would look like, the City Council commissioned an equity analysis of how these groups function. The report concludes that various funding schemes overseen by the city for the last 30 years reveal “a system of institutional racism.” And, “it’s reasonable to conclude that equity has not been realized or advanced in neighborhood organization work to date.”

The report was presented to the City Council last week by C. Terrence Anderson of the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA). Council Member Lisa Goodman had the most colorful reaction, repeatedly telling Anderson that the results make “neighborhood folks” in her ward feel like they “suck.”

The CURA report finds that from 2013-2019, “white residents received 77% of the grants in a city where they make up 64% of the population.” Whites also had an approval rate 10% higher than their application rate. CURA’s conclusions are backed up by earlier research. One study (1993-2000) showed that 88% of NRP loan and grant recipients were white; another looked at 16 neighborhoods and found that recipients had incomes greater than the neighborhood median — “at times double and triple.”

CURA’s conclusions are also backed up by my own. My introduction to Minneapolis politics was attending neighborhood meetings, and briefly serving on the board of my neighborhood association. I spent a lot of time grappling with questions like:

Verdict of “Systemic Racism” Leads to Hurt Feelings

Goodman told Anderson that the report tells “the people who have worked for free in neighborhoods for however many years, ‘you guys suck, you didn’t do a good job.'”

Anderson clarified, “Can I just say very clearly I’ve never said that neighborhood associations suck… I’m not OK with that characterization.”

Goodman: “They feel that.”

Anderson: “Some feel that way.”

Goodman: “Multiple ones in my ward feel that way. Not just one.”

Anderson: “Good for them.”

Put Your “Feelings on Hold”

Council Vice-President Andrea Jenkins responded to Goodman with a sentiment that might help soothe the hurt feelings of neighborhood board members: “It’s the city. It’s our responsibility in fact, if there was any failure.”

Council Member Alondra Cano said it would help to “put our feelings on hold” in any conversation about systemic racism. “The whole point is not about looking at people’s intent, like ‘did you mean to be racist?’ … but more about, what is the outcome?”

Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said the report isn’t a “moral judgment.” It’s an an analysis of how money was spent and who benefited, “to help us decide and have an understanding of what does racial equity look like in the context of neighborhood associations.”

We Funded Things Besides “Stainless Steel Kitchens”

Goodman noted the NRP requirement that 52% of the money go to housing priorities, left a 48% opportunity for good stuff to happen. “I can tell you about all the stainless steel kitchens that were purchased in my ward [with NRP money], so I don’t disagree that a good amount of the money went to that, but that still means 48% of the money went to other things.”

It’s probably wrong to take it on faith that the 48% of money spent on non-housing priorities was spent advancing equity. I can tell you about one of Goodman’s Ward 7 neighborhood organizations, Lowry HIll, where the board re-allocated $225,000 from affordable housing to a fountain. Or the routine practice of spending neighborhood money to purchase extra police patrols from the Minneapolis Police Department. Or the tens of thousands of dollars spent developing small area plans that prioritize short buildings above all other housing considerations.

CURA’s Equitable Formula

The most equitable neighborhood funding formula (left) sends the most money to neighborhoods in North Minneapolis and along the spine of I-35 just south of downtown.

Last year, the City Council affirmed a commitment to $25,000 in minimum “base funding” to each neighborhood association. CURA’s report has a series of maps showing the problem with that approach: the higher you set the base funding, the more you preclude equitable funding. There’s also a map showing the swanky and sparsely populated Kenwood neighborhood receives a disproportionate per-capita share of city-funding. Last May, Council Member Steve Fletcher argued the $25,000 base funding was inherently inequitable, but his amendment to remove it was voted down (6-6).

CURA’s recommended funding formula is based on share of residents of color (50% weight), share of cost-burdened households (30%), and neighborhoods experiencing gentrification and displacement as determined by a 2019 CURA study (20%).

Council President Lisa Bender foreshadowed a coming debate about the funding formula: “I didn’t support the motion that allocated the $25,000 base amount…. You have shown us with data what a lot of us sort of thought might be true. The cynic in me wasn’t sure that the vote count would change with more information, and I’m still not sure what will happen.”

The “Shadow Report”

The Council voted against Goodman’s motion to make time on a future agenda to hear a rebuttal report (Cano called it a “shadow report”). The document was authored by former city employee and current consultant to neighborhood groups, Robert Thompson.

Thompson’s report accuses CURA of cherry-picking data. Anderson’s presentation anticipated and responded to that criticism with data for a neighborhood loan program highlighted by Thompson — five neighborhoods with lots of black loan recipients in North Minneapolis. Despite having a large number of black recipients relative to other parts of the city, the data still show whites receiving a disproportionate number of loans, relative to their share of the population in those neighborhoods (1993-2003).

  • Harrison – whites were 59% of loans, 24% of population
  • Jordan – whites were 40% of loans, 24% of population
  • Near North – whites were 30% of loans, 15% population
  • Cleveland – whites were 67% of loans, 52% population
  • Willard Hay – whites were 21% of loans, 16% population

(In a recent debate hosted by the League of Women Voters, Anderson asked Thompson if he’d read the CURA report prior to writing his rebuttal. Thompson couldn’t say yes, because the CURA report hadn’t been published yet.)

Cunningham referred to Thompson as someone who “has been vocal about their displeasure with NCR.” He said Thompson’s lack of neutrality meant he wouldn’t bring “good information” before the Council. Cano said she had unresolved questions about a “conflict of interest” due to Thompson’s status as a former city employee.

Thompson used to work for the city department overseeing neighborhood groups — Neighborhood and Community Relations. Prior to that he was employed as a staff person for the neighborhood organization in Loring Park. The website hosting Thompson’s report was initially published with an introductory message signed by eight people — four of them from Loring Park in Goodman’s Ward 7. Someone involved in a neighborhood association told me that Thompson’s name is on a list of people that NCR recommends to these groups for accounting services. All of which is to say, this guy’s life and livelihood is wrapped up in this stuff, so it’s fair to assume he’s not impartial.

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