Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association votes to divert $225k from affordable housing to a fountain

On a cold and snowy Tuesday night, the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association held a community vote to reallocate $225,000 in affordable housing money to rebuild a fountain in Thomas Lowry Park. The vote was 27-2 in favor.

The organization’s tentative plan is to spend a total of $300,000 on the fountain. Funding remains uncertain for the other half of the $600,000 total expected cost. The hope is that it would be covered by a combination of donations, local government funding, or contributions from nearby neighborhood organizations.

The Seven Pools Fountain at Thomas Lowry Park was described by the LHNA board chair as being towards the end of its life and beyond the help of normal repairs. Funding from the Park Board is considered unlikely because the predominantly white, wealthy neighborhood scores poorly on an “equity matrix.”

One resident predicted dramatic decline for neighborhood property values if the fountain were to be neglected: “If you let the park look like a third world park you’re gonna get a third world price perhaps on your real estate.”

A board member and longtime resident described how the park used to be a “problem” for the neighborhood, and that it was important to continue investing their NRP money into the park, as they have in the past.

(A few hours after the meeting, an LHNA board member accused me of inventing the quote about “third world” property values, so I have produced the audio. A good reminder that people say very shitty things at these meetings all the time–it may fly right over your head, but you should resist the urge to tell people it’s all a lie, and they didn’t just hear what they just heard.)

(edit: he has since apologized)

Another board member said the population density of the neighborhood is greatest around this park and that investing in the fountain “is a wonderful way to give back to those residents.”

A resident speaking in favor of funding the fountain described the park as “a treasure for the whole city as far as I’m concerned.”

LHNA initially received this money as a part of Minneapolis’ Neighborhood Revitalization Program that was intended to bring about the “physical revitalization” of a city in decline. Neighborhoods with large populations, lower incomes, and more renters received more money. While Lowry Hill is not a low-income neighborhood, it does have quite a few apartment buildings clustered along Hennepin Avenue. 60% of Lowry Hill residents rent their home. The neighborhood received a larger share of NRP dollars because of those residents.

Another stat: 51% of Lowry Hill is between the ages of 18 and 44; last night’s meeting skewed significantly older than that.

LHNA had originally done a pretty innovative and progressive thing with their NRP money: they loaned the money to help build affordable housing. Other neighborhoods didn’t do that–they offered low- or no-interest home improvement loans to existing homeowners. (My neighborhood organization offered, among other things, a forgivable loan for owners of historic houses.)

When the money that LHNA loaned out to build affordable housing was paid back, it became eligible to spend on other priorities. Roughly half of NRP funds were originally required to go to housing priorities, but once a loan is repaid that money is no longer restricted.

The LHNA board chair highlighted their intention to come back next month to consider investing $100,000 in affordable housing. He said the idea wasn’t ready for a vote last night.

What could the $225,000 have been used for if the neighborhood had decided to reaffirm its investment in affordable housing? On Colfax Ave in Lowry Hill, just a 5 minute walk to the south of the $600,000 fountain, is the site of a proposal to build affordable housing and services targeted at youth aging out of foster care. These are young people most at risk for becoming homeless. The foundation behind the proposal secured the property at 1930 Hennepin Ave in 2017. They’ve spent two years applying for public funding, but are still trying to cobble together the financing to get the project built.