David Rubedor, Director, Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, City of Minneapolis
Over the past few years, the City of Minneapolis has been working to dismantle systems that create inequity and exclusion. Major City initiatives to this end include new policies such as a higher citywide minimum wage, paid safe and sick time and Municipal ID ordinances. Additionally, the City’s newly revised comprehensive plan, Minneapolis 2040, eliminates exclusionary zoning for single-family housing. Now, the City is working to improve equity in the neighborhood organization system.
The Neighborhood Organization System
Minneapolis has 70 nonprofit neighborhood organizations representing 87 neighborhoods. These organizations mobilize residents to address issues within their geographic areas like affordable housing, park improvements, youth programming, arts, voter turnout, crime and safety initiatives, business development, community gatherings and farmers markets, to name a few. The City recognizes that neighborhood organizations are uniquely positioned to identify local needs and that a robust neighborhood system greatly benefits Minneapolis. Improving equity in this vital area will help make the city even stronger.
Neighborhood organizations hold significant influence in city government nationwide. The article The Strength of Citizen Government: Local Grassroots Advocacy in Nonprofit Quarterly cited a Texas A&M study of the city councils of 50 large cities in the US. The study found that neighborhood associations, compared to other advocacy groups, have more regular contact with council members. 56.8% of council members report having met with neighborhood association representatives in a given month, compared with only 28.6% having met with nonprofits in general. In Minneapolis, neighborhood organizations exercise this political access in addition to receiving considerable financial support through two different programs—the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and the Community Participation Program—together totaling over $250 million in funding over the past 27 years.
Diversity in Neighborhood Boards
Since 2014, Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) has measured diversity in the City’s neighborhood organization boards with a biennial survey of board members, focusing on 8 demographic measures—disability, gender, age, income, race, formal education, renter status and sexual orientation. NCR then compares the data with overall city demographics. It is important that the leadership of neighborhood organizations reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods, as boards allocate resources and make important decisions about neighborhood programming, funding and staffing. The surveys consistently show low participation in leadership roles from renters and people of color.
Beginning in 2017, NCR has met with community leaders, neighborhood organizations and elected officials to discuss the role that the neighborhood organization system and NCR should play in meeting the needs of our growing city after the year 2020. This project is called Neighborhoods 2020. The Neighborhoods 2020 vision is to have an inclusive community where all people are valued, all communities are engaged, and leadership mirrors the great diversity of the city. The City of Minneapolis, neighborhood organizations and community organizations work together to create a community engagement system that is both people and place focused, recognizes the unique strengths and limitations of neighborhoods, and creates space for ideas, people and planning.
Over 1300 members of the public have participated in the Neighborhoods 2020 process through meetings, public comment periods and visioning sessions. In 2018, NCR established three work groups with representatives from neighborhood organizations, cultural groups, experts in equity and antiracism, and City Council and mayoral appointees to draft policy recommendations using the insights that NCR gathered during its extensive community engagement process. The Neighborhoods 2020 Framework Recommendations compiles recommendations from these meetings for future programming and funding, governance of the neighborhood system, and the creation of a community engagement policy for city government.
Neighborhoods 2020 Recommendations
Neighborhoods 2020 elevates the City’s role as a funder, which is a shift in the relationship between the City and its neighborhood associations. The new framework proposes a number of recommendations that will increase representation, equity and awareness of neighborhood organizations, they are:
- An opt-in system. One of the biggest changes is that the neighborhood program becomes an opt-in system. Organizations that don’t want to adopt new program guidelines may choose to operate without City funds.
- Ensuring diversity on neighborhood boards. Neighborhoods 2020 proposes tying funding allocated to each neighborhood organization in part to the diversity of their leadership boards. Boards would need to reflect the diversity of their community to be eligible for funding.
- Incentivizing collaboration. Neighborhoods 2020 recognizes that independent community organizations are effective at engaging certain cultural communities, so it proposes financial incentives to encourage collaboration between community organizations and neighborhoods.
- Eliminating barriers to participation. The recommendations propose establishing new minimum standards for neighborhood organizations, covering everything from the groups’ bylaws and financial accounting to outreach efforts. The purpose is to provide greater consistency across all 70 organizations so that any resident of Minneapolis knows how they operate and can get involved. Current funding programs allow neighborhoods to set their own membership requirements, annual meetings and election processes, resulting in inconsistencies that can be a barrier to participation. Neighborhoods 2020 tries to balance grass-roots autonomy with accessibility.
- Same day elections for neighborhood boards. Neighborhoods 2020 proposes to simplify the rules and the board election processes and is exploring a “Neighborhood Day” when all neighborhood board elections would take place. This would enable the City to be a more active partner in educating all residents about the value of neighborhood organizations and how they can vote or serve on their neighborhood boards.
The Neighborhoods 2020 policy recommendations are currently open for public comment through the end of March 2019. NCR will then present the recommendations to Minneapolis City Council for consideration in April. NCR anticipates that the recommendations from Neighborhoods 2020 will be implemented in 2020.
The City of Minneapolis recognizes the tremendous value of our neighborhood system and is working to ensure that all voices are welcome and heard. The work of neighborhoods will only be stronger with true, diverse representation.
 The Strength of Citizen Government: Local Grassroots Advocacy, Jeffrey Berry, 2015, Nonprofit Quarterly