City aims to diversify neighborhood orgs

by Elizabeth Smith

A new program that aims to strengthen residents’ voices on neighborhood issues by incentivizing diversity within local organizations could rollout in Minneapolis. 
The proposed program, Blueprint for Equitable Engagement, would promote diversity in the city’s 70 neighborhood associations, city boards and committees so they better represent Minneapolis’ changing population. 
Minneapolis officials are in early talks of implementing the plan and are looking for the community’s input before moving forward.
A survey of neighborhood organization members released last month shows that they are generally white, own their homes and have some formal higher education, which some residents say doesn’t reflect the general Minneapolis population. 
Director of Neighborhoods and Community Relations David Rubedor said the program would give neighborhood organizations a financial incentive to meet higher diversity standards, which Minneapolis officials will determine after the plans receive comment from the community.
Currently, neighborhood funding is given out on an in-need basis, and Rubedor said his department is in the process of determining the amount of extra funding groups would receive if they met the standards. 
And if an organization failed to meet the new guidelines, Rubedor said the city could freeze its funding and end its status as a recognized neighborhood organization, though that’s the worst-case scenario.
Leaders of neighborhood organizations that surround the University of Minnesota say their groups sometimes have a challenging time getting renters and students involved.
“There’s a struggle between the competing interests of the homeowners and the student renters,” said Ricardo McCurley, director of the Southeast Como Improvement Association.
Of the neighborhood board members who took last month’s survey, about 15 percent  were renters. The percentage is comparatively small when many
Minneapolis neighborhoods are highly concentrated with renters, like in Southeast Como.
By reconfiguring the boards’ representation, some neighborhood leaders say the unequal balance between renters’ and homeowners’ input on community issues will improve.
“Sometimes, it almost feels like renters can do no right and homeowners can do no wrong,” SECIA Board Member and area business owner Chris Christopherson said.
McCurley said SECIA aims to involve the student renter population through its 10-year-old internship program. The association has 22 student interns, both paid and unpaid, who address issues like a neighborhood’s lack of lighting and environmental problems.
“Getting students involved in projects is really easy,” he said. “Getting them to be a constant member of boards and committees is very hard.”
Besides the new program, the city has worked to increase diversity on neighborhood boards and commissions by reaching out to underrepresented groups. 
But Rubedor said with the program, the department is trying a new way to monitor and incentivize how neighborhood organizations reach marginalized populations.
“Not everybody wants to sit on a neighborhood association board,” he said. “There’s a certain element in our population that likes to sit on boards and commissions.”
A draft of the program was heard in a City Council committee in March and is in a 45-day public comment period early next month. The program will go before the Council in July for final approval, Rubedor said.