Are District Councils Really Just Homeowner’s Associations?

highland water tower 2

The Highland Park Water Tower

Recently my neighborhood had its yearly district council election here in Highland Park. I couldn’t help but notice as the newly elected grid representatives received the applause of their neighbors, who they were: five white home-owning men, three out of the five sporting white hair. Out of the seven seats in contention that night, only one seat was filled by a woman.

It is important that neighborhoods and distinct small regions within cities have a voice in their own governance. The existence of neighborhood organizations is important and a great way to address hyper local issues, but who do those five men we elected represent?

Certainly not the neighborhood they were ostensibly elected to represent. A neighborhood which is 48% renters. A neighborhood that’s half female. A neighborhood with a women’s college. A neighborhood with an East African community. A neighborhood with a Hasidic Jewish community. In respect to all those communities within our own, we failed.

A better designation for the group that night would have been the Highland Park Homeowner’s Association. That’s who was there. That’s who’s always there. Municipal community meetings can be a home away from home for older, wealthy homeowners, and it makes sense.  Every project and change in a neighborhood creates ripples that affect everyone living there including the wealthy.  Self governance is hugely important to people.

Why don’t the other communities show up? There are a few obvious problems. Meetings are held in the evening, disqualifying those who punch the clock at night. Then there are parents who either can’t find a sitter or would rather spend time with their kids. Our neighborhood election wasn’t even held in our neighborhood, so add anyone with mobility issues to the list.

I personally can speak to the renter’s part of the equation: we’re vilified at nearly every mention in community meetings. As some would have you believe, renters are a transient lot: litterers, noise makers, and rude to boot. It’s exhausting to hear a room breathlessly rake you across the coals because of how you pay for your home. (The temptation to justify their claims of rudeness begs satisfaction.) The incentive to not out yourself is hard to beat though. The last time I stood in favor of renters, an audible murmur of disapproval spread through the crowd, whose median age I had drastically lowered.

I won’t speak on behalf of the other groups, though the reasons not to show up aren’t much of a stretch of the imagination.  There isn’t a universe I can imagine where I’d enjoy listening to people, most of whom have a great many blessings, kvetch with such pointless determination.

Saint Paul District Councils and their counterpart neighborhood associations in Minneapolis have a strong voice at city hall, but in my opinion, it’s too strong. They carry the banner of entire neighborhoods, such that elected representatives appear with regular frequency to glad hand these groups.  Yet, with almost uniform predictability, they represent only the wealthiest and securest citizens in the district.  Most often, we find citizens who revel in the opportunity to say “no”, in order to protect nebulous ”character”, their personal sense of “aesthetic”, and their property values.

I’m not saying we should dismantle these organizations. Everyone’s voice is important. But so is perspective. Let’s rename them to “Homeowner’s Associations”, or reorganize them to put in place mandatory democratic structures, so that they reflect their community demographics.  A fine way to bring them back to reality would be to deny them official city recognition until they bend to accurately reflect the neighborhoods they bear in their name.


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44 Responses to Are District Councils Really Just Homeowner’s Associations?

  1. Anton Schieffer
    Anton Schieffer April 19, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    I can’t speak to St. Paul, but I definitely agree that neighborhood orgs in Minneapolis are dominated by homeowners, especially in neighborhoods that have lots of renters. It really impacts the agenda of those groups. New housing projects are almost always opposed or the costs of projects are driven up. Why advocate for more housing when you already have a place to live (with a fixed mortgage – not facing the upward pressure on rents others are dealing with)? Funds are usually spent on grants and loans for home improvement projects, which primarily benefit property owners.

    It would be nice if Minneapolis funded a citywide renters committee to the same extent they fund neighborhood orgs. Roughly half of the city’s population rents, and right now their voices are largely excluded at city hall.

  2. Serafina Scheel
    Serafina April 19, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    I’m wondering if there isn’t a window of opportunity now in Minneapolis with the leftover NRP housing money headed back to the neighborhood organizations. Those neighborhoods with Phase II plans that are more than seven years old will have to go through a new process to determine neighborhood priorities to allocate that money. What are they ways it could be used to help renters, particularly low-income renters?

    Perhaps we could come up with a set of ideas to promote at the city level or in our respective neighborhoods. There are a number of neighborhoods that haven’t used that funding very effectively in the past, but could do so if there were a coherent message about how this could help their neighbors who rent.

    An emergency grant/loan fund for renters needing short-term help with a deposit, utilities, rent? Funding dedicated to rental property improvements? Tapping in to expertise from existing renter organizations? Educating landlords about Section 8 rental and assisting with the process to get their properties approved?

    I’m sure there are others who have thought long and coherently about this, as well as about renter engagement in neighborhood issues. I’m still learning and looking for good ideas.

    Disclaimer: I’m on the board of the Prospect Park Association in Minneapolis but am speaking only for myself. I’m really interested in finding new mechanisms other than evening community meetings and online surveys to get feedback and ideas from neighbors who care but don’t engage that way.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke April 19, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughtful take on this difficult issue!

  3. Casey April 19, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    Tom, thanks for pointing out that community engagement is, in itself, a privilege few recognize as such.

  4. Adam Yust
    AJ April 19, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    Don’t boo, run. Why don’t more people run for DC’s, and change the system? You can send a thank you to the Fort Road Federation (District 9 Council) for saving Irvine Park, providing low income housing, redeveloping the Schmidt Brewery, saving Chestnut Street from becoming a freeway, renovating dozens of homes, and sticking up for equality. Though I agree there are issues, but nothing that can’t be fixed. Today, I am stepping down from the Federation after 3.5 years on the board – our neighborhood elections are tonight at the Summit Brewery (7pm). I am a gay, millennial, renter, and have been working to change opinions and outcomes rather than complaining. Don’t boo, run for office…

    • Peter Bajurny April 19, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

      This is a fine answer for the middle class, likely to be white resident. It’s not an option for people who, for various reasons Tom mentioned, are unable to attend these meetings.

      There’s this weird idea that it’s 1850 and we can all get together in the town Lutheran church after services and the community can make decisions, but that’s not a model that works anymore.

    • Morgan April 19, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

      I see one mention on the sidebar of your website, and your facebook page has almost nothing on it let alone an event page for the election. Here are the google results for a search specifically about the annual meeting: https://www.google.com/webhp?q=fort+road+federation+annual+meeting. How many residents do you think even know this is happening? How many do you expect will attend?

      • Emily April 19, 2017 at 3:59 pm #

        Morgan makes a really great point. I live in W7th, and I only learned of tonight’s meeting due to a contentious post on our neighborhood Facebook page. I feel like outreach is sorely lacking by the Federation.

        • Serafina Scheel
          Serafina April 19, 2017 at 5:11 pm #

          This points to a big problem. How does information about community meetings and neighborhood elections get disseminated? I’d love to hear ideas about better or additional ways to do this. Right now, notices only reach those who are already engaged.

          • Morgan April 19, 2017 at 9:59 pm #

            I’ve been the chair of the LHENA Renter Committee for the last few months and I’m moving to Whittier next week and plan work on similar issues there. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about.

            Tons of people don’t even know what neighborhood they live in or what the associations do. With all the money they have there is a ton of very basic work associations could be doing to increase engagement. Throwing social events and promoting them on facebook and in publications like citypages are very cheap and easy ways to do this. Making the annual meeting appealing instead of having it in the basement of an elementary school with uncomfortable seats where you listen to people shout at your city council member, for example.

            • Serafina Scheel
              Serafina April 20, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

              I’d love to connect for coffee or a beer sometime and hear about your ideas. Literally two-thirds of Prospect Park’s population is 18-24 years old. Thanks to a challenging process led by our board president (a renter) to change our by-laws, we now have a dedicated student seat and our board is shrinking from 40(!) to 17. Onerous residency requirements are history. We are planning new events with students for this fall partnering with some of the large apartment buildings, linking outreach about our organization to a few things that matter to students (voter registration drives for the city elections and info on renter advocacy groups).

              And I have to say that our annual meeting is fun. Free food and a reasonable cash bar at a neighborhood event center. Perhaps next year at Surly. No speeches, just a party, with election information disseminated ahead of time as much as possible and special nametags for candidates so people can flag them down to talk.

              • Morgan April 23, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

                Sure! I’ve seen you on twitter as Serafina, yeah? Sounds like you all are making great progress. I hope some day LHENA can become functional and decent and anything resembling that.

        • Morgan April 19, 2017 at 9:53 pm #

          I just got back from the Lowry Hill East annual meeting. Roughly 70-80 people for a neighborhood of more than 6000. The association could do a much much better job of improving turnout but an extra level of governance and elections in addition to federal, state, and city is just never going be all that representative. There’s a serious time tax involved here.

  5. Kyle April 19, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    “A neighborhood which is 48% renters. A neighborhood that’s half female. A neighborhood with a women’s college. A neighborhood with an East African community. A neighborhood with a Hasidic Jewish community. In respect to all those communities within our own, we failed.”

    No, people within those communities failed to show up.

    “Meetings are held in the evening, disqualifying those who punch the clock at night. Then there are parents who either can’t find a sitter or would rather spend time with their kids. Our neighborhood election wasn’t even held in our neighborhood, so add anyone with mobility issues to the list.”

    There are many white males in these situations as well.

    The people who are interested show up and the most most interested run. It’s really that easy. You simply can’t make someone who meets your diversity mandate show up and run then blame (allow me to quote the horror) “five white home-owning men, three out of the five sporting white hair” for the fact they are elected.

    Attitudes like this are so damn tiring. I am not the enemy! I care so I volunteered in my neighborhood association, but now because of the color of my skin I am deemed a problem.

    Ridiculous.

    • Casey April 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

      Kyle, you’re missing the point here. As a white man, I can calmly say that Tom (another white man) isn’t saying white men are the problem. What he’s saying is that the elected officials are hardly an accurate reflection of the community they are representing.

      And yes! there are white men and women who encounter the situations described wherein someone is unable to attend a meeting at night… Tom wasn’t saying those situations were exclusive to people of color. What he was saying, if I might paraphrase, is that we need to do a better job of making these community meetings accessible to everyone, acknowledging that no time is perfect, but perhaps weeknights are not the most ideal.

      There’s no such thing as a diversity mandate. That’s not what this is about. This is about creating and fostering an opportunity to honestly and accurately represent the people of a community.

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke April 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm #

    My take is that we, as Northern city dwellers, need to be very cognizant of the exclusionary history of homeownership associations in the US. Thomas Sugrue’s wonderful book about how race, housing, and economic opportunity intertwined in post-war Detroit is one great example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_the_Urban_Crisis). Chapter 8 and 9 about the rise of homeowners associations and the role they played in perpetuating racist housing and zoning rules, was very eye-opening for me.

    Another example, that I have blogged about here () is the true story behind the HBO mini-series :Show Me a Hero”, about white homeowner backlash against public housing in Yonkers, New York (a first-ring suburb). (Link is here: https://streets.mn/2015/09/03/you-have-to-watch-show-me-a-hero/)

    It’s naive at best and outright discriminatory at worst to ignore inequalities in our local neighborhood democratic structures, and it’s an obligation for neighborhood groups to make sure they represent all their constituents, not just the ones with money, time, or cultural caché. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if a un-representative neighborhood group is doing “the right things” if they’re composed of people who don’t reflect or include all parts of the neighborhood.

    That said, some are worse and better than others. In my time interacting with neighborhood groups in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul I’ve seen a wide range of approaches to inclusion, engagement, and representative democracy. (See one excellent example here: https://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2014/09/minneapolis-neighborhood-groups-try-bridge-renter-gap) The issue is one where we need to keep asking tough questions, and I appreciate Tom bringing it up again here.

    • Morgan April 19, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

      And if they like things just fine the way they are who’s going to make them make sure they represent the neighborhood?

    • karen April 20, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

      Thanks Bill, good points.

      Making sure everyone is represented is right thing to do.

      Another factor is understanding even some representation is not same as being an overwhelming majority at the table. Imagine, if you are at a meeting at table and everyone is an older woman and you are the only man and young at that…, or everyone at table latino and you are only white person there, even when you represent at least half of the neighborhood. Such situations make it hard for the single, or tiny minority representative to be as effective as when the whole crowd is with your perspective.

      Also, making sure everyone is represented is the smart thing to do. More and varied input almost always yields better results for general benefits of our neighborhoods.

  7. Sally Bauer April 19, 2017 at 3:53 pm #

    A correction: there were eight seats up for election, two women were elected. There are currently three women on the 16 member board. Clearly there is a representation problem.

    As one of the recently elected At Large Reps (I served as an alternate last year) and one of the three women on the board, I brought up the issue of poor representation at the meeting. It concerns me and I think there is a lot the District Council can do to improve outreach to more diverse groups. I will say, the article’s contention that it should become a Homeowners Association felt off base because we actually have renters on the board, I know of at least three, though clearly not the appropriate representation of the demographics of our neighborhood, would they no longer be able to participate if it was a home owners association? Their feedback is really valuable and an important part of the District Council. Should it also become a Mens Homeowners Association since it is predominantly men? I don’t think the right way to resolve the issue of representation is to narrow the very representation itself.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with homeowners associations, but to me part of what makes the Highland District Council really cool is that it does have a tie into the city and local politics. I’m excited about the visioning going into the District 15 plan, I hope it will help steer the District Council to think big and towards the future. I don’t see Homeowners Associations as serving the same role. I look forward to working to address some of the issues brought up in this article and make the District Council a place that truly represents the diversity of our neighborhood.

    • Peter Bajurny April 19, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

      The current idea is that District Councils (and neighborhoods in Minneapolis) represent the viewpoints of the residents in the areas they represent. But maybe that’s just not possible. Maybe the very foundational structure of these organizations is to blame for their representation problems.

      Despite the fact these organizations are treated as if they represent the viewpoints of all residents when they don’t is the problem. And turning them into “homeowners associations” would solve that. It makes clear whose opinion is being brought forth. Some kind of separate renter engagement would be needed in that situation.

      • Peter Bajurny April 19, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

        Put more simply, why does there need to be only a single organization that represents the views of everybody in a geographic area, and only the people in that geographic area?

        There’s this weird assumption that because that’s the current state, that that’s the only possible state of resident engagement. Shed your mind of all preconceived notions of how citizen engagement should happen. I think if you started from scratch, the odds of designating a single organization to speak for everyone in a single geographic area would be very low.

      • Serafina Scheel
        Serafina April 19, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

        Neighborhood organizations are strange beasts.

        In Minneapolis, most neighborhood organizations are freestanding nonprofits. They may get some formula funding from the city to work toward city goals and provide a basic operating budget, but they aren’t city entities. They provide kind of a shortcut for the city to get feedback on what neighbors in a certain area desire. Neighborhood organizations have very little legal teeth in the recommendations they make, but they do have a bully pulpit. I believe there’s no functional way to turn them into “homeowners associations” and create a similar but separate engagement structure for renters. And I don’t think the distinction is desirable. The challenge is to find ways to push and pull neighborhood organizations into becoming more representative of the voices they purport to serve.

        Minneapolis is doing it in a variety of ways, usually involving funding and measurement, but it’s moving slowly and unevenly given the vast number of recognized neighborhood organizations. In two years or so, the current city funding mechanism will end, and there’s a good chance it won’t be renewed or that neighborhoods which haven’t put equity and representation at the heart of their missions and work will have a much harder time finding outside funding and voice in city decision-making. Or maybe that’s just my hope.

        In any case, I’d fight tooth and nail to keep my neighborhood association from reverting to a homeowner’s group as it may have been in the past, and so would most of its members. There’s so much more that renters and homeowners and business representatives share in common about enhancing the livability and vitality of the places they choose to make their homes and earn their livelihood.

        • Peter Bajurny April 19, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

          They’re not really organizations funded by the city, but in the last council cycle CMs were tripping over themselves trying to lavish praise upon these organizations and give them an elevated standing in the Comp Plan engagement process.

  8. Thomas Mercier April 19, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

    I think you befell a common mistake. One attendee whose age is an outlier for being much younger (20-30 years) would not affect the median any more than someone who was only slightly younger (1-2 years). I think you meant that the mean age would be moved by your presence. And for the sake of including the third common measure for “average”, an outlier likely wouldn’t alter the mode either unless there were enough of a group of young folks to make things bimodal.
    Regardless, yes groups should strive to be representative of the groups they govern. And if they fail to do that they should at a minimum be inclusive of diverse opinions. It’s also important to remember that although established, old, white men might not as easily empathize with other less advantaged groups, to pigeon hole them all as not empathetic is just as distasteful as to assume all renters are not respectful. In essence proving each others stereotypes through the exercise of hypocrisy.

    • Lance Mercer April 19, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

      *you’re

  9. Scott April 19, 2017 at 6:35 pm #

    Obviously, neighborhood associations can do better engaging and involving members of their community. however, I do not accept that Highland Park’s experience represents all or most organizations without more evidence.

    Also, I cannot believe elected officials consider input from neighborhood groups as the final word about how people in a community feel about an issue. I imagine they consider the feedback along side input from City staff, business associations, comments on social media, and email/ phone contacts.

    Finally, most neighborhood associations spend their time working on things like park improvements, community events, neighborhood clean ups, and crime prevention- not opposing development projects. there are only a handful of neighborhoods in either City that are actually seeing much development. And, I’m not convinced the organizations are opposing or derailing development without actual data. A handful of examples from a couple mis-behaved organizations isn’t enough.

  10. Jonathan April 20, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    3/4 mile away, in the City of Mendota, it’s 200 residents vote for four Council members in elections (which last all day, and you can vote early or absentee) which are publicly financed and staffed. The names and major policy positions of candidates are published in local newspapers and online so people can make informed choices in advance.

  11. John Charles Wilson April 20, 2017 at 9:54 am #

    I used to live in Whittier and was somewhat involved with the Whittier Alliance. Though some would accuse the WA of being much like Highland (except with yuppies of both sexes instead of old men), my observation is they *tried* to get others to show up and get involved. There are at least two problems I can see:

    1) With the diverse schedules people live by, there is *no* time of day or day of week where you can count on everyone being able to show up for a meeting. The best you could do is take a survey and aim for the day/time where the most people are available.

    (I used to be the coordinator of an organisation and meeting planning was a b . The ideal meeting time for everyone except one person was Sunday afternoon. When I tried to please that one individual by having a meeting on Saturday or a weekday evening, attendance dropped to near zero. You just can’t please everyone.)

    2) Getting information to everyone, especially where diverse cultures and/or languages are involved, is very hard. The WA had a website and would post leaflets around the neighbourhood, including taping them to doors. However, they had limited translation resources, so most of their information was in English only. In Whittier, you need to be able to communicate in Somali and Spanish to be fully inclusive. In many other parts of town, Hmong is also a necessity.

    3) Due to the meeting time problem, a way to make district council elections more accessible is needed. The WA had its annual meeting and election on a weekday from about 5:30 to 8:15 PM. Many people in the service industry work second shift.

    I actually have two ideas to solve this, but either one would be expensive.

    a) Have the elections by mail, with information about the candidates mailed to every residential address in the district. Or,

    b) Have a dedicated all-day polling place with an 18-hour voting window, such as Sunday from 6 AM to midnight. This would also require mailing the candidate info to every residence.

    • Morgan April 20, 2017 at 10:02 am #

      You bring up a lot of good points but a lot of people just don’t even know what neighborhood they live in or are not aware of the association and what it does. I think more outreach can be done but it’s a problem.

      The narrow voting window is a problem. All day voting would be better than what most neighborhoods do. Linden Hills actually allows at least five days of absentee and early voting prior to the election. There are definitely ways to improve this but most neighborhoods are not trying all that hard.

  12. David Markle
    David Markle April 20, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    As Messrs. Basgen and Schieffer say, this domination by home owners seems to have been a general pattern. My neighborhood (Cedar Riverside) has been different, with its lack of home ownership. The official organization has generally been dominated by a clique of renters, and for years was used by such a clique to dominate redevelopment and rental policy while at the same time enabling one developer–with collaboration of the city government–to repeatedly have the inside track for subsidized projects. In recent years the organization, renamed West Bank Community Coalition, has been largely irrelevant, failing to perform even the most rudimentary required functions, although it continues to receive substantial funding from the city.

    While it’s good for residents to “have a voice in their own governance,” I’m afraid such quasi-Jeffersonian semi-governmental structures also tend to undermine basic electoral representative government.

  13. CaseyF April 20, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    I am a renter and someone from our neighborhood group did put up signs inviting the residents of the building to the meeting. I also saw that these signs were on other apartment building in the area. If other renters did not show up to the meeting it could be the time but it could also be they are just not interested. I guess you could say the same about caucus. I don’t know the counts of attendance for either but I would guess the numbers were similar. It seems to me that if people want to get involved they do. It might be interesting to compare the board election meeting with the precinct caucus on attendance and demographics.

    • Peter Bajurny April 20, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

      If a significant majority of renters don’t care about your city funded outreach and engagement organization then maybe it’s not the renters that are to blame but the basic structure of the organization.

      • CaseyF April 20, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

        Would you say the same about the city council caucus?

        • Peter Bajurny April 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

          Yes I would. DFL Endorsement is not needed in a city with RCV, and the caucus processes is not an inclusive one. It serves no purpose and should be ended.

    • Morgan April 20, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

      As the chair of the new LHENA Renter Committee I’ve been working on increasing outreach over the last few months. A lot of renters don’t even know about the association. One thing we’ve heard a bit is even why they do know about it they assume it’s not for them, that it’s basically a homeowners association. And then the few that do bother to come to the annual meeting get to sit at uncomfortable kids’ cafeteria tables for 2.5 hours and listen to cranky homeowners shout at our city council member about non-existent policies. And it’s some kind of mystery why they’re not interested in participating? When I get messages like this from somebody who probably never would have shown up to a LHENA event again if they didn’t somehow find the right people on twitter after the fact by chance:

      “I also happened to be sitting a few seats away from Lisa Bender and that man that got the whole shitstorm started and therefore got to hear lots of quiet and hostile commentary which was very exciting. I did go with some intention of getting involved but was a little put off by the angry mob, so I’m happy I found you guys on here so I can give civic engagement another go!”

    • Peter Bajurny April 20, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

      It’s also interesting to point that not only did a minuscule number of renters show up to the LHENA meeting, but only a tiny fraction of homeowners showed up as well. In a neighborhood of over 7000 people, only about 70 people showed up to the annual meeting, or 1%. Clearly the homeowners don’t care about the neighborhood group either.

  14. karen April 20, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    Thanks for the great post Tom.

    I’ve been on been all sides of this issue.

    When I lived in Oakland and rented, I was active in a neighborhood org – I loved the neighborhood and some of what they did was groundbreaking stuff that had done really well for the area and been copied by others. But I ran for the board, there was a lot of distrust of me as a renter and they weren’t having me, despite having built up some popularity with some of the board, homeowners who knew me.

    Then I was a home owner in Merriam Park, but I never really paid attention to my neighborhood council, I guess I sort of knew it existed but nothing ever drew me in, and really there wasn’t changing around me, no specific issue the made me wake up and get involved.

    Now I am in St. Anthony Park as a condo owner, on the west side of 280 (yes that’s still St. Paul for a few blocks) and given there are many changes happening in the area, I got involved in a SAPCC committee only after some folks at the City I was messing with told me that was a good place to go.

    With that involvement, I see that these councils can be important factors in organizing and improving neighborhoods and wonder why I never was involved at Merriam Park.

    As I’ve talked to many reasonably interested and engaged neighbors/ homeowners, they often don’t know anything about the neighborhood councils but are eager to make use of them or participate when they understand their various functions.

    So to the other commenter who noted even homeowners are not very active, I think our neighborhood councils need to do a far better job promoting themselves and engaging people of all stripes.

    In the digital age, it seems we should be able to reach even very time-strapped community members at least some information and chance to have some input.

    And we should make every effort to get the councils and their committees to represent all the demographics of a their community.

    And given renters tend to switch neighborhoods a bit more than homeowners, maybe having some sort of renters org or representation across a whole city, or larger areas of the city, would better serve their interests.

  15. David Markle
    David Markle April 20, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    To add to my comment above: some true believers will admonish, “You should go to those neighborhood organization meetings so your voice will be heard at City Hall.” On two occasions I remarked to Latino residents that “The system is such that if you didn’t keep going to burdensome meetings, bad things might happen to you. It’s probably a lot like living in Cuba.” In each case, the response was, “You’re right, I used to live there!”

  16. Scott April 20, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

    I agree that neighborhood associations should do a better job of engaging the community, but how about the Minneapolis City Council? Ten out of thirteen are white and most likely homeowners. The lack of representation is the case with most City Commissions and Boards, the Hennepin County Board, MN Legislature, and U.S. Congress. Perhaps, this is a systemic problem with our society and not just with small, nonprofit neighborhood organizations?

  17. Ken Jopp April 21, 2017 at 6:56 am #

    The author of the original post conflates two issues. One is the demographic profile of the Highland district council. I don’t know what to say about that. Maybe it is an issue that deserves some deliberation.

    However, my definite thoughts about the other issue, which involves the implication that the district council is some kind of homeowners’ advocacy group, make me doubt the accuser’s diligence. By their fruits ye shall know them? What fruits has the Highland District Council (HDC) borne?

    I have not interpreted the HDC’s resolutions statistically in terms of pro-homeowner vs. pro-renter, but I suspect that any such analysis would fail to show a proclivity on behalf of homeowners at the expense of renters. If someone can advance the opposite case, include me on your comments.

    I am not a long-term veteran of the HDC, but I have served two years as a board member. During that time, I have been involved, to a greater or lesser degree, in deliberations pertaining to a number of local initiatives. I think of the Historic Highland Pool House, the Highland Park Community Center play area, the proposed traffic median down the southern stretch of Snelling avenue, but I can’t think of an initiative pursued by the HDC that represented some class distinction between homeowners and renters. Overall, the topics addressed by the district council have to do with projects catering to no particular audience, other than residents and guests of the neighborhood. The HDC overwhelmingly attends to issues of public spaces with an eye toward improving the quality of life for everyone who lives in or visits Highland Park. There are rare exceptions to this generalization, such as actions on behalf of particular homeowners or businesses caught in a gray area between ordinances, but an argument that HDC has a habit of catering preferentially to homeowners (or businesses) will be a tough case to make.

    If renters in Highland feel disenfranchised, then we have a problem. I don’t know how to remedy that problem. But somebody should know, or at least have (somewhat) workable, constructive ideas. In the meantime, nothing is gained by suggesting that there’s something dubious about the district council.

    • Ken Jopp April 21, 2017 at 7:22 am #

      My comments, above, are strictly my personal observations and opinions and should not be interpreted as representing the views of the HDC itself.

  18. Jason April 23, 2017 at 10:38 pm #

    It is great to work towards representation in proportion to the represented. However, why should one expect, when homeowners have 100’s of thousands of dollars invested in their property that is impacted by recommendations of the district councils, that the level of interest in the district councils would be similar to that of renters? Financial self-interest appears to be a primary motivator in participation in the district councils, and the representation reflects that.

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