Minneapolis Neighborhood Organizations Fall Short of Diversity Targets

The percentage of people of color and renters serving on the boards of Minneapolis neighborhood organizations has remained flat since 2014, far below their share of the city’s population as a whole. This is according to a demographic survey conducted by the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations department. The results were presented to the City Council’s Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights, and Engagement Committee on Monday.

People of color make up 36% of the city’s population, but are only 18% of neighborhood boards. Renters are 50% of the city’s population, but make up only 17% of neighborhood boards.

Race Ethnicity Renter Homeowner

The survey of neighborhood organizations also found:

  • Neighborhood boards are 90-95% in line with city benchmarks for age, gender, and income.
  • A “significant under-representation” of:
    • those with income under $50,000
    • those with education below a college degree
  • An “over-representation” of:
    • those with an income of more than $125,000
    • those with a post secondary and post graduate education
  • 18% of board members had served for 7+ years; 16% had served for 4-6 years

Minneapolis has 70 neighborhood associations supported largely with city funding, but operating as independent non-profits. The groups are intended to serve an advisory and engagement role. Of the city’s approximately 750 neighborhood board members, 554 responded to the survey — representing 68 organizations. Options for completing the survey included paper (in-person), online, and mail-in.

This data is especially relevant as the City Council considers a series of recommendations from the NCR department intended to increase oversight and require more diversity in neighborhood organization leadership.

Also on Monday, NCR presented the results of a demographic survey of the city’s 20 boards and commissions that serve an advisory role on topics ranging from transportation, the environment, civil rights, public health, racial equity and zoning (and many more!). When comparing 2014 to 2018, the results showed a significant increase in the share of people of color serving on city boards and commissions.

Race City Boards

Ward 4 Council Member Phillipe Cunningham remarked that engagement funding from the One Minneapolis Fund seemed to be making a meaningful difference with the number of people of color serving on city boards and commissions, before asking: “Why do you think we haven’t seen that [improvement] reflected in the neighborhood associations?”

The answer from NCR staff was that certain individual neighborhood organizations had made progress, but not enough to affect results for the city as a whole.

One factor contributing to increased representation for certain groups between 2016 and 2018: city boards with an equity focus were added. These include the Racial Equity Community Advisory Committee, the Transgender Equity Council and the Workplace Advisory Council.

Other results from the survey of the city’s boards and commissions:

Council Member Cunningham reacted to the presentation with the observation that there’s a difference between achieving “parity” and “equity.” To compensate for a long history of marginalization, sometimes equity requires “over-representation.”

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8 Responses to Minneapolis Neighborhood Organizations Fall Short of Diversity Targets

  1. Andrew Evans March 7, 2019 at 1:51 pm #

    First off those charts and that statistic need to be broken down either by council ward, police ward, or city areas (south, north, SE, etc…). There are some extremely diverse neighborhoods, and some that aren’t. There could also be more neighborhood groups in less diverse areas, and less in more diverse ones. Not saying it wouldn’t even out, but that you’d only be looking at a few handfuls of groups that don’t represent their neighborhood.

    That said, this masks the real concern which is lack of neighborhood involvement in attending any of these meetings – for the most part.

    As per my comments in the other article about this, these groups seem like an easy way for the city to kick the can of “did we do community outreach” to “yes we did, we sent it to X group for review, here are the minutes from their board meeting”. Also that the funding part came from the NRP monies, and was a great idea on paper but terrible in practice, with many groups failing to get the money out into their community in an effective way.

    Also I question the diversity requirement. It’s hard to get people excited about these groups in general, and harder to get them to attend meetings, let alone engaged enough to want to join the board. There are many other ways people can get involved with political or government groups that this neighborhood organization model (where it’s in general support of the neighborhood, vs specific support of individual causes) may be outdated. So yes, there is a subset of people who attend these groups and join them, and yes it becomes a social scene, but it’s extremely hard to make people come or recruit people.

    I’m indifferent about the dire need to make renters a part of these groups. Generally city sponsored (as per my comment above) groups pay general attention to a wide range of topics that may not appeal to a renter. This is just the nature of the beast really. Also generally, at least for me, there was a difference between how I felt about neighborhood ownership when I was renting vs being a homeowner. As a renter I really didn’t care as much, and as a homeowner, although I don’t care as much as some, I am a little more impacted with some of these decisions – or – I have more of an investment to keep an eye on and protect. That said, I feel renters are either going to be politically ambitious and get involved (in their own way) or they aren’t. As per the above, it’s hard to get people to attend these meetings anyway, let alone now put in place diversity requirements. Easy in soviet Russia, meetings attend you! But, here, you attend meetings.

    Personally I wish the whole thing was scrapped, and the city didn’t give any funding to local nonprofits. But, proposed plans are going to potentially expand it into having groups apply for funding. No better way to give handshakes and backpats to activist friends than with supplying their nonprofit some city money. However, at least there is talk about holding groups accountable for more than just keeping the books straight and holding meetings.

  2. Marshall March 7, 2019 at 2:18 pm #

    It is really hard for me to do a lot of hand wringing about a supposed “issue” like this given that these neighborhood boards are unpaid, require people to actively volunteer themselves, can require a decent amount of time commitment, and can often (given my somewhat limited experience) be a frustrating experience given the overall dynamics of the city politics.

    Individuals of all backgrounds have the ability to make decisions on how they wish to spend their time. As long as formal barriers do not exist to limit participation from any group (and I would consider a formal barrier being when meetings are only scheduled at nights which doesn’t accommodate those who work irregular schedules), then I don’t see the need to basically mandate participation on what amounts to a volunteer organization.

    • Andrew Evans March 7, 2019 at 2:34 pm #

      When I was housing chair for our group, before invoking the pirates rule of the sea and ran away from a lost cause, I held one meeting and 2 residents showed up. At most I think we had 10 at some meetings. But hey, my minutes were reported back to the board and whatever the 3 of us voted on counted as community feedback or whatever.

      But it’s extremely difficult to get continual involvement from community members for groups like this, and outreach is difficult because everyone comes from a different background with different skills. Some groups seem to have a better time, but usually those have members or residents who are great with social media. Other groups, like the one I was a part of, had a director who didn’t know how to use a mass email program or even want to share whatever list they had with me for my housing meetings…

      It’s just hard to make general neighborhood topics all that sexy to get people excited about attending, or to get over the frustration some have after attending a few meetings themselves.

      • Marshall March 7, 2019 at 3:50 pm #

        I agree Andrew and, even outside of the specific neighborhood organizations that this topic, I have found that very frequently volunteer organizations basically revolve around, and depend greatly upon, the existence of “passionate volunteer”. This is the type of person who volunteers for lots and lots of things and puts their heart and soul into multiple causes. This is not to say that one demographic group or another is more or less likely to be a passionate volunteer, but rather that this demographic group makes up a pretty small share of the overall population, and that getting “volunteer weary” (or whatever phrase you want to come up with) to become active is really quite difficult. I know I fit into that “volunteer weary” group. When I get home from work, pick up my kids from daycare, cook supper for my wife and kids, and then play/read/etc. with my kids until their bedtime – there just isn’t much time left in the day for me to be willing to volunteer it for anything else.

        • Andrew Evans March 8, 2019 at 10:51 am #

          I’m with you. Along with my terrible nonprofit experience I also made a few choices about social groups I was hanging out with and standing weekly events I was going to. It turned out that I was spending a more than a few nights a week doing things that I really didn’t truly enjoy or that I wasn’t really getting any benefit from.

          I think another class we need to add, along with the passionate and weary volunteer is the lacky. Someone who goes to these meetings because of a passionate friend/neighbor or because they feel it’s what they should be doing.

          For instance some of the board and attendees at my lackluster neighborhood group could have founded it back 30+ years ago (whenever, it was a while) or have been involved with it for a very long time. So they were once passionate, and now just going through the motions so “their” nonprofit stays around. As well as generally older folks have a harder time connecting to younger ones, so these aging boards and members have a much harder time connecting with younger passionate volunteers in a non adversarial way.

          In any event though I have more time for hobbies, photography (I have a ton of film to scan), and house projects, or if nothing else than to sit around at night watching forged in fire, cooking shows, and learning how to sharpen my kitchen knives, and trying to make “good” macarons.

  3. Trent March 7, 2019 at 3:06 pm #

    Until these stats are broken down for the local demographics of the particular association boundaries they are meaningless. do you expect a ward or neighborhood that’s 90% homeowner to have 50% representation of renters?

    The comments quoted above suggest the politicians presented these stats aren’t digging very deep to understand that context.

    • Andrew Evans March 8, 2019 at 11:37 am #

      Just completely IMO I think what they are doing is setting the table to expand the city funding to other groups. What better way to try and sell the whole current program as bad, especially in a progressive city, is to make a blanket statement that it isn’t diverse.

      I don’t mean to sound too negative, but a lot of these nonprofits run on a shoestring budget, and a lot of these community organizers or professional volunteers are friends of the council members. What better way to grease the wheels than to give friends and others $15-20k (or more) city grants for a guaranteed 3 years? Or maybe a similar sized grant to a friends organization so they can make $50k a year, and have about that much more to pay rent for an office?

      Council members make IIRC around $110k a year, they want to keep their jobs, and they want to limit any opposition come election time. Not that they could pay opponents that much or friends that much, but I bet a little money here and there could go a long way to keeping some vocal community members on their side or off the ballot.

    • Andrew Evans March 8, 2019 at 11:45 am #

      If my other reply doesn’t show up, and not to sound too negative.

      It’s a way to show that the groups aren’t serving the community and that their “needs” to be up hill battle for these same groups to keep funding. Now those things may be true. The issue is that the city wants to have groups apply for funding and basically run a grant program. Politically what better way to grease wheels and keep or gain support (or even bribe opponents) is to send funding to their nonprofit. Community organizers, I’m just guessing, don’t make a lot of money. Small community nonprofits, I’m guessing, don’t have a large cash flow to give to staff. Now they may.

      Not that it has to be done that way, but there is easily the potential for council members to get some friends a kickback or two. I’d personally like the city to scrap the whole subsidy program and use that money for housing grants or renter rights issues (or even landlord grants for that matter).

      But that’s just my opinion.

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