A major program that allows Minneapolis residents to set priorities for improving their neighborhoods is short of money and mired in controversy as it nears the end of its funding cycle in 2009. The Harrison Neighborhood Park and Community Center, at Irving and Glenwood Avenues, opened in 2001. The Harrison Neighborhood Association used $300,000 of its NRP funds for the project. The Lao Assistance Center, the Minneapolis Board of Education and the city's Park Board were partners in financing the construction. The building houses the association's office, the Lao Assistance Center, the park office, and a Minneapolis public school for special education students.
A major program that allows Minneapolis residents to set priorities for improving their neighborhoods is short of money and mired in controversy as it nears the end of its funding cycle in 2009.
The future of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program is in doubt, and the money available for Phase II of the program may be only 70 percent of what neighborhood groups expected.
The causes of the crisis are many. A change in Minnesota's property tax laws, which led to depletion of a portion of the fund that finances NRP, is a major factor.
The controversy epitomizes the struggle of big, older cities to set priorities when there's not enough money for hundreds of worthy projects. Another issue is control - specifically, whether neighborhood groups will continue to determine how some of the city money for housing and other needs is spent.
Poorer communities get more money from the NRP fund, so these neighborhoods, which have large minority populations, will be most affected by the reductions in NRP grants.
Phase I was always the largest part of the 20-year program. The 71 community organizations that get NRP money received a total of $210 million in this 11-year phase - 100 percent of their allocations. If they get 70 percent of their allocations, the Phase II grants for the final nine years will total $29.2 million. At that level, these grants to neighborhood organizations would range from $17,500 to $1.7 million.
"It's about power," said Tracy Kill, vice-president of the Harrison Neighborhood Association Board. "The neighborhoods have taken these nuggets of cash and turned them into something special, important and meaningful. I don't think the city recognizes that."
Jerry Moore, executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council, sees the reduction of NRP funds as an emphasis on bricks and mortar. "If the priority is buildings over people," he said, "it's a sad day."
Community activists are upset about the city's use of the source of funding for NRP to pay a loan for other needs, such as city-controlled community projects. Most of those are not related to larger development projects, although the city's plan calls for spending $2.7 million to prepare land for industrial uses. The largest project is a $4.7-million job training and placement initiative. Other items in the city's plans include small business loans, housing programs and prevention of mortgage foreclosures.
Mayor R. T. Rybak said a new, more reliable source of funding for NRP should be found. The money now comes from the Common Project, a fund that includes the proceeds of a variety of types of redevelopment districts. Most of the NRP funding has come from tax increment financing (TIF) districts in the Common Project. After TIF districts are formed, the growth in property tax revenue from those areas is reserved for specific projects, such as economic development and housing.
Rybak said the city needs a strategy to achieve better communication with NRP groups and to give residents a greater voice in city-administered programs in their neighborhoods.
City Council Member Paul Ostrow said he does not support continued use of dedicated property tax money for NRP in view of the many urgent needs in Minneapolis. The city would