Is your New Year’s resolution to get more involved locally? Consider your Neighborhood Organizations

Minneapolis residents are among the luckiest in the nation. They have the opportunity to volunteer and participate in a world renown neighborhood organization program that has had the likes of Harvard and the United Nations studying and reporting, with even a United Nations award celebrating the program for its unique “participatory democracy.”  

This unique program was established in the early 1990s, because the City elected officials realized they were facing a $3 billion deficit due to mortgage foreclosures, urban flight and local disinvestment. Leaders like Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and Don Fraiser, and many other elected champions from state, county, parks, schools and library boards, worked together to create a city-wide multijurisdictional independent neighborhood revitalization program, that at its core would empower residents to come together on the work of City goals together.  

Nutshell History: Neighborhood Organization Legacy Begins: For 20 years, (1990-2010) less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the City’s overall budget, and a formula created based on a multitude of factors mostly around housing, formed the distribution formula for neighborhoods. 52.5 percent of every neighborhood organization’s funding was legally required to be spent on housing. It was an “investment-based program” and led to home improvement loans and grants across the Northside, and also affordable housing for residents.

What did residents decide to do with the other 48 percent? Through their resident-driven and formally adopted neighborhood action plans by the City and state statute, neighborhoods invested in their local community schools, parks, libraries. They established community-wide and local neighborhood events that help create and promote a sense of place at a neighborhood level. Events like Holiday on 44th, Northside Housing Fair, Live on the Drive or Tour de Camden events, and housing investments like establishing Shingle Creek Commons, Kingsley Commons, Camden Physicians building, Webber Park Library, Carl Kroening Interpretive Center, Humboldt Greenway Housing Townhomes/Single Family, Humboldt Industrial Park Business complex and many more that wouldn’t have happened if it were not but for these neighborhood organizations investing or planning improvements that helped invest in Camden. There are countless youth programs, school and park partnerships, crime and safety, housing efforts going on every month that your local neighborhood organization is working on to help build a stronger community and city.

Countless thoughtful, prudent and valuable volunteer residents are working in their neighborhood organizations, based in large part because of the independent multijurisdictional Neighborhood Revitalization Program system. One that valued their neighborhood organizations. It recognized many volunteers were working one or perhaps two jobs but established a system where residents could work together to create a sense of place and improve the neighborhoods and communities in which they lived, worked and played. They successfully worked within the program guidelines to invest and leverage their funding.

City-led Community Engagement Program No Investment Years: In 2010-20, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program changed from being multijurisdictional partnership to an internal, City-led “neighborhood revitalization purpose” program. In short, program guidelines that are not “investment based.” So the City became the sole oversight department and deciding factor over a now internal City department program. The Neighborhood Community Relations Department has worked to accomplish things that are important to them that many people probably haven’t even heard of or remember:  multi-year-long City driven projects like the Blueprint for Equity; Art of Hosting Training; and established a Community Connections Conference — that out of the 100 vendors attending are mostly contractors that the City currently works with or who are in other City department programs.

Why is this important? In 2010 when the City lamented they had no funding to run a neighborhood program, empowered residents worked at the State level with elected officials to find funding for a program touted as a “future framework” for a new City Neighborhood Organization Program. As a new City NCR Department-led program, the dedicated funding was to help fund the Neighborhood Organization program for community engagement work. It has been proven to be an additional funding resource to the City. That has also been used to fund the City-directed decisions to fund the MPRB NPP20 program, Emergency Housing, tornado relief, the NCR Department itself, and prepaying down the Target Center debt. This is significant because at any point along the way, the decision to dedicate some of these funds for the future of the City’s Neighborhood Organization program could have also been made.

In May 2019, the City Council formally adopted a resolution to partner with an outside contractor to work to define and design a racial equity matrix, develop program guidelines, convene the Governance and Funding workgroups, and include additional stakeholders. Having several local well-qualified applicants, CURA was chosen. Their six month proposal was squeezed into a six week period over the holidays, beginning in late November. The process was barely completed by the time their contract got fully signed in January. At the six meetings participating residents asked questions from the very beginning that remain unresolved. Questions about the limited data presented and being used, and the validity of the process regarding IAP2 principles not being followed — which was a paramount element to this whole process to help restore trust. A final CURA report is due out in February (after this Camden News goes to print), that will be used to further shape the NCR Neighborhood organization program guidelines document that will then have a 45 day comment period.

Designing the Next Phase: Get involved with your local neighborhood organization. Learn about how residents have positively impacted your neighborhood, volunteer in your local neighborhood organization and help create the best future program possible. Find which neighborhood you live in – check out the neighborhood section in this issue and contact your neighborhood organization. Or find more info at